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How to Have A Successful Internship Program

Successful Internship Program

Interns were once seen a free labor. Now, some internships get paid $50k + annually and get many perks of a full-time job (most common in public companies). The game has changed, so you need to change how you see interns. Over the past 6 years, The Strategic CFO has created a very successful internship program. As a result of our internship program, we’ve had interns go on to lead brands forward using their various skills. But we couldn’t have built a successful internship program without some guidelines. Today, we’re sharing those tips with you!

What is a Successful Internship Program? A successful internship program needs a firm willing to pour into the intern and an intern willing to learn and add value to the firm. It is a two way street after all! Before you start building it, you need to conduct a self-assessment on your needs and expectations.

Interns can add real value to your company. If you’re ready to hire, then download our 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team!

Do a Self-Assessment on Your Internship Program

Before you start building an internship program, you need to ask yourself a couple questions. Call it a self-evaluation.

Needs Assessment

What are your particular areas of need? Do you need accounting, marketing, start up, strategy, website, finance, supply chain, etc. experience? Identify what type of experience and interest you want your intern to have. This first question also requires you to describe the projects you wish to accomplish during the internship. Do you need to add content to your website? Or put together a reporting package? Whatever it is, write it down. Then put a time commitment that you need in order to fulfill that project. It would be silly to expect a full time college student to work 40 hours a week. It’s just not possible; plus, you would be wasting your money as their productivity would be low. What time commitment do you expect from your intern? Think in the range of 10-30 hours per week.

Financial Compensation Assessment

How much are you willing to pay the intern per hour? Typically, we pay interns starting at $15/hour and potentially give raises depending on the length of their internship. Why do we pay them twice as much as minimum wage? You get what you pay for. Do you want someone who needs to make ends meet? Or do you want someone who wants to learn and jump start their career?

Time Commitment Assessment

Next, you need to identify what time commitment you can offer. While we’ll go into more detail about this later in the blog, you need to be able to commit several hours to your intern for training, mentoring, etc. That is one of the criteria for an internship.

How flexible are you? Many interns may need to work remote, travel, study, etc. This question will help you assess what type of person your looking for and what your expectations of them are.

Successful Internship Program

Beyond the Internship Assessment

Is a permanent position available upon graduation? Evaluate what it would take for an intern to earn a full time position. Some companies may not even want to offer any full-time positions. And that’s okay! But you need to provide value to your interns while they are under your wing.

Don’t just hire anyone to be your intern. You want interns that will add quality to your team. Download our 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team to start building your success internship program!

Creating Your Successful Internship Program

When you are creating your successful internship program, there are five steps that you must adhere to for it to be successful.

Internships Must Be Paid

Think about this… Would you add real value if you weren’t being paid? Probably Not. Over the years we have found that unpaid internships are not as successful as paid internships. The primary reason is one of commitment or lack thereof. In addition, it is difficult to hold someone accountable for performance and results if they are working for free. Conversely, if you are not paying me, I sometimes feel that anything I do is a favor. Consequently, we require that all internships must be paid ones.

Assign a Manager/Supervisor

Assign an employee of the company as a supervisor to the intern. In order to hold the intern accountable for results, they should report to one person. They can work for multiple individuals within the organization, but they must have a point person. The supervisor should make sure that they have plenty of projects in front of them, that they are keeping busy, and that the quality of the work is acceptable.

Project Based Work

The work assigned to the intern should be project based versus a part of the organization’s daily work flow. You need to keep in mind that the intern will eventually leave. Consequently, you don’t want to rely on that person on a daily basis. If it wasn’t the right fit but they have all the control, you will find yourself in a sticky situation. We cannot emphasize enough to keep project based work the focus of the internship.

Create a To Do List

You should develop a “to do list” over the course of the year of projects to be accomplished over the internship period. In addition, the projects should be finite. A beginning and ending date that spans the internship period. If you have a large project that goes longer, then just break it down into phases. A great way to structure your to-do list is to create an action plan.  This may be the scope of the work you would like completed, much like hiring any other professional, you want to define the scope.

Finally, the projects should be meaningful to the organization. That means no copying or filing papers! The talents that the intern brings to the table are meaningful. Don’t waste their time or the company’s time doing work that doesn’t contribute to everyone’s success.

Start Hiring Your Interns

If you follow these four rules, then both the company and the intern should have a rewarding experience that leaves both parties with a sense of accomplishment. One question we get frequently is when to hire interns… The answer is now! It’s never too early or too late to hire your interns. In order to determine which candidates are the right fit for your company, download and access your free white paper, 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team. Start building your star-quality internship program!

Successful Internship Program

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Designing an Internship Program

5 Steps to Designing an Internship Program

Internship programs are a great way for your organization to bring in new talent and fresh ideas with motivated and knowledgeable interns. Many companies offer internship programs for college students. Both the organization and the interns benefit from the value of an internship experience. Establishing successful intern programs involve several key steps that are simple to implement and maintain. Following are five steps to designing an internship program:

1. Planning your Internship Programs

The first step to designing successful intern programs is to plan ahead. Decide on your company’s goals and expectations for your internship programs. Do this by creating an internship job description, establishing intern responsibilities, and planning on internship projects. Setting an internship plan of action will facilitate the accomplishment of both your company’s and your intern’s goals and expectations. As an employer, you should decide on the conditions of your internship program. Establish clear terms for the intern’s work schedule and the internship time frame so that both the organization and the interns are in agreement for how long the internship program will last. In addition, determine whether your internship program will be paid or unpaid. Follow the Fair Labor Standards Act for more information about unpaid internship legal requirements.

