Internship programs can be a great way to bring in new ideas and energy to your office. Interns bring with them the latest best practices and technical skills being taught at the university level. This can be a great benefit to organizations with an older workforce. An internship program is also a wonderful way to find great talent that not only has the hard skills your organization needs, but the right configuration of soft skills your company’s culture requires. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) found that 67.1% of businesses offered their interns a position and 76.4% of the offers were accepted. At the one-year mark, the retention rate was 65.5%.

Vault report’s finding

If you’re excited about the idea of starting your own internship program, but don’t know where to start? No worries, We’ve laid out a simple five step process you can follow to jumpstart your internship program.

Steps to setting up your internship program

Step one: Set goals and create a plan

PMI Report found

Examine your organization’s needs and clearly define what you hope to achieve with your internship program. Does your organization need to establish a talent pool it can draw from? Interns can help with developing an employer brand on your local university campus. Is it a more immediate need like acquiring additional help on a project?

At this stage, it is key that an internship program coordinator is established. This person will oversee the design of the internship program. They will search and interview interns. They will also manage the onboarding process and oversee the interns when they are selected. It is recommended that your internship coordinator have an HR background, so they are aware of recruitment laws and best practices. If you do not have someone with HR experience on your staff, please reach out to our team for help.

Step two: Design a program

Plan out your internship in detail.

  • Establish a start and end date.
  • Allocate workspace and equipment for future interns, if applicable
  • Determine compensation and hours per week the intern will work.
  • Define the management structure for the internship.
  • Determine if the intern should be assigned to one person or more.
  • Define what projects the interns will work on and what their roles will be.
  • Draw up a list of tasks interns can perform and which ones they will not be allowed to do and share with mentor.

Always keep in mind that each task delegated to an intern should benefit them. Your internship program experience should be useful to them as they move through their professional careers. This doesn’t mean that your business can’t or shouldn’t benefit from their work. Your internship program should be designed in a way that provides value for both parties.

Step Three: Recruit

Start the recruiting process early. Your recruiting time line will be influenced by your organizations size and internal processes. As a rule of thumb, you should start looking for interns at least 2 months form when you will need them. Evaluate your interns carefully; you should approach the recruiting process as if you were hiring a new employee. After all, they might be permanent employees someday.

If you have a university near you, contact the career. center, they will have specific details on creating internship programs for their students and guidance on best practices to stay compliant with regulations. If you’re having trouble advertising your internship, the care center has ways to help you advertise to their student population.

If you’re a for-profit organization hiring unpaid interns can be risky. It’s recommended that if you start an internship program, you pay your intern at least the minimum wage in your area and comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). For more guidance on FLSA and internships, check out our primary beneficiary test article.

Step four: Hiring

Just like onboarding a new employee, it’s important to clearly define expectations from the start. Interns should know the kinds of tasks they will be doing and what is expected of them. You should also clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses of the interns coming in. The University of Virginia found that students want their employers to be honest about what they can expect during their internship.

Internships are a mutually beneficial endeavor. Your organization is getting extra help and an influx of new ideas and perspectives. The intern should be attaining valuable experience to the advancement of their professional careers.

During the onboarding prosses, interns should be given a Spoc (single point of contact) to direct questions and concerns. They should also be given the resources they need to get their work done in a space that they can consider theirs. It’s imperative to your program’s success that interns feel like they are contributing something of value to the organization.

Step five: Manage the interns

There should be a clear chain of command and interns should know who has the authority to give them projects. It’s easy for them to get confused about which task to focus on if they don’t have someone delegating assignments. Establish a system for managers to request intern time. Interns are driven to please and they will take on more than they can handle so it’s important to monitor their workloads. It’s also important to make sure you are keeping your interns accountable for their projects. Interns should be given ample opportunities to ask questions and should receive plenty of feedback on their projects.


Internships are time-intensive endeavors that can have long term benefits for your organization, but they must be done right. It can take multiple cycles to fine-tune your program to meet your goals. It’s important to conduct exit interviews with your interns. These interviews can deliver invaluable insights on what is and is not working. As a client of XcelHR, our team can give you guidance on how to implement your internship program while circumventing compliance problems that can come with costly fines and legal bills. You can contact your HR representative or contact us here if you have any questions.