The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Intern Program

A few years ago we met with the CTO of a Fortune 500 tech company that hires over 200 engineering interns every year and has one of the leading internship programs in the US.

He was focused on growing the company’s full-time engineering team by converting high performing interns to entry level positions.  When he reviewed the intern program he learned that interns weren’t being sent offer letters at the end of their internship and the company’s conversion rate of interns to full-time hires was a fraction of the industry standard.

Even the best intern programs make mistakes. Between hiring, managing your program, and keeping up with the changing habits of millennials, it’s easy to let some things fall through the cracks. This guide is here to help you understand 7 most important attributes of a successful internship program.

  1.    Build a strategy for converting interns to hires

Many companies including Boeing and Facebook send offers to interns at the end of their intern program and incentivize students to accept those offers early. Boeing, for example, will pay for a student’s entire senior year college tuition if they accept a full-time role. Ultimately, not every company can afford a program like that, but if converting interns to full time hires is one of your biggest goals, you’ll need to develop a strategy and track key metrics closely. One without the other is of limited use.

  1.     Focus on projects, projects, and more projects

Every intern’s fear is to spend their summer staring at a blank computer screen, wanting more work but afraid to burden their manager.  This is why the best intern programs have a long-term focus. They will give interns one or two overarching project(s) that will last the entire summer and allow them to contribute something substantial to the team.  Meanwhile, interns are given smaller projects and tasks throughout the internship that help expand that interns knowledge, expertise, and exposure to their field.

  1.     Provide students with opportunities for long term career advancement

In our 2014 State of the Internship Report 67.4% of students said opportunities for long-term advancement are very important.  You should regularly audit how your program facilitates professional growth whether this means putting in place workshops, sending interns to conferences or facilitating networking events. When you have a practices in place you are proud of these will become your sales pitch to future interns.

  1.     Make sure internships are relevant to a student’s major.

66.3% of students report that relevance to their major is the most important factor.

You should review every internship position at your company and think through out what a student in that role will be doing in 5, 10, and 20 years. Then figure out how to give that student insight into that career path. This might mean connecting the student with junior managers, senior managers, and the executives during their internship. Or it might mean instructing your managers to clearly connect the dots for interns on how their work fits into larger company and departmental goals.

       5. Make sure your Intern culture reflects the greater culture of the company

Interns should get the an impression of what it is like to be part of your community as well as contribute to it.  Nothing is more misleading than an internship that doesn’t accurately reflect the work environment of a full time employee.  Immersing interns in the company culture by including them in corporate events, team meetings, and office perks helps them make better decisions about long-term employment with your company. It’s worth noting that creating a powerful internship experience doesn’t mean you have to splurge on baseball games and other outings. One great example is NetApp who empowers their interns to volunteer during the summer at organizations like Habitat for Humanity, much like their full-time employees do throughout the year.

  1.     Conduct exit interviews with every intern

Exit interviews (or exit surveys) are the fastest way to get feedback on what’s working and what needs improvement with your intern program.  Encourage students to be as honest as possible and dig deep into any criticisms an intern shares.

Always assume that interns are comparing notes – a well designed exit interview will give you insight into what your competitors are doing. Use this information to continually hone your program for the future. It’s much easier to address your biggest weaknesses than to enhance areas where you’re already strong.

We recommend you conduct exit surveys anonymously and have a data expert on your staff tally answers and report results to your entire HR team.

7. Have a plan to engage with your interns after they leave

Many interns reported they had not fully decided whether or not to work for a company upon the completion of their internship. However, those who had ongoing contact with a recruiter were far more likely to convert to full time. Develop a plan of attack for keeping in touch and make sure to stick to the plan start to finish.

Keep these habits top of mind for this summer and you’re guaranteed to have one of your best intern program’s yet, as well as convert many of your interns into full-time employees. Have additional questions about managing interns? Feel free to reach us at


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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.