Making the most of interns at your (small) company

In March, Advancing San Diego held a webinar on making the most of interns at small companies. Find the complete guide for building a successful internship program, complete with considerations for remote workers, here: Making the most of (remote) interns.

Whether it’s practicing social distancing, increasing safety and cleanliness procedures, or working remote, you’re likely figuring out how to maintain productivity when “going to work” looks and feels a lot different right now. With so much uncertainty about where we’ll be in 2 weeks, 3 months, or a year – two things stand true: our current situation is not permanent and our lives will continue to move forward.

Students will continue to graduate and companies will continue to innovate. Beyond their adjustment to online education, many students in San Diego are experiencing heightened anxiety about what a recession means for their job prospects post-grad. Meanwhile, companies are adjusting to a new economy, with some experiencing growth in their core business functions and some creatively pivoting. Either way, many companies need help (perhaps now more than ever) and remote internships are an excellent option for maintaining engagement with students.

Internship programs are an effective means of building relationships with qualified individuals who are eager to learn and contribute. It’s no secret that a strong internship program is much more likely to convert interns to full time employees. However, a successful internship program no longer means coffee runs and paper-filing. Internships are an opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom in a professional environment, and companies need to be intentional about how they make the most of their intern’s strengths. Standing up an internship program comes with lots of questions. What types of projects should interns work on? Who should they report to? How often do you communicate with them? What happens in a world where ALL internships need to be remote?

In March, EDC and the San Diego Workforce Partnership hosted a webinar on making the most of interns at small companies. This session was part of Advancing San Diego: a collaborative new initiative designed to strengthen relationships between industry and education. Over three years, Advancing San Diego will cover the cost of interns for more than 100 small companies, with the first round of interns being fully remote. The webinar was geared towards smaller companies without existing internship programs, but much of the content is applicable for companies of all sizes looking to create stronger engagement with their student workers, even when they’re remote.

Some key takeaways:

1. Prepare relevant onboarding materials to share with your intern ahead of their start date.

  • Process documents, to the extent they are available
  • Relevant tools, platforms, websites and links to demos
  • Single sheet with all login information

2. Provide any necessary equipment and tools needed for your intern to do their job well.

  • Have all equipment and tools set-up and tested ahead of time to ensure intern can jump in on day one.
  • Any equipment will be used only during their time with your company, so equipment is a useful investment that can be used to accommodate future interns.
  • Remote consideration: Interns will likely not have a high-performing computer at home. It will take a bit of extra coordination between the company and the student to ensure their home office is set up with everything they need.

3. Identify a supervisor who will serve as the intern’s main point of contact throughout their internship. 

  • Supervisor might be someone responsible for the success of the larger project that the intern will be working on. However, this person should not be the busiest person on any project. This person should be patient and enjoy training others.
  • Supervisors don’t necessarily require prior management experience, but find out if anyone on your team has managed interns before and see if they’d be interested.
  • Consider someone who isn’t the obvious choice to supervise, but who might be the best fit for molding interns into professionals who are well prepared for the workforce.

While bringing on interns is certainly a chance for the company to test someone’s skillsets, the internship is also a chance for the intern to assess whether they see themselves working for your company longer term. Thankfully, thoughtful planning for your internship program can lead to an equal value exchange where the student gets great experience and the company gets results.

Find Advancing San Diego’s complete guide for building a successful internship program, complete with considerations for remote workers, here: Making the most of (remote) interns.