The following guest post was written by Mimi Collins, director of communications for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

An internship program is among the most effective tools organizations have to identify, recruit, and hire college talent, enabling organizations to build a relationship with top students early in their college careers, before they are actually in the market for a job).

The internship program also provides the organization with a key advantage over competitors: The organization can extend a job offer to the intern at the conclusion of the summer internship—before the student returns to school for the fall recruiting season and before other organizations have a chance to compete for the student’s interest.

In NACE’s 2012 Internship & Co-op Survey, overall, organizations with a formal college relations and recruiting program reported that 42 percent of their new college hires were from their own internship programs.

The internship program, however, also provides ROI on the other end. NACE’s survey found that former interns have a higher retention rate than their peers who did not do an internship.

But not all internship programs are created equal, and those that are poorly organized or mismanaged can be costly and yield little.

Below are five best practices to building a top-notch, effective program to feed your full-time college hiring efforts:

  1. Pay your interns.
    There are two key reasons why you need to pay your interns, if you expect your program to help you recruit full-time hires: First, you want to ensure that you have the best students available to you—not just those students who can afford to forgo a paycheck for the summer. Second, there are legal hurdles associated with unpaid internships that can make it difficult to give your interns meaningful assignments. Without meaningful assignments, there is no way to assess the intern as a potential employee. (Note: NACE publishes salary/benefits information for interns. See NACE’s Guide to Compensation for Interns & Co-ops at
  2. Provide real work assignments, not busy work.
    Providing interns with real work is number one to ensuring your program’s success. Interns should be doing work related to their major, that is challenging, that is recognized by the organization as valuable, and that fills the entire work term.

    You can guarantee that hiring managers provide real work assignments by checking job descriptions, emphasizing the importance of real work assignments during a manager/mentor orientation sessions, and communicating with interns frequently throughout the work term to determine who they perceive what they are doing.

  3. Hold orientations for all involved.
    It’s important that everyone “be on the same page,” so hold an orientation session for managers and mentors as well as a session for students. Orientations ensure that everyone starts with the same expectations and role definitions.
  4. Provide interns with a handbook and/or website.
    Whether in print/PDF or presented as a special section on your website, a handbook serves as a guide for students, answering frequently asked questions and communicating the “rules” in a warm and welcoming way.

    You may also want to maintain a separate website for interns, which you can use as communication tool, with announcements from the college relations staff or articles of interest written by the interns themselves.

  5. Have an intern manager.
    Having a dedicated manager is the best way to ensure that your program runs smoothly and stays focused on your criteria for success. Unfortunately, the size and resources available to most internship programs mean that this isn’t always possible. If your program isn’t big enough to warrant a dedicated full-time staff member, an excellent short-term solution is to hire a graduate student (look for a student working toward an advanced HR degree) to be your intern, and put this college relations intern in charge of the daily operation of the internship program. This gives the interns a “go-to” person, and gives you and your staff a break from the many daily tasks involved in running a program of any size. For this to work, you have to plan the program structure in advance (don’t expect your intern to do it), and be accessible to your college relations intern.

Get more best practices for internship programs at “15 Best Practices for Internship Programs” at, and access the executive summary from NACE’s 2012 Internship & Co-op Survey at

Share This