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What Is An Internship?
An internship is any carefully monitored work or service experience in which a student has intentional learning goals and reflects actively on what she or he is learning throughout the experience. An internship:
- Is a time-limited experience of approximately three months and occurs during the fall, spring or summer semester
- Is generally a one-time experience
- May be part-time or full-time; paid or non-paid
- May be part of an educational program and carefully monitored and evaluated for academic credit
- May be part of a learning plan developed individually
- Is different from a short-term job or volunteer work as it includes an intentional “learning agenda” in a structured work environment.
- Includes learning objectives, observation, reflection, evaluation and assessment
- Has an existing employee working in the department/position to mentor and supervise the intern
- Seeks to establish a reasonable balance between the learning goals of the intern and the specific work tasks of an organization
- Promotes academic, career and/or personal development
How Do Internships Benefit Employers?
- A year round source of highly motivated pre-professionals
- The opportunity to have new perspectives on various processes, procedures and programs
- Quality candidates for temporary or seasonal positions and projects
- The increased visibility of your organization on college campuses
- The freedom for professional staff to pursue other important projects and tasks
- A flexible, cost-effective work force that does not require a long-term employment commitment
- Prepared and trained new employees hired from your intern pool
- A proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential employees
Adapted from materials published by the National Society for Experiential Education
- Writing an Internship/Job Description
Draft an internship/job description that clearly explains the intern’s duties. A description will structure the experience for the intern and the employer and can be used to measure goals and accomplishments.
Develop Challenging Work Assignments
A large part of producing effective position descriptions involves the development of challenging work assignments that complement students’ academic programs. One way to do this is to design a preliminary list of work activities that will fit the needs of your department/organization. Later, when the interns you select join your team, you will have a chance to review the work activities and modify them according to the interns’ knowledge and personal work/learning goals.
In creating a job position, consider the following:
- The purpose of the internship—Document the particular contributions of the internship to the organization’s overall mission
- The duties and essential activities/job functions required
- The name of the department where the internship will be performed
- The expectations regarding outcomes of tasks/projects performed and completed
- The physical and mental requirements of the internship—Also include the required major, minimum GPA (if applicable), class standing (freshman, sophomore, junior or senior) and any technical or job specific skills the intern would need to perform the internship successfully
- The length of the internship and the number of hours per week
- The supervisor responsible for mentoring and evaluating the intern’s progress
- Any training that will be provided
- The application and selection processes and who will be responsible for making the final hiring decision
Degree Related Projects
As part of the educational process, internship work activities should focus on projects specifically related to the academic major and the degree the interns expect to receive. Students who perform menial tasks will become quickly demoralized and will learn nothing about applying their expertise to a business environment. While many students work (or have worked) at part-time jobs to finance their education, an internship does not fall into the category of a job. It is actually part of their academic program and should offer every opportunity to link classroom learning to workplace experience.
Undergraduate students want and appreciate clear direction regarding expectations and frequent feedback concerning what and how they have done. (In their academic environment, clear direction and periodic feedback is common). It is most important that interns perceive their work is making a useful contribution to the sponsoring organization.
A particular concern at the undergraduate level is that the work assignments provide the interns with a variety of tasks, while accommodating the needs of the organization. Of course, some of the interns’ responsibilities will involve repetition, because all work involves some repeated activity.
Sample tasks that undergraduate students have provided for their sponsoring organizations...
- Performing laboratory tests
- Writing handbooks or manuals
- Designing posters, charts, graphs
- Generating financial forecast and cost recovery reports
- Performing software/hardware modifications
- Conducting studies and surveys
- Developing slide/sound presentations
- Compiling technical reports
- Creating academic lesson plans
- Conducting research
- Generating marketing plans
- Conducting training packages
- Preparing budgets and financial reports
Developing challenging work assignments relative to the students’ abilities is a major thrust of the position description. Your final internship/field experience description will incorporate the needs of your organization as well as the abilities and academic goals of the students you employ.
The Internship Position Description Worksheet in this handbook can provide you with a format and specific fields of information to include in the description.
- Describe challenging, but realistic tasks students can accomplish within a three-month period.
- Work with faculty to establish specific learning objectives for students.
- Identify outcomes or expected products.
- Be willing to incorporate the students’ particular strengths.
- Show how this work relates to the overall efforts of the department or organization.
- Recruiting and Legal Issues
How will you find those ideal candidates to fill your internship position(s)? The number one tip from those who have established programs is to start recruiting early! This cannot be overemphasized to retain the very best interns. Students begin making commitments to course schedules and oftentimes part-time jobs as much as two-three months prior to the next semester. Begin searching three to four months before you need a student to begin. Starting early has other advantages. The longer the application period is, the greater the number of applications. You increase your chance of finding the best person for the internship.
When you are recruiting interns, develop relationships with local recruitment resources. Promote yourself with the career or internship centers at colleges and universities, attend internship and job fairs, place ads in college/university newspapers and websites, and send material to student organizations.
