A guideline for employers and hosts
If prepared and run well, internship can be very beneficial to both employers and students. Internships can be done online or in real life. When prepared well, it should work both ways.
What’s in it for you as an employer?
If run well, the internship would get you these benefits:
- Access to younger generations’ way of working, way of thinking. Changes in attitude towards work and learning with younger generations are significant in many respects. Social media and dependence on online resources has had an enormous impact. Internships create a great way to get to grips with this.
- A fresh view. Bringing in someone from the outside, a young person, brings you a fresh pair of eyes to your organization and the challenges you have. Motivating the student to share their point of view on what they observe could help you in receiving new insights.
- An extra pair of hands. When you succeed in offering the right support, challenge and opportunity to learn, the student definitely would offer you that extra pair of hands. It’s critical to not take this as granted. Too often interns are brought in with poor support, leaving them demotivated and ‘just observing’.
- A potential new hire. It depends a bit on what education trajectory the student is planning to take, but generally many organizations do use internships as a way to select future hires.
- Doing good to your community. Helping students ‘bridge the gap’ from theory to practice is invaluable to getting them ready for their search for the right career path, the path to fulfilment and independence. It is rewarding to contribute to this; for them, for you, for the impact and reputation your organization has to your community.
What’s in it for the student?
- A first impression of ‘work’. The impression that students have of ‘work’ in general is often unrealistic. The internship could help them get ready for work life. Experience the dynamics of goals and delivery, working with colleagues, understanding decision making, etc.
- A reality check on career direction. Students either have a good idea about where they want to go, or don’t have a clue. The internship could offer invaluable experience to test a career direction they have in mind. Is it indeed what they expected? Should they reconsider? And for those who just don’t know yet: would this be something to consider? Is this something that nicely builds on my talents and interests? Or the opposite?
- The start of a network. We all know the importance of having the right network to get things done. The internship could serve as an important reminder and building block for students to start creating their network.
So, how to make the internship successful?
- Choose the right tasks. Think about what activities you can expose the student to. Can you carve out a project? Can you somehow define a set of tasks that the student could ‘own’ or have a clear contribution to? How to pick activities that offer great learning opportunities ? What’s the best way to expose the student to the breadth of the work your organization has on offer?
- Set and agree learning goals. List the things you think would be key for the student to get out of the internship. This could be a mix of more generic goals around ‘work experience’ and more specific goals that relate to the project or activities you would like to assign the student to. Remember to make them ‘learning goals’. What do you think the student should learn (with your support)? This could include some performance goals. But don’t make performance goals the priority. It’s about learning. Upon arrival of the student, or may be in a preparatory meeting, make sure to discuss and align the learning objectives with the student.
- Manage an effective induction. This could well be the first work experience the student will have. Make it a memorable one. Induction is about the small and big things. From the welcome coffee, to having prepared your team, to having booked a series of meetings before the student arrives.
- Make it relevant and attractive. Give them a taste of what your organization is doing, what kind of activities you have, what kind of customers you serve, what kind of external contacts or third parties you are in touch with. Also show them how your organization is structured. And share with them what culture you have. Talk about your competitors, and how you stand out. Share -if possible- your strategic goals. If necessary have the student sign an NDA. Great internships combine ‘learning’ with ‘experiencing’. Best is if the student is given real tasks, so they can experience what it is to work in your environment. The learnings comes part of just experiencing the job and work environment. But it is also important you spend time with the student to explain things well, so their learning gets reinforced.
- Give feedback. It will be key to offer regular feedback. Feedback is often the biggest source of learning. Share your observations of how the student picks up new knowledge, builds contacts, behaves in a new environment. And of course, review how they make progress against their learning goals. Make sure to give balanced feedback and be constructive. Err on kindness at the expense of directness.
- Stay in touch. As said before, the internship could serve as an important step for the student tip build their network. Apart from that, the student may be a candidate for your organization over time. Exchange contact details and make it a habit to send a regular message to the student’s email of home address to stay connected.
Make it relevant for students.
We developed a simple model that offers the 4 key angles to any job, relevant for students who are exploring careers. Take it as a simple checklist to make sure you offer relevant information to the student.
SKILLS: What is required to get there, in skills, knowledge, attitudes, competencies, what makes you stand out, what kind of education paths are recommended.
PLACE: How does an average workweek look like in terms of work location. How static or dynamic is it. How much variety in location is there. How much do you spend behind your screen, how much are you ‘on the road’.
PEOPLE: How does your interaction with people look like in the job. What kind of interactions do you have. Is the job more ‘on your own’ or more teamwork by nature? What are the nice people parts, what are the more challenging people parts.
LIFESTYLE. What does your typical work week look like in terms of working hours, deadlines, pressure. How much stress is there in the job. How is the lifestyle you can typically afford in this job or career in terms of (for instance) house you can buy or vacations you can take.
Running an internship online.
Running an internship online could be organized for most types of jobs. Jobs that are for most part perfumed behind a screen make things easy. It is important to then make sure the intern us supported by:
- Clear instruction and guidance on doing the job, having ample access to your and/or colleagues to get questions answered. Having a colleague call in on a regular base would be very helpful
- Receiving sufficient exposure to the complexity of your organization, the dynamics of colleagues and external parties. This could be solved by having them participate in online meetings, and introducing them to a variety of colleagues.
If the job includes some physical work, which you would want the student experience also, it is getting a bit more complicated. There are generally two ways you could take as possible solutions.
- Set up demonstrations the student can watch online. Placing an iPhone at the right spot might suffice for the student to get a sense for what is happening. This could be a good solution for medical or research professions, or industrial support functions that require some physical handling of products or ingredients.
- Send materials to the student’s home and offer online instruction and feedback on handling the work. This could be effective for more artistic or trade like professions.
Building successful internships: Lessons from the research for interns, schools, and employers