4 Steps to Develop an Internship Program That Actually Works

Interns. We either love them or we hate them. You know the ones I’m referring to – the good ones will make your job 10 times easier, supporting you as you focus on the larger aspects of the business. But the bad ones? Ugh, the bad ones. Not only do they need more help than they provide, but they take away from what’s most important – your job.

With the seasonal influx of interns every few months, it’s important that your company internship program is set up for success – making the transition from one group to the next seamless, and the consistent “reteaching” process of each set one that contributes to your day-to-day, not takes away.

At EightSixtySouth, we’re all too familiar with the joys and challenges of handling interns. Each group has taught us a thing or two about best practices, giving us these key takeaways when setting up a successful internship program.

1. Create an Intern Handbook

Creating guidelines and an infrastructure with your interns is key to keeping them on task and productive. Take the time to write up a comprehensive handbook that provides an overview of the company and its major players, an outline of their schedule & attendance, and what’s expected & what to bring on their first day. Depending on how deep you want to dive into the details, a few other suggestions might be:

  • Favorite Lunch Spots
  • Compensation/Reimbursement Guidelines
  • Where to Park
  • Office Dress Code & Etiquette
  • Phone, Voicemail & Email Etiquette
  • Daily To-Dos
  • Terms to Know

If you’re a fan of Google Docs, we find it most effective to keep this as a shared document, sharing with interns in “View Only” mode prior to their internship. When sharing ahead of time, they’ll know you mean business. It will also help to field a handful of initial questions you’ll find yourself repeating from season to season otherwise.

This format also allows for easy changes in real time if you realize something is missing or needs to be edited.

2. Develop Intern-specific materials

I’ll never forget the moment when I turned to an intern who’d been sitting quietly for sometime, asking them what they were working on…”Oh, you hadn’t given me anything after I completed my first task so I was just waiting.” Cool.

Initiative is a skill we can always hope for, but unfortunately can’t always guarantee. To prevent this from happening, we’ve implemented the following guidelines to keep interns accountable and on task:

Shared Task Tracker – a running list of tasks assigned from members of the team that outlines each task’s details, who assigned it and expected deadline. When separated by date, you can easily assign recurring tasks throughout the course of their internship (I.e. blogger monitoring, social media engagement, showroom inventory, etc.) and have a birds eye view of what your intern is working on, helping them prioritize what’s most important along the way.

Daily Recaps – at the end of each day, have your interns email a recap of the tasks they’ve completed that day, as well as what they have teed up for tomorrow. This allows you the time to plan out their tasks, as opposed to having to come up with something on the spot.

Internship Checklist – as part of the Internship Handbook, include an Internship Checklist that enumerates what they should plan to accomplish throughout the course of their internship. When coming up with new tasks, this will serve as a good overview of anything they have yet to do.

How To Checklists – to avoid the frustration of consistently correcting the same mistakes, create thorough checklists for the various tasks your interns will be completing on a regular basis (I.e. clipping & recording press placements, handling a stylist pull, sending out shipments). These checklists will serve as a reference point when handling these responsibilities, and a great way to mitigate any excuse of constantly making the same errors.

3. Share the Big Picture

While interns may not be responsible for some of the larger aspects of the business or day-to-day client work, it’s important that they still understand how their tasks fit into the bigger picture.

Initiative is a skill we can always hope for, but unfortunately can’t always guarantee. To prevent this from happening, we’ve implemented the following guidelines to keep interns accountable and on task

When explained within the context, the intern is better able to complete the task thoroughly, anticipate your needs, overcome challenges and think intuitively on their feet.

Explain the why of what they’re doing, not just the what.

4. Welcome New Interns in Style

They say that you only get one first impression. The same is true when welcoming your interns to your team. The tone you set at the beginning of their internship will carry throughout the end of their term. At EightSixtySouth, we begin by sending each prospective intern an official offer letter. This not only lets them know that we value them as an official member of our team, but also lays out a few ground rules of what they should expect in terms of attendance, sick days, opportunities for future hiring, etc.

As an added test, we tuck a Pre-Internship Assignment within our Internship Handbook, asking it to be completed and sent to their supervisor before their first day. Not only does this help us guarantee they read the handbook thoroughly, the assignment is a precursor to many of the tasks they’ll be assigned and will get their wheels turning to thinking critically and creatively.

At the end of the day, there will be interns who are rockstars…and those who are not. But creating a template and program that helps guide them in the right direction will not only set them up for success…but will help you remain focused on your day-to-day. And while it may be tempting to assign your interns to the daily coffee run, taking the time to mentor and teach them the professional skills they need is a great opportunity to see who might be a fit as your next hire. A win-win if you ask me.

About Kelly

An accomplished PR maven and #girlboss, Kelly Howard is making her mark as the CEO of EightSixtySouth.

Having served as Post+Beam’s West Coast Director for the past five years, Kelly acquired the company in October 2016, leading her team and the company through a full rebrand. Continuing to make waves since the acquisition and transition to EightSixtySouth, the company has continued to develop impactful strategies and data-driven results for their clientele. Backed by Howard’s expertise and killer spirit, as well as Post+Beam’s successful track record, EightSixtySouth sets the stage for what’s next.

An accomplished and passionate public relations professional & strategist, Kelly is seasoned in creating targeted approaches for consumer brands in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle market.

Specializing in cross-channel marketing and drawing from expertise in PR, content strategy and digital, her work builds meaningful and ROI-focused brand experiences for a diverse roster of clients.

Use these 4 steps to manage interns of all skill sets and build a seamless intern program for your agency or brand.