Focus on Internships Part 4 – Critical Success Factors

Alright!  You’re nearing the end of The Gap, done all you could to close your top intern candidates and you now have a pretty good idea of the talent joining you this summer.   Now, the really fun part starts – revving up your internship program! No doubt, you’ve already ironed out most of the program details, but, how can you ensure it’s “all it can be” for success this summer and in the future?

There are a number of factors which are critical to ensuring a perennially successful internship program, i.e., one that is not only a competitor, but is an ongoing leader in the marketplace.  At a minimum, contenders will be able to check off most or all of the following events & activities:

  1. Dynamic Opening & Closing Receptions with Executive Speakers
  2. Corporate & BU-specific Orientations
  3. Alumni Panels
  4. Training & Career Development Sessions
  5. Intern / Program Performance Reviews with Focus Groups & Surveys
  6. Intern Presentations
  7. Networking Events & Social Media
  8. Exit interviews
  9. Intern Ambassador Program

Underpinning these activities is a need for a compelling business case and adequate resources.  An intern program is a double-edged sword which can HELP or HURT an organization’s all-important brand in equal measure.  Done correctly, it will yield exponential branding & recruitment returns, as interns spread the good news about your firm / program on campus.  If executed poorly however, you can count on interns to spread the bad news just as rapidly. So the bottom line is you need to set the groundwork by presenting a convincing intern program business case to organizational leaders over time in order to secure adequate resources to ensure an ongoing successful program.

This article will focus on several critical success factors for the following key stakeholders:  intern program directors, hiring manager/intern supervisors, and the interns, themselves.

Intern Program Director CSFs

One of the fundamental activities critical to the success of intern program directors is some level of strategic planning:  developing a strategic plan, establishing objectives, and implementing strategies to achieve those objectives.  If you are developing a new program, you may find it helpful to employ Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits maxim, “begin with the end in mind”.  For example, answer the following questions: What would a successful Intern program look like at your organization? What would be the components?  Who are the key stakeholders? How will the program be differentiated from competitors?

Success also requires a systemic approach in order to create an organized, robust and synchronized program in which all stakeholders are adequately resourced, engaged and coordinated to support the program.  The result is a smoothly operated program firing on all cylinders, working in unison toward the same measurable goals. Some other critical success factors for program directors touch on organization and program design elements:

  • Hold a kickoff meeting to mobilize and coordinate the activities of various corporate stakeholders & participants: executives, hiring managers/supervisors, HR / college recruiters, campus teams, communications, training & career development,  I.T. / technical, mentors, employee resource/young professionals groups, etc.
  • Design a program incorporating the millennial mindset – what excites, motivates & inspires them, e.g., corporate social responsibility, community projects & making an impact on society, career advancement, interesting & challenging work, training & mentoring, etc.
  • Deliver presentations on critical success factors to intern account managers
  • Install mechanisms to ensure program is optimized and interns stay on track as well as for continuous improvement, e.g., intern performance reviews (mid-term & end-of-summer), intern program evaluation via surveys & focus groups, adequate program support and coordination from corporate, etc.
  • Document your program and institute metrics – maintain intern database, assess lessons learned, measure progress over time, etc.
  • Utilize key best practices resources­ – including, Regional ACE conferences, roundtables & workshops,,, College Networking Resource Group

Hiring Manager/Intern Supervisor CSFs

Establish a customized intern program plan to support your organizational structure:

  • Develop onboarding materials to help interns understand the role of your group within the organization as a whole as well as account strategy and goals
  • Provide real work, not administrative, assignments to your intern
  • Make yourself available to the intern as much as possible
  • Expose intern to multiple aspects of the business (consider rotational assignment, job shadowing, etc.)
  • Provide continuous feedback to the intern about their performance and contribution
  • Encourage interns to network, participate in all activities and to share experiences with other interns
  • Keep intern program director informed about intern status, plans for the future, etc.

Intern CSFs

The intern program director and hiring managers/supervisors should communicate the following messages to interns throughout the internship.

  • Understand & leverage resources across the entire company to complete work assignments
  • ‘Use It or Lose It’ – Resourcefulness, proactivity, curiosity and openness are important but if interns don’t use (apply) these traits, they lose their potential effectiveness.  
  • Take responsibility for your own success and apply yourself.
  • Participate.  Be engaged
  • Learn as much as possible about your job, business unit, industry; ask questions
  • Identify gaps in your own knowledge and abilities and take steps to fill the gap; don’t wait for manager to initiate
  • Freely provide your (highly valued) perspectives
  • Network with diverse set of interns across the company on different teams, working in different functions, at other grade levels, schools, etc. Utilize intern social networking events, use available social media, & participate with employee resource groups
  • Have Fun!

We hope you find these suggestions useful.   Wishing you highly successful internship program this summer!

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