A Brief Introduction to Starting an Outstanding Intern Program


There are a ton of freely available articles, blogs, how to’s, and other publications about the benefits of good internship programs so why haven’t you started one yet?

A need has been identified. In another blog post on Govloop.com Donna Dyer describes that 20% of interns graduating in 2014 wanted to intern in government. This doesn’t sound like many, however, at my agency we are consistently getting about 80% more applications than intern opportunities to fill and most interns have told us that they don’t even get a call back when they submit their application somewhere else.

A solution is within reach. There are two problems going on in the working world today that when paired together can cancel each other out. Problem #1: We all have to do more with less. Problem #2: There are not enough jobs available for all graduates just coming out of school. According to Forbes, in 2014 59% of Master Degree students did not have a job when they graduated. Graduates are facing that horrible option of living with the parents after life in college.

Giving students the opportunity to intern not only allows them to meet their graduation requirements, it likely, especially if you’ve given them quality training and projects to work on, help them avoid moving back to mom’s house by enabling them to list experience on their resumes along with the degree. A good well rounded program will also help the intern narrow down their career path of choice. The more opportunities you can give them to work in other areas, shadow people, and attend meetings will help them determine what types of work they enjoy or what they will want to avoid.

Based on the experience in our agency , the following are the minimum elements that I suggest; all of them are completely researchable and customizable and expandable:

  1. Develop relationships with nearby universities. Find universities in your area that have degree fields in the organization’s departments that need work. Make contact the advisors who will send student’s your way. Supply them with an intern program description announcement and keep it up to date.
  2. Update your web page. A very clear How To Apply for an Internships should easy to find on your page.
  3. Perform real interviews. The experience not only helps you get the best qualified candidate but it is good real life experience for the intern. They don’t need to be and shouldn’t be experts but you should have a minimum qualification. In our case they have to have taken at least an Intro to GIS course.
  4. Set up a means to track and report. At minimum you should track hours and their tasks for the day, number of interns working in which departments at any given time, which university they came from, what degree program they are enrolled in. All of these metrics will help you improve your program when you get to that step.
  5. Ensure an equal experience. Make sure all your interns are going through the same orientation process and reviewing and signing the same policy documents. Treating interns equally will help ensure that some interns do not walk away uplifted and others feeling gipped.
  6. Make sharing part of the experience. Make sure that the intern understands what is expected from them on their assigned projects and let them contribute. Have status update meetings where they participate, invite them to other meetings, help them get opportunities to spend some time with other parts of your organization.
  7. Appreciate them. Appreciate them. Appreciate them. I take all my interns out to lunch on my own dime at the end of their session, it is completely worth it.
  8. Do an official close out. Get ID badges back, give them a professional signed certificate of completion, and email an exit survey to them. The survey should be asking about things you can improve and let you know if your program is working. We ask specific questions about how they were supervised, did they get the information they needed, was the staff knowledgeable, was the application process easy? Then we actually use this data to make improvements.
  9. Make improvements between semesters. The improvements should be based on all that data suggested back in step 3 and from the exit survey in step

Bonus tip: if the interns are working on a revolving project, IE one intern comes on board and continues where another left off, use a collaboration software like MS Office OneNote to store notes, comments and how to’s. This has been another key element to the success of our program. The very first interns started leaving a welcome note for the next interns and that process has carried forward for almost two years now.

Ready? …. 1, 2, 3, go!

Still not ready? If you want to learn more, here are some links to more detailed information:

Laura Thorne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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