Interns can be a great addition to a business, but many companies don’t take advantage of them because the owners may not understand how to set up an internship.

There are plenty of reasons to set up an internship at your company. For many businesses, it’s a chance to train people and find the best suited to hire on as full time employees down the road, but the benefits go far beyond that. You’ll see increased productivity without drastic increases in costs, higher employee loyalty rates and your company will benefit from the enhanced image provided by giving something back to the community. You will also get the added benefit of of knowing that you have helped train someone new to her field in the skills necessary to work in your industry.

Do Your Research

There are several things to keep in mind when planning an internship. Legalities are the biggest concern, so make sure that one of your first steps is to discuss your idea with a lawyer who is familiar with the laws for interns. This will help you lay the groundwork for your program and ensures that everything will stay legal.

Take some time to think about what an intern would do for your business and how many interns are necessary. You will probably want to take things slowly at first, working with just one at a time, since you will find that interns usually need a considerable amount of training. Do you have the resources for this?

What will you look for in an intern? It’s a good idea to have list of qualities and skills that you need, to make it easier when trying to choose from a large group of potentials. Not all of them will have the same skills or experience, so knowing what you want ahead of time can help you make a decision faster. Keep in mind that nearly everyone will be looking to gain experience, so don’t rule out those who are just starting out.

Another consideration is how much to pay. You will usually pay considerably less than a regular employee and sometimes you can even get an intern for free, but you should know what you can afford before entering into negotiations.

Finally, it’s important to set a date for the internship. Will you take students on for two months in the summer? Six months? Or will you be offering a part-time, year round internship? If you are working with a local university, you may be required to host the intern for at least a semester and meet certain requirements from the school.

Plan Your Program

Once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for in an intern and how long the program will be, it’s time to start fleshing it out a little. Make a detailed plan for the internship, which should include the following:

  • Learning goals
  • Daily and weekly responsibilities
  • Project outlines
  • Evaluation guidelines
  • Policies and orientation

Each intern should be assigned to someone within the business who will give him an orientation tour and help the intern learn the ropes. You may have more than one person training the student, depending on the duties expected of him, or just have the same employee work with him.

If you are planning to have more than two or three interns, it’s best to have an internship supervisor: someone who can keep an eye on everyone, including those training the new interns. The supervisor will be responsible for smoothing out any problems that occur, ensuring that training and evaluations are progressing according to the program schedule and generally making sure it all runs smoothly.

Start the Program

Now that everything is in order, you can get started. Set the start date at least 3-6 weeks out so that students have time to apply, particularly if you are just starting the program. You will want to let professors at nearby schools know what you are offering and make sure that the word gets out. Social media and blogging can both be excellent methods of promotion for your internships and there are several websites that allow you to post your positions online, including

Once the resumes begin to come in, your intern supervisor will need to look at each applicant, discard those who are not suitable for the program and arrange interviews with those who seem like potential candidates. Have a cutoff date for the application so that you can hold all the interviews in the space of a few days.

Narrow the list down to just a few good potential interns and then do a background check on each of them. Make sure to check their references, as well, since this can give you more information about the type of person you are about to hire. This can help you make your final decision, something the supervisor should have a hand in, since he will be dealing directly with the interns during their internships.

An internship isn’t difficult to implement, but it does require some time to set up and even more to handle the interns that you bring on board. It’s best to have at least one employee reserved to handle the training of your new interns, to make sure everything runs smoothly. Once you’ve had the extra help, chances are you’ll want to continue the program, year after year.