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Career Development Center

Build Your Talent Pipeline Through Internship

Steps to Success

As an employer, internships can serve several purposes that benefit your organization.  A well designed and implemented internship program can provide you with a pipeline of future employees, staff to complete special projects or assist during peak seasons, fresh and creative perspectives on challenges and opportunities your organization encounters, and a cost effective way to evaluate potential full-time employers with no long-term commitment. They can also serve as ambassadors of your organization to other students on campus, increasing students’ “brand awareness” of your company.

There are several keys to success of any internship program. Follow these recommendations and you’ll find a great return on your investment in your internship program.

  1. Determine the needs of your organization and the goals of your internship program.  Having the end in mind will increase the likelihood of program success.

  2. Obtain by-in at all levels of your organization.  From top leadership, to the HR Department, to the intern supervisors and the staff that will be interacting with the intern, all need to be committed to goals and the success of the program.

  3. Develop a position description for each internship role.  In addition to the job description and qualifications, also indicate the skills and knowledge to be developed through the internship. Keep in mind, no internship should consist of more than 20% clerical work (or grunt work, busy work, or what ever you might call it).  It's best if the intern has a project to complete that is of real value to the organization.  Upon completion of the project, an internship best practice to have the student conduct a presentation for the organization's leadership about that project and its results as part of the intern's culminating experience.

  4. Determine a compensation plan for student interns. - Internships can be paid or unpaid. However, to offer an unpaid internship, you must follow the Department of Labor’s (DOL) requirements pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The DOL has developed a fact sheet for employers regarding the requirements needed to justify an internship being unpaid. This fact sheet can be found at

    For-profit organizations offering unpaid internships, in addition to meeting the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, must ensure that the student is enrolled in an appropriate academic internship course. The student can only serve at the internship site for the number of hours required by the course. No additional hours can be "volunteered" at a for-profit organization.

  5. Identify Internship Managers and Mentors. - The internship manager may simply be the manager in the department where the intern is assigned. However, if there is more than one individual who could serve in this capacity, the best equipped person would be someone who is interested in developing new employees, can identify potential in inexperienced employees, has the time to spend with the intern to provide adequate supervision and evaluation, and understands the importance of the internship program in recruiting and retaining new employees.

    While the internship manager can serve as a mentor to the intern, it would be ideal to have another individual serve as a mentor. This person can serve as resource to the intern as she or he navigates your organization’s culture. A mentor provides the intern with guidance and a safe place to process the internship experience. Ideally, the mentor would be someone who has been out of college less than five years, works in the same department as the intern, is familiar with the intern’s projects and day-to-day tasks, and has time and interest in serving as a mentor. 

  6. Develop an Internship Program Schedule. – Starting as early as Kindergarten, students have been provided a syllabus of what to expect, what is required in terms of assignments, clear instructions on how to do those assignments and when they are to be completed.  However, in the World of Work, there is no syllabus.  By developing an Internship Program Schedule, much like a syllabus, you will ease your student interns into the culture of work and help them be more effective and motivated as a member of your team.  Part of this schedule needs to regular weekly feedback sessions between the Intern and the Internship Site Supervisor/Mentor.

  7. Contact the Career Development Center at the universities where you wish to recruit.  -They can assist you in effectively promoting your opportunity to students and faculty in the relevant academic programs and assist you becoming an approved site for academic internship courses.

  8. Interview intern candidates, select your interns and train interns. - To find the very best candidates for your internship begin recruiting to fill the position at least three to four months prior to when you want the intern to start. 

    Once you’ve selected your interns, providing orientation and training is your next step. While your interns may have worked in part-time positions while going to school, they may not have been exposed to the importance of teamwork, organizational politics, confidentiality and proprietary information or the organization’s focus on the "bottom line". Topics for training can include:

    • Mission and Structure of the Organization
    • Organizational Policies and Procedures, Culture and Expectations
    • Safety Training – This should always be included.
    • The Intern’s Specific Responsibilities
    • Internship Program Schedule

  9. Evaluate the Intern and Your Program - If your intern is receiving academic credit for the internship, you will be asked to complete at least one evaluation of the student’s performance. If only one evaluation, this will be completed toward the end of the semester. Some courses will also require a mid-semester evaluation. Giving the intern honest feedback is essential to their growth as young professionals.

    Regardless of whether or not the intern is receiving academic credit, your internship program should have an evaluation process to assess the quality of your internship program and assists you in making decisions about offering long-term employment to your graduating interns. This evaluation process should include:

    • Intern feedback through surveys and focus groups
    • Intern mid-term and final reports and presentations on their projects. 
    • Exit interviews concerning the interns’ experience in the program.
    • Intern manager evaluations.

Additionally, about 2 or 3 weeks prior to the end of the internship, ask the intern if there was anything they wanted to do or experience and they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do so.  Then, if feasible, make that happen.  It will leave a very positive impression with the intern and one they will want to share with their fellow students.

In addition to these step, the Career Development Center at Fresno State, through their University Internship Coordinator, is available to help you at any step in this process.  Think of us as the consultant you don’t have to pay for. 

To discuss your existing internship program or discuss establishing a new program, please contact Mary Willis, University Internship Coordinator, at or 559.278.4207.