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Internship Toolkit for Employers

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It’s a simple fact: Interns can help your organization do more—cost-effectively. Whether the experiences are part- or full-time, and whether they last for a few weeks or several months or more, internships support multiple employees on multiple projects, resulting in a variety of benefits to you as an employer:

  • Internships function as a recruitment tool to test out potential employees.
  • Interns do valuable work for your organization.
  • Interns help you and your organization connect to the culture and norms of a new generation—your future workforce.
  • Interns who have a positive experience with your organization will speak highly about it among their contacts in many networks. This helps your organization’s visibility and strengthens its reputation.
  • After doing an internship, students are better prepared to enter the workforce. (This benefits you as an employer, too, as well as employers in general!)

What is an internship?

CLA uses the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) definition of an internship. According to NACE, an internship:

  • Must be a learning experience that applies knowledge gained in the classroom.
  • Teaches skills or knowledge that can be transferred to other employment settings.
  • Has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • Has clearly defined learning goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
  • Provides supervision by and routine feedback from a professional with expertise in the field.
  • Includes resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer to support learning goals.

CLA Best Practices Guidelines for Internship Hosting Sites

  1. Encourage and support the learning aspect of the student’s internship, including approval of an Internship Learning Agreement.
  2. Designate a professional staff person/employee to serve as an advisor/supervisor, with responsibilities to:
    • Help orient the student to the organization and its culture.
    • Assist in the development of learning objectives.
    • Confer regularly with the student to monitor progress.
  3. Provide adequate supervision (recommended one meeting per week or every other week) for the student, and assign duties that are progressive, challenging, and related to the student’s area of interest.
  4. Make available the equipment, supplies, and space necessary for the student to perform their duties.
  5. Provide an evaluation of the student’s performance at the end of the internship.
  6. Agree to adhere to the Department of Labor’s guidelines for Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Preparing to Host Interns

Identify Needs and Goals for the Internship Program

Conduct an internal audit by asking the following questions:

  • Can you provide meaningful work assignments?
    • Short term projects that you would like to initiate or expand, a recurring event that you would like a fresh perspective on, or research that will enhance a service or a product are great areas to explore.
  • Are you prepared and able to invest time in interns?
    • While the benefits of hosting an intern are many, it does take time to train, provide mentorship and feedback to an intern. Establishing an internship program structure or using the resources in this Internship Toolkit can help streamline the process.
  • Do you have adequate office space and equipment for interns (computer, telephone, email account, and desk)?
    • Or will the intern work remotely… and how will you then offer support and ensure accountability?

Supervision

Identify a person to supervise an intern who is committed to developing students.

  • The supervisor should have the time, capacity, and interest to work with an intern. Individuals who like to teach or train are often great candidates.
  • Can you involve colleagues in some way?
    • Explaining your organization’s goals in bringing on an intern can create a positive environment for all involved and encourage input on how to best utilize and develop an intern.
    • Hosting interns can help bridge the generation gap. If you have long-term employees, what can they teach millennial and Gen Z interns? What might a millennial or Gen Z intern be able to teach a long-term employee?

Should your Organization’s Internships be Paid or Unpaid?

CLA strongly encourages paid internships when possible. Internships require more work and commitment than most volunteer positions, so compensation is a fair expectation. Paid internships also tend to draw more committed, diverse, and qualified candidates. Participating in unpaid internships poses a significant barrier for many CLA students. In a survey CLA conducted in Spring 2018, 49% of students reported that they could only consider an unpaid internship if they received a scholarship or stipend, while another 11% said they would not be able to do an unpaid internship. While CLA does have some scholarship funding available for students completing unpaid internships, it is limited.

For-profit organizations considering offering unpaid internships, need to carefully evaluate their internship program to ensure that interns have a valuable learning experience and that the program is aligned with the U.S. Department of Labor’s "primary beneficiary test," which determines whether or not student interns are entitled to wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

How Much to Pay?

Internship wages vary by industry and job responsibility. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) maintains the most up-to-date wage information. Compensation can include discounted parking, stipends, free lunch, subsidized housing, and other benefits.

Academic Credit: How Does it Work?

Pursuing academic credit for an internship is determined by the intern and their academic institution. An organization cannot give academic credit for an internship. An organization can, however, be supportive of a student completing the internship for academic credit. Most of the required pieces in credit-bearing internships are best practices that organizations should consider implementing anyway (eg. learning agreement and the final evaluation). CLA students completing an internship for academic credit are responsible for the academic work outside of their internship hours. The items an organization must be involved in when hosting a CLA intern earning academic credit are:

  • Approving the internship and agreeing to the CLA site expectations.
  • Reviewing and offering feedback on a Learning Agreement that the student prepares.
  • Giving regular informal feedback and support.
  • Completing a Final Evaluation and reviewing it with the CLA intern.

