Employer internship guides

How to Setup a Summer Internship Program

Brown_arrow_21 Written by Nathan Parcells on Nov 14, 2011

Internship programs come in a range of sizes and with a variety of goals. If you’re a small business you may need to hire just one savvy design intern to help you build marketing collateral, while as a Fortune 500 company you may need to figure out how to build a program that can properly, recruit and onboard hundreds of interns every year. Still, every successful internship program begins with a thoughtful plan regarding the goals and logistics of the program before getting into the details on how to find the right candidates for the job.

This guide is meant to help think through all the biggest potential pitfalls as you setup a new internship program or re-evaluate your current program. This plan is a great way to get started, but it does not get into specifics regarding how much to pay interns, when to start recruiting interns, and the like -- you can find those answers in our internship FAQ.

Here are 5 steps to get your internship program formulated:

Step 1: Ask yourself; does my company truly need interns?

An internship program setup without a purpose is destined for trouble. Clear goals help give the program a focus that benefits both company and students.

Below are the most common reasons that companies with leading internship programs continue to invest time and money into hiring interns.

• Converting Students to Full-Time Hires: “Hiring recent graduates is risky so we prefer to hire candidates from our internship program who are already battle proven.”
• Filling a Gap: “We need someone to help with a project and we think a student can do it well and at a great price.”
• Breeding Brand Advocates: “Our product is built for young people and we want to get youthful opinions and ideas involved on our team.”
• Culture and Community: “Students bring energy, a strong work-ethic, and are a great way for us to give back to our local community.”
• Any Mixture of the above

Notice that free labor is not on this list. Unpaid internships have become controversial (see the law behind unpaid internships in our FAQ) but what is clear is that having interns for the sake of having interns is a bad policy. If they aren’t worth the money, or at very least investing in some solid educational tools for the students, than the program is likely to do more harm than good.

Step 2: Determine the scope of your internship program.

While a lot of work will go into your internship program once it is up and running, you will save time and energy by figuring out these logistics as soon as possible.

• How many hours a week will the intern work?
• Will the intern get paid? How much?
• What other forms of compensation will be offered (software training, networking events, etc.)?
• When would the intern ideally start?
• How long will the internship run for?
• What skills are most important for the intern to have?
• Who will manage the intern?

Step 3: What Internship Program Best Practices Can You Offer?

If you are trying to attract great students and keep them interested in your company during and after the internship, you will want to go above and beyond with your internship program. Take time to consider what activities or educational support you can provide that will make your program stand out.  You also should look into our intern compensation guide to learn more about the importance and legality of paying your interns.

These include:

• Brown bag lunches with key executives in your company.
• Taking interns to meetings, conferences or events.
• Have a day where interns get to meet everyone in the office and learn about their role.
• Teach interns industry specific software like Salesforce, Microsoft Excel and more.
• Host fun events, like attending a baseball game or going bowling at the end of the program.

Step 4: What’s your internship program culture?

Deciding a culture for your internship program helps set the tone internally. Are interns going to be embraced as employees and be invited to a majority of company meetings? Will the interns operate as a team or will each intern work closely with their boss or manager. Will interns be treated like celebrities in the hopes of making more hires or will they grind on simpler work, as most new employees must do? There are no right or wrong answers here, but different internship program cultures help you accomplish different stated goals.

Step 5: Final checks.

There are a few important final points to consider before going ahead and creating position descriptions and putting your internship program plan into action.


If you are opting to pay your interns, you need to think about how this will work. Accounting law states that interns should be considered part-time employees, sent an I-9, W-4, and any new hire forms, and placed on your standard payroll system.

Getting interns setup:

Before initiating your program you need to make sure you have the right resources available to bring interns into the office. Do you have desk space? Do you have computers available (if not many interns can use their own laptops)? Will it be easy to create email, and computer login accounts for interns the first day they arrive? Do your interns get parking passes, office keys, or security clearance? Will interns need to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or Offer Letter? These are all important to consider before jumping in.

Office Fit:

Last but not least double check to make sure that interns will be a good fit with your office culture and team. If so you are ready to go and start building position descriptions and hiring amazing interns using InternMatch!

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