How to Build a Successful Internship Program

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It may feel like winter, but to college students, summer is right around the corner. Or at lease summer internships are. So now is the time for employers to consider: Is our internship program all that it should be? And if not, how can we make it so?

There are many reasons to have, or improve upon, a summer internship program. At Farbman Group, one of our primary objectives for developing and offering an internship program is that it gives us an opportunity to attract future employees and to offer them (and us) a low-risk opportunity to see they are a good fit for our company.

Our company has had an internship program for more than 20 years, and during the last decade we have taken steps to make sure we are constantly improving upon it, and working to ensure that Farbman and the 10-15 interns we bring every summer are getting the maximum benefit from the program.

A major shift in our approach came when we began investing in our interns’ long-term goals. First, we invited them to participate in our internal professional development program, Farbman University, where they can attend several classes during the summer. Topics include things such as diversity training, stress management and several options related to our field including property management, brokerage, construction, etc.

We also involve interns in the community, offering them two major benefits. First, they can begin learning to network and building their professional network early. Second, and this is something that can’t be overstated: We want them to have fun. We want them to enjoy their experience enough that they will want to put down roots in the Metro Detroit area, rather than taking their talent and academic degrees to other cities they may perceive as more fun and exciting.

To that end, we involve the interns in programs such as After 5 Detroit, a non-profit that works to keep young professionals in the area by introducing them to each other, and to all the fun activities, entertainment options and cultural offerings available in Southeast Michigan. They have activities like beach volleyball, Dinner With Execs, a restaurant crawl and other social and professional networking events.

We offer a few ideas for companies to consider if they are establishing or improving internship programs:

• Determine your objectives. When we first started our internship program, it was loosely put together. It was based on who simply told us they could use some help. There is now a formal program in place and a common goal: We want to bring in candidates who will want to stay with us. To get the best candidates, we constantly are improving our program to make it attractive, and to make it a good test for how well an intern will do with Farbman.

• How will this program benefit the interns? Interns require a time commitment on the part of an organization and the individuals overseeing it. We have learned there are many ways of teaching. One is that we spend time teaching them the specifics of the job and work with them to teach them how to do it under guided supervision. The other way is to “throw them in the pool” and let them learn to swim. Each style works better in some of our departments than in others. The latter allows more of a free thinking methodology and tests to see how an intern works through an objective. Each supervisor is required to set up their program and write out a plan for approval. The last thing you want is to have an intern with nothing meaningful to do, who isn’t learning anything.

• To pay, or not to pay? We pay our interns. We wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re doing real work, and it is our philosophy that they should be compensated. As an added benefit it eliminates a focus on legal issues that sometimes arise when interns are unpaid. Every company is different, however, and must weigh the pros and cons of paying or not paying interns.

• How will you recruit? We post internally and externally. We post at most Michigan universities and on our website and social networks. This year we are sending our HR team and select management to universities to recruit. Interns apply and supply us with resumes. Some departments require interns to complete qualifying exams. They interview with direct supervisors and executives.

• What are you looking for? We receive hundreds of applications annually. We look for candidates who are confident, passionate, and strongly attuned to the business, in construction, accounting and finance, marketing, brokerage and human relations, etc. It’s essential that we do a good job of matching an internship candidate’s skill set with the job.

• What do you do with them when then get to your office? It all starts with onboarding. They meet with every department head and spend up to a half-day with each. We provide an orientation program that is meant to teach them about our organization and its expectations. We assign them meaningful work, and encourage them to take part in our internal professional development program, as well as meaningful and fun activities with our organization and within the community.
When an internship program is well-planned, interns can boost your company’s productivity by bringing with them fresh skills and perspectives, as well as the hard work they will put in. An internship program is a great way to give back to our community by investing in the next generation of workers who will soon enter the workforce in your industry.