Choosing an Intern
When choosing an intern, do so as carefully as you would choose permanent employees. After all, they might be permanent employees someday. You’re making an investment of time and money. As you interview potential interns, determine if the intern is truly motivated.
- Does he or she just want a job or will this fulfill an academic requirement?
- Will the intern fit into your organization’s culture?
- Does he or she have the level of experience you need?
With careful hiring consideration, you can avoid some of the most common pitfalls of internships.
Last, but certainly not least, learn the legal implications of hiring interns. As with any other workers, interns are subject to legal protections and regulations. Protect yourself and your intern by knowing the laws. What work can and can’t you assign? This is especially important if your company employs international students, who need special qualifications to work in the U.S. Consult your corporate lawyer or the intern’s school office of international education, if you are unfamiliar with the hiring of international interns.
Do You Have to Pay Interns?
The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which applies to all companies that have at least two employees directly engaged in interstate commerce and annual sales of at least $500,000.00, severely restricts an employer’s ability to use unpaid interns or trainees. It does not limit an employer’s ability to hire paid interns.
You do not have to pay interns who qualify as trainees. The U.S. Department of Labor has outlined six criteria for determining trainee status:
- Interns cannot displace regular employees
- Interns are not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship (though you may decide to hire them at the conclusion of the experience)
- Interns are not entitled to wages during the internship
- Interns must receive training from your organization, even if it somewhat impedes the work
- Interns must get hands-on experience with equipment and processes used in your industry
- Interns’ training must primarily benefit them, not the organization.
Workers’ and Unemployment Compensation
Workers’ compensation boards have found that interns contribute enough to a company to make them employees. It is wise to cover interns under your workers’ compensation policy even though you aren’t required to do so. Student interns are not generally eligible for unemployment compensation at the end of the internship.
Keep In Mind
Even if a student is working through a school program for which he or she is being “paid” in college credits, the student still has the right, under the FLSA, to be paid unless the employer is not deriving any immediate advantage by using him/her.
Paid interns make ideal workers — hungry to learn, eager to make a good impression and willing to perform a multitude of tasks. The relatively small amount of money employers spend on intern wages and benefits is a good investment, because it often produces future, long-term employees.
The employer should identify the specific terms and conditions of employment (e.g., dates of employment as an intern, including the date the internship will end; compensation; organizational and/or reporting relationships; principal duties, tasks or responsibilities; working conditions; confidentiality; any other expectations of the employer), and should discuss these with prospective interns, so that there is no misunderstanding regarding the relationship. Also, it is good sense to document such a discussion.
The most common types of visas employers will see on college campuses, when recruiting international undergraduate or graduate students for either employment or internship positions, are the F-1 and J-1 visas.
“An F-1 visa is granted to a person coming to the United States to attend a college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or language training program approved by the U.S. Attorney General for study by foreign students. The visa holder plans to return home after completing studies. This is the most common non-immigrant visa for an international student attending undergraduate and graduate school. Students are granted F-1 status until the completion of the academic program and 12 months of post-program practical training. The purpose of the F-1 visa is to provide an opportunity for study in the United States. Anything outside of study, including employment, is an exception to the visa.”
Employers may need to seek legal advice regarding the hiring of international student interns from their organization’s legal team.
Also see the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services –
Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 214.2 (f)
- Managing Interns
The beginning days of an internship are often its defining days. When you give interns their first tasks, you are signaling what can be expected in the future. If you give them nothing or very little to do, it sends a message that this job will be easy — and boring. Interns don’t want that, and of course, neither do employers. The organization of your internship program will probably be the single most important influence on an intern’s impression of your organization, and thus the chances that he or she will come back. So how do you “plan for success?”
- Explain the Mission of the Organization
- Explain the Organization Structure
- Outline Organizational Rules, Policies, Decorum and Expectations
- Define the Intern’s Responsibilities
Developing Partnership and Commitment
Many students are unfamiliar with the activities, environment, and objectives of business and industry. Even though your interns may have worked part-time to support their education, these experiences may not have exposed them to organizational politics, the need for confidentiality, the importance of teamwork, or the profit-making orientation of business. Including an orientation session as the beginning of the intern training process emphasizes the partnership and commitment to internships in your workplace.
The sooner your student interns understand what your organization does and how it operates, the sooner they can assume assigned responsibilities and become productive. You can communicate this information in several ways:
- Take your interns on a tour of the facilities and introduce them to the other employees
- Give your interns company materials to read such as newsletters, annual reports, an organization chart, or memos from the CEO
- Encourage your interns to spend break and lunchtimes in places where employees gather
- Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with them
- Give the interns opportunities to observe (or participate in) professional meetings
- Allow the interns to interview company personnel
- Encourage the interns to walk around and observe others at work
The success of an internship depends on the partnership between representatives of the organization, the college, and the student. These three parties need to agree on the conditions of the internship, the responsibilities of each party, and the reporting requirements. The site supervisor is the critical link. You guide your interns by providing direction and feedback. If a problem occurs, you counsel the students and contact the faculty supervisor, when necessary.