How to Write an Internship Description

  • Treat the job posting as an opportunity to showcase the internship and your company.
  • Provide an accurate overview of the internship position’s responsibilities, work assignments, and time frame. Clearly outline expected outcomes.
  • Here are some helpful resources as you develop your internship position:

How CLA Career Services can help with your recruiting needs

Post your internship position(s)—for FREE—on GoldPASS powered by Handshake, the University of Minnesota’s free search database for jobs, internships, and volunteer positions. Learn more information on how to recruit CLA students.

Skillfully Managing Interns and Your Intern Program

Orientation

Providing orientation for interns makes them feel welcome and sets them up for success. Before they arrive, make sure you have:

  • Notified everyone on your team that an intern is starting and explain what the intern’s role will be and what it will not be.
  • Set up the intern’s workspace including a computer, phone, mailbox, and email.

On the first day/week consider the "Intern Orientation Checklist" for thoroughly orienting the intern to your organization and their role.

Mentor or Contact (other than supervisor)

The use of a mentor can contribute to the intern’s motivation and performance and enables an intern to acclimate more quickly to the organizational culture. Is there someone in your organization that would be willing to connect a couple of times with an intern?

Learning Agreement

Students should set learning goals for the internship experience that the supervisor reviews and, if necessary, assists in revising to reach a consensus about what the internship will look like. Having an intern articulate what they hope to gain from the experience and a supervisor provide their input benefits both the student and the employer because it ensures everyone is on the same page–literally and figuratively– from the start. CLA offers an "Internship Learning Agreement" you can use for this purpose.

Checking in with Your Intern

Providing feedback to your intern is a critical component of a successful internship program. GenZ, which is the generation born after 1996, highly values feedback. Here are some suggestions about how to incorporate feedback into your internship program:

  • Informal Feedback: Meet with interns on a regular basis to answer questions and to provide feedback about projects. CLA offers the "Checking in with Your Supervisor" form to guide students prior to their meetings with a supervisor.
  • Mid-point Check-In: Consider a more formal mid-point check-in. CLA offers the "Mid-Point Internship Evaluation" for students to explain their progress mid-way through their internship. Reviewing this with an intern provides an opportunity to clarify goals, encourage progress, and reinforce expectations.
  • New Opportunities: Offer the opportunity for interns who are excelling to complete stretch projects or connect interns to other departments of interest for informational interviews.

Ending Internships Skillfully

Tip Sheet/Intern Folder

Think about having the intern write a tip sheet or create a resource folder for future interns. This will alleviate work for you and provide a peer voice for the next intern.  

Final Evaluation

Receiving feedback about their efforts is a large part of the developmental process for interns. As a supervisor, you both work in the intern’s chosen career field and have seen a significant sampling of the intern’s work making you a good judge of what the intern has done well and where the intern can improve.

  • CLA provides a worksheet designed for the supervisor to give interns a formal written assessment.
    • Part I of the form gives you the chance to evaluate the intern (on a scale of 1 to 5) on the ten Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness, as well as “Self-Management Skills and Professionalism.”
    • Part 2 of the form, you can offer more qualitative feedback for the intern by completing the "Internship Evaluation by Employer Supervisor" form.

Provide closure

In the final weeks of the internship, you’ll want to provide closure for the experience for the benefit of the intern and your organization. Here are a few ideas on how you can finish strong:

  • As the internship comes to an end, ask your intern to reflect on their experience through a presentation, poster project, or final report.  
  • Plan a celebration for the intern’s contributions.
  • Offer to write recommendations for the intern if appropriate or encourage them to apply to any job openings that might be a good fit.

Program Evaluation

After going through the process of preparing for, managing and skillfully closing the cycle of hosting an intern, evaluate your program. Ask the question: What went well? And how can it be improved? Here are some guidelines for evaluation:

  • Interns who have completed an internship at your organization can offer the best assessment of your internship program. Hold an exit interview to gather suggestions for improving your internship program.
  • Review the intern job description, supervisor experience and reach out to colleagues who interacted with the intern to gather their thoughts. Essentially, ask the question: What went well and how could it go better?
  • Keep in mind that interns are the best way to build (or harm) your reputation on-campus.

Share Success Stories

Capturing internship success stories at your organization can be a great marketing tool for recruiting future interns or employees from the College of Liberal Arts. Your organization could:

  • Share the story (internship success stories) with CLA Employer Engagement
  • Post on social media
  • Collect and share intern recommendations
  • Create marketing materials with photos of an intern in action

Internship Resources For Employers

Encourage CLA interns within your organization to pick up a copy or download the Internship Guide: Making the Most of Your Internship.

Download your Internship guide here