A New Look at the Summer Internship

Summer internships have been a staple in the business world for decades. In fact, if you think back to your college days, I’m sure you can remember looking forward to the opportunities you might get through your summer internship. Or you might be thinking of how you spent the entire summer of your junior year making copies, filing papers and getting coffee. In many ways, internships haven’t changed much. They often pay very little, consist of rote, mundane tasks, and rarely evolve into permanent opportunities.

But as a business owner, YOU can change that. Summer internships provide an opportunity for you to hone your mentoring skills. Creating meaningful internships for students will benefit your business and move it forward. And the students will gain much needed experience, skills and a professional mentor they can go to, to help them navigate their career path. You have the power to create summer internship positions that students will flock to!

Here are 5 tips not only for creating a meaningful internship program, but being an effective professional mentor as well.

1.     Take time.  – Taking time to engage with and train your internship is paramount. The intern will learn very little from their experience if they never interact with you or see you in action.  Be sure to clear your calendar and set aside adequate training time the first week your interns arrive. You’ll both benefit from this.

2.     Provide meaningful work. – Of course, very few interns come with experience. But the upside is, they have no experience! They don’t have a benchmark by which things have always been done. They are not jaded by years of stress and giving into stale expectations. Take advantage of this fresh perspective! You will be surprised by what they can bring to the table. An intern may help you to move forward on a project you’ve been stuck on, or bring you a new technology you didn’t know about before.

3.     Help with networking. – One of the perks of being a summer intern is gaining familiarity with the business. Take them with you to a lunch meeting with a new client, or that after-hours networking event. Introduce them to your colleagues and clients and encourage them to build their own business network.

4.     Give feedback. – One of the best ways to help someone improve their skills is critical feedback. Learning how to offer critical feedback in a way that is encouraging is essential. Most people want to get better, but can’t if they don’t know where they went wrong. Schedule weekly check-ins with your interns to provide feedback and hear any questions or concerns they might have.

5.     Provide extra perks. - “If you can’t offer summer interns the same competitive wages as larger businesses in your area, consider offering more creative benefits such as a relaxed business casual dress code, flexible hours, events such as a company barbeque or specially-designated summer days such as “Smoothie Fridays” where you provide fresh ingredients to make smoothies for your employees (and customers).” –Monster.com Or maybe you can provide a gym membership, or tickets to a summer baseball game. Get creative, and think of some inexpensive things you can do to create a positive work environment, not only for your interns, but your employees as well!

These simple items will help you to build an effective and enjoyable internship program for all involved. At most, you may gain a long-term employee with highly-tailored skills for your specific business. At least, you may create a life-long memory for a young professional, who will take that experience with them for the remainder of their career. It really is a win-win.