The current economic climate has forced many businesses to look for new and creative ways to reduce operating costs but many overlook one of the most obvious options. Internship programs provide businesses with a number of immediate and potentially long-term benefits.

For the short-tem, an internship program can provide your business with eager, inexpensive labor. Over time, interns often learn the skills they need to excel within the company and easily transition into valuable, full-fledged employees who posess the skills needed to immediately add value to the business.

Internship programs are also a winning proposition for interns who gain valuable on-the-job experience and professional experience that can help them land a job with your company or elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many businesses fail to properly plan their internship programs in advance. Without a fully thought out game plan, interns can actually be a drain on your human and financial resources and create a negative perception of your business in the mind of the intern.

Here are some tips on how to plan and implement a successful internship program.

Set Realistic Expectations

Before launching into an internship program, decide what you expect of the intern and what they can expect from you. If you have a short-term assignment performing a limited number of mundane tasks with no possibility of advancement, you’re much better off hiring a temporary employee.

Although interns are typically assigned more menial tasks initially, there is the unspoken understanding that they will be entrusted with greater responsibility and exposed to a wider range of assignments over time. Limiting your intern to performing only the tasks nobody else wants to handle can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction.

Assign Supervisors

Remember that your intern will require training and supervision just like a new employee would so you’ll need to  determine who will provide that supervision and training. In most cases, it’s a good idea to delegate the task to multiple people within your organization. This will prevent any one employee from feeling like they have to shoulder the responsibility alone and will also help you determine how to best utilize the intern’s skills and talents.

Treat the Intern Search like an Employee Search

Most universities, colleges and community colleges will work with you to locate the best candidate for your intern program. Start by creating a description of the intern position and include all relevant information and requirements such as:

  • Hours required
  • Pay (if any)
  • Duties
  • Required skills

In addition to listing the things you require of the intern, be sure to include a list of what the intern can expect to gain from the experience. Most interns will expect some financial compensation for their time. However, they will be more likely to consider an internship that offers lower pay if it provides them valuable real world experience and the opportunity to increase their marketable skills.

Keep it Professional

There is often a tendency to hold lower paid interns to a different standard than regular employees. Doing so, however, can create misunderstandings and problems. You should set a completely professional tone starting with the initial interview.

If a candidate indicates that he or she will be unable to meet your expectations and requirements, you are under no obligation to offer them the position. Settling for less than what you need in terms of skills and availability will only lead to disappointment in the long run. Take the time to find the right person for the position.

Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate

As is the case with your regular employees, you should constantly monitor and evaluate your intern’s performance. Get regular feedback from the intern and from his or her supervisors over the course of the program and make adjustments as necessary. Once the internship program is completed, get recommendations from your team on how to make the program more productive and efficient going forward.