How to Launch an Internship Program

An internship program is easier to implement than you think, and the reward can be well worth it.
April 24, 2013

The unemployment rate for young Americans under age 25 is a staggering 22.9 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal, and even that number might be an understatement, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics only counts job seekers as part of the labor force. 

The problem is not an unmotivated labor force or a lack of intelligence—it's a fundamental disconnect between education and employment.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, only 42 percent of employers are confident that new graduates are prepared with the skills needed for workforce success. Training is an area where small-business owners can step in, recruit great workers and make a key difference in young professionals' lives.

Invest in Your Interns

A common misconception about internship programs is that they require heavy training time, can slow your business down and are tough to manage. Interns may need significant handholding to get up and running before they add value to your business's bottom line—a luxury that small-business owners may see as available to big brands only. 

Focus on the bigger picture, recommends Yair Riemer, vice president of Global Marketing at—a platform run by CareerArc Group to help connect job and internship seekers with opportunities.

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In managing intern marketplaces, Riemer has seen strong success stories across the spectrum, from Fortune 500 companies to smaller organizations.

Courtesy of Yair Riemer

"Some of the best success stories we have are from up-and-coming small businesses and startups," Riemer says. "For example, Classtivity and Paperless Post, two Internet companies in New York City, found interns through when they were building their first-ever internship programs for their companies."

What's key for small-business owners is to focus on the entire recruiting life cycle, not just the few months of training time.

"A misconception that small-business owners may have about internship programs is that the time spent training college students and recent graduates outweighs the benefits," Riemer says. "This couldn't be further from the truth. An internship program is a year-round recruiting tool for small businesses, allowing those companies to find future employees, evaluate potential talent and increase productivity."

A Results-Oriented Program

For small-business owners with limited time and recruiting resources, the process of on-boarding an intern may seem daunting. "Small businesses shouldn't let the 'unknown' be a deterrent to starting a program, but the fear of the unknown can be overwhelming," Riemer says. 

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Before jumping in, Riemer says you should make sure to establish the right success plan for your organization.

"The key components to a robust internship program are gaining business-wide or department-wide backing, creating a structured environment in which an intern or group of interns can succeed, and trying to inject a bit of mentorship or informal 'business and life lessons' throughout the program."

Prioritize Beyond Money

Internships are valuable beyond money. Mentorship, new skill development and professional connections should be key priorities, regardless of how much you pay your interns. Invest in these key players by giving them real work and opportunities to cultivate their professional value.

"Students have reported some effective types of non-monetary company perks like travel stipends as well as food stipends, and often college credit offered," Riemer adds. "That said, I encourage employers to pay interns—whether that's an hourly rate or stipend." It's important to know the rules for paying interns as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor.

And remember to position yourself as a mentor your interns can trust.

"A mentor listens, provides advice and gives guidance," Riemer says. "These informal and personal interactions, for students and interns, are often more powerful and memorable than any lesson in the classroom."

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Puri's a San Francisco based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She's inspired by the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology.

Photo: Courtesy of Yair Riemer