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Developing a Quality Internship Program

"An academic internship is a form of experiential education that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. An integral component of the experience that distinguishes it from other types of work is one or more forms of structured and deliberate reflection contained within learning agendas or objectives."                                                 Subscribers to the Internship-Net Listserve

The Importance of Interns

Hosting and supporting interns is a great way to share your expertise and prepare students for the workforce. You will not only help students gain real work experience, you will also gain many benefits such as:

  • A source of highly motivated pre-professionals
  • Students with fresh ideas, new perspectives, and valuable skill sets
  • Quality candidates for temporary or seasonal projects or positions
  • Flexible, cost-effective workforce not requiring a long-term commitment by the employer
  • Proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential employees
Getting Started

Before you recruit and hire interns, here are some things you should think about and develop:

  • Duties you want the intern to perform. Draft a job description that clearly explains the job's duties. Do you want someone for a specific project? Or a person to become an integral and contributing part of your staff?
  • Compensation the intern will receive
  • Physical space where the intern will work
  • Academic background/experience you would like the intern to have
  • Primary contact or supervisor for the intern

All these points are important for you and the intern. Clear cut duties and procedures will make the intern more productive. The positive benefits of having an intern will increase the more you define what you want their role to be.

A job description should include:

  • Job Title
  • Brief company description
  • Job description - list specific duties the intern will be asked to perform as well as other potential projects that could come up
  • Skills required and/or desired
  • Major/school of study and GPA if applicable
  • Time of year, length of opportunity
  • Schedule desired - hours per week, time of day, etc.
  • Compensation
  • Application deadline

Other Details to Know

  • Typically, internships must be a minimum of 120 hours for the length of the semester. Internships often parallel academic semesters, running from September-December, January-April, and May- August.
  • Students can earn academic credits for internships. Duquesne University awards credits and thus determines whether an internship is credit-worthy. Compensation is not tied to credits, therefore a student may earn credit for a paid or unpaid internship.
  • Universities often require mid-term and final evaluations from the employer for the student to earn credit. Be prepared to fill out the necessary paperwork for the intern.
Recruiting Interns

Utilize Handshake, Duquesne University's online job board, to post your internships. Students access postings at all hours of the day - and night!

Recruit early! Give yourself plenty of time to gather resumes, properly review candidates, and interview potential interns.

After the Intern is Hired

It is important to treat your intern like you would any new employee. Even if the intern has some work experience, chances are this is one of their first real-world office or professional experiences. There are important steps to make the intern's first day, and the following weeks, a success.

Prior to the intern's first day:

  • Create a space that the intern will sit, along with the appropriate tools to complete the job description, and proper storage for ongoing projects (a computer, pens, notebooks, folders, phone, etc).
  • Set up company email, voicemail, or any other personalized tools the intern will need.
  • Alert staff of the intern's start date and explain what role the intern will play in the company.
  • Make sure the intern knows the office dress code, their start date and time, and who to ask for when they arrive on the first day.

A thorough orientation prior to or on the first day:

  • Show the intern around the office and point out important work areas. Don't forget to include places like the kitchen/refrigerator, water cooler, and bathroom on your tour.
  • Introduce the intern to all staff members. If there is time, have a brief conversations with individual staff members so the intern can learn what role s/he plays in the company.
  • Teach the intern the basics - how to use the phones, greet clients, office policies and procedures (give the intern a company handbook or intern handbook), a computer orientation (how to access the company server, use company email, internet policies, etc). 
  • Give the intern a list of special industry vocabulary, if applicable.

These preparations will add to a strong first day, make the intern feel welcome in your company, and create a great working environment for everyone involved.

Managing Your Interns

It's important to have ongoing meetings and contact with your intern. Even after the intern begins to feel like part of the company, supervision is necessary for a successful internship.

  • Have clear cut work objectives and continue assign projects when each one is finished.
  • Set up regular meetings with your intern. Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins will assure that the intern is completing their duties and that s/he has enough work.  Scheduled meetings allow you and the intern to have consistent communication to voice questions, concerns, or praise.
  • Interns love feedback. Don't limit feedback to just regular meetings.
  • Be mindful of the mid-term and final evaluations which are likely components for for-credit internship. You may have paperwork to fill out and certain deadlines to meet.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact the university's internship coordinator.
End of Internship Tasks

You want to end the internship experience just as strongly as you started. Some things to consider for the end of the student's internship:

  • Assure that all necessary paperwork is completed.
  • If the experience was exceptional, offer to write the student a letter of recommendation for their portfolio.
  • Set a concrete final day for the intern, so the student has the opportunity to finish projects, say good-bye to employees, and tie up any loose ends.

                                                                                                                                    Special thanks to Michael True, Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, PA