2. Internship Program Orientation

Establish internship orientations before your interns start their internship programs. Intern orientations introduce the interns into the company and ease the interns’ transition into the workplace. Company cultures vary across organizations. Internship orientations enhance interns’ awareness of the company culture, introduce your interns to the company and to other employees, and offer an inside look into the workplace environment. It is important for you to clarify in your orientation the internship program policies and procedures and to address the interns’ initial questions or concerns. Interns will work better for you and your company if you offer them insight into decision-making processes and organizational culture. In addition, organizations should develop intern training plans during the intern orientation process to help the interns identify, develop, and learn the skills that will be necessary to excel in the internship program.

3. Intern Supervision and Mentorship

Provide internship program supervision and mentorship throughout the internship experience. Coordinate a designated employee to be the intern programs supervisor. Most interns are new to the workplace environment, so organizations should offer direction and support to maximize interns’ productivity. However, it is also important to offer interns autonomy and responsibilities. If the interns don’t know how to do something, you should instruct them to go and figure it out. The interns will improve their skills and learn to problem solve on their own. Young interns are high on energy and are excited to learn new things. Give the interns meaningful and internship responsibilities and projects with foreseeable deadlines in order to build a sense of task accomplishment and completion. This will motivate the interns to think outside the box and bring fresh, creative ideas into the organization.

Communicate and meet with the interns regularly to review progress and plan ahead. Communication is the key to building trust between the interns and the employers so that the interns can effectively make progress and accomplish tasks. Interns are eager to receive affirmation that you are pleased with their work. Mentor and support the interns to maximize the interns’ potential and to maximize the value of the internship program for both the organization and the intern.

4. Internship Program Problems

Prepare for internship problems or issues ahead of time! Things might go wrong, so it is important for you to create back up plans for urgent issues. Identify problems early and designate someone to get involved to create effective and easy to implement solutions.

For example, if interns are overwhelmed or intimidated by a task or project, offer them the support and guidance to come and talk to you about it. If the interns have any questions or concerns, make it clear that there is always someone in the organization to be their internship supervisor. Internship mistakes are bound to occur during the internship experience. Turn interns’ mistakes into constructive feedback and learning. You don’t want your interns to lose confidence in their abilities or motivation to do things. Learning from mistakes leads to improvement and lays the foundation for future success.

5. Internship Program Mistakes

Avoid these common intern program mistakes:

– Some employers do not communicate, offer feedback, or provide support for the interns. They seem to throw their interns into the deep end and then expect them to figure out a way to survive on their own. Internship communication and mentorship are vital to instilling interns’ dedication to their work. If you do not communicate or offer feedback, how can interns feel confident that they are doing a good job?

– Another intern program mistake is that the organization provides the interns with busy work rather than meaningful internship projects. Do NOT establish internship programs for “cheap labor.” Instead, design internships to bring in new perspectives, ideas, and skill sets to enhance your organization. An effective internship program will have value for both the interns and the organization.

– There are some organizations that push the interns into a corner and segregate them from other employees. If full-time employees do not know the first name of the interns, the interns become demoralized and feel like outcast within the organization. Employers should introduce the interns to other employees and invite them into some meetings so that the interns feel like they belong. When you encourage dedicated interns to be involved and active within the organization, it leads to increased intern productivity and creativity.

Determine which candidates are the right fit for your company by downloading our 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team.

designing an internship program

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Recruiting Manual Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan recruit the best talent as well as avoid hiring duds.

Click here to access your Execution Plan. Not a Lab Member?

Click here to learn more about SCFO Labs

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Recruiting a Winning Team

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Should You Pay Your Interns?

Have you ever wondered if you should pay your interns? You have probably heard others praising the benefits of hiring low-cost, energetic, and eager-to-learn interns. But the question on your mind is, should you pay your interns?

Should You Pay Your Interns?

As an entrepreneur and CEO, I often feel like I have too many ideas and too little time to follow through on those ideas. That is where an intern comes in. Every summer, I design an internship program with meaningful internship projects to follow through on my ideas and concepts from the past year. For my thoughts on how to design an effective internship program, check out this video:

I believe in paid internships. My moral and business obligation is to treat my employees with fairness and to compensate employees for their work. Not only do paid internship programs lead to higher quality internship candidates, but they also lead to more motivated, loyal, and hard-working interns.

If the employer and the organization benefit from the interns’ work, then the employer should pay the interns. There are many competitive paid internship positions available. So why would I risk losing quality internship candidates on the grounds that they went looking somewhere else for a paid internship program? While I focus on growing my business, my interns help me follow through and implement my business ideas that would have otherwise remained stagnant.

Fair Labor Standards Act

Some might argue that unpaid internships are fair for the intern and the organization. Interns gain skills and experience which may lead to higher paid positions soon after. Internship programs also provide the interns with exposure to networking opportunities, expertise, and experience in an industry. I agree with these benefits of internship programs for interns, however, unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws if your company does not follow these six requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If one meets all of the factors listed above, then an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA. The Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad.


Your conclusion of whether you pay your interns should be an educated decision based on what’s right for your company.  So, should you pay your interns? I strongly believe that paid internship programs lead to better-quality and more dedicated intern candidates. They are mostly likely going to have enhanced skills that your business will benefit from.

Do you believe in paid internship programs?  Let us know your thoughts. For more information on this topic, check out this article.

Should You Pay Your Interns

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