Review your program goals. The nature of the program and the activities should directly relate to these goals and will assist you in creating and maintaining a structured meaningful internship experience.
As an intern supervisor, you use all the skills necessary in any effective supervisory relationship:
- Providing leadership
- Developing and training
Additionally, the students will look to you as a mentor who will assist their transition from the classroom to the work environment. Since the internship is an extension of the learning process, you will need to provide opportunities to bridge the two experiences.
We suggest that you meet with your interns regularly to provide feedback concerning their performance. During these meetings, the students can:
- Report on the status of a project
- Ask questions
- Learn how their work is contributing to the organization
- Participate in an evaluation of their strengths
- Discuss areas needing growth and development
- Get a sense of what kind of work lies ahead
At the same time you will have an opportunity to coach, counsel and reinforce positive attitudes and performance.
Communicate with Internship Coordinator
Anticipate that you will have some interaction with your students’ internship coordinator through telephone calls, on-site visits, and written evaluations. Internship Coordinators will help you find a solution if difficulties occur (intern attendance or punctuality problems, low motivation, unsatisfactory work, or personal conflicts). Also, you should get in touch with the college contact if the internship conditions must be altered, such as a change in supervisors, delays in the availability of data needed by the students to complete an assignment, a strike by unionized employees, transfer or termination of an employee involved in the interns’ work, or other unanticipated changes.
Have Students Keep a Portfolio
Encourage your interns to keep a portfolio of work accomplished during the experience. This will help fulfill the students’ academic requirements and provide them with a sense of accomplishment. In addition, it will give you a basis to discuss their professional growth. Specific work documents to include in a portfolio might be any of the following:
- Job Description
- Company Newsletters
- Financial Reports
- Performance Appraisal
- Displays & Exhibits
- Survey Reports
- Citations and Awards
- Press Releases
- Cost Analyses
- Program Outlines
- Research Report
In addition to spontaneous and informal meetings, you can use the Employer Evaluation of Student Intern form to evaluate your interns’ performance at the midpoint of the internship, so the students know where they stand. You should consider the quality and timeliness of the work produced to date, ability to take and follow direction, work habits, and areas needing growth and development. This information will also provide data for the final evaluation and serve as a reference point for the students’ subsequent performance.
- Maintain an open channel of communication with formal and informal meetings
- Keep the interns busy and directed towards their learning objectives. Students rarely complain of overwork, but they do complain if they are not challenged
- Provide opportunities for increasing responsibility
- Encourage professionalism by assisting the interns in developing human relations skills, decision-making abilities, and managing office politics
- Remember that you are a role model
- Develop connections
Evaluating the Intern’s Progress
- Review your organization’s goals as well as the intern’s goals and requirements on a regular basis. In the beginning of an internship, more frequent meetings may be helpful to both you and the intern.
- Evaluation processes may differ and may be formal or informal depending on your organization’s culture and structure. There are similarities that both interns and internship supervisors have in the evaluation process.
- Review the intern/job description that was developed and determine if progress is being made.
- Review tasks and assignments and clarify expectations.
- Determine if assistance or training is needed to help the intern be successful.
- Ask the intern to evaluate his/her experience and allow the opportunity to offer feedback and voice concerns as well as successes.
- Written evaluations may be helpful if your organization would like to consider hiring interns.
- Written evaluations by both intern and employer can also provide the opportunity to publicize the success of your internship program to management and to potential interns.
- Evaluating Your Program
Maintaining program popularity will require hard evidence that your organization is getting a return on its investment. Some organizations have adopted a process of formal exit interviews. Through this process they can determine if interns are leaving the company having had a good experience, and provide valuable feedback to managers for program planning in the following year.
In addition to qualitative measures, a number of quantitative measures have also been adopted. Some common measures include the number of interns that become full-time employees; repeat requests for interns from managers; and growing numbers of intern applicants. In order to successfully measure your own program outcome, you should return to the stated program goals, and address those outcomes.
Keep Your Focus on the Future
With the need for skilled and qualified employees, it makes sense to investigate quality university, college, community college and technical school students who may be interested in internships during their educational careers. The decision to take on interns will give you a competitive advantage in recruiting the best workers. You will already be known to the employees you want most. Your new workers will be trained for your workplace and loyal to your company. Statistically, hiring interns has proven to lower training time, reduce recruiting costs and significantly lower turnover rates. You will build a reputation that will pay off with students, colleges and the community. Your company will save money while benefiting from the input of talented, enthusiastic and innovative people. With all of these advantages, you might find you can’t afford to ignore internships.
PDF Download 'Top 10 Concerns of Interns' and sample internship forms to assist in developing your internship plan.