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Developing an Internship Program

"An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent."  National Association of Colleges & Employers.

With the above definition in mind, the following criteria should be considered when constructing an internship position:

  • Internships can occur during the fall, spring, and/or summer semesters and range from a  couple of months to over six months in duration.  The average internship lasts about a semester (four months).
  • While some internships are full-time, others range from 10 and 30 hours per week.
  • Internships can be paid (preferably) or unpaid (typically non-profit settings), for credit or not for credit, or any combination of these.  The U.S. Department of Labor's Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act provides guidance regarding whether your interns should be paid the minimum wage.
  • Details about the number of hours worked, length of internship, rate of pay, and other specifics are usually negotiated between employers and potential interns with the guidance of a faculty adviser.
  • Normally, an intern does not receive employee benefits or retirement benefits.

Benefits of an Internship

Employers who utilize internships are provided the opportunity to temporarily increase staff size and accomplish short-term projects at minimal costs. Interns bring a current knowledge base from their academic coursework and new perspectives to the work environment. Often, employers experience increased company awareness and an enhanced reputation on campus through word of mouth initiated by satisfied interns and faculty relationships. A positive internship experience can lead to a potential full-time hire that requires minimal training, is able to take on more immediate responsibility, and stays longer with the organization.

Designing an Internship

Designing an internship position will require some research and planning on your part to provide a well-rounded, positive, learning experience for the intern.  Many internship positions are formed by identifying the following criteria:

Special projects
Interns can be utilized to accomplish special projects such as creating promotional materials, conducting research, designing web pages and organizing special events and programs. The goals, deadlines, and outcomes for a project-focused internship should be identified so that everyone clearly understands their roles and responsibilities.

Personnel resources
Some organizations routinely experience peak periods where additional staff are needed, or there is a continuous demand for staff due to limited budgets. Interns can help to alleviate some of these staffing concerns. For example, interns can be assigned to serve as public relations assistants, marketing associates or computer support staff. Since professional development should be the priority, it is inappropriate to assign an intern to a position that is strictly clerical in scope. While there are clerical duties associated with any position, these should not be the focus of the internship.

Time commitments
Once the internship duties have been identified, you should determine the time required to fulfill the duties of the internship. This includes the number of months and hours per week the intern will work.

Level of staff support
Although you and your supervisor may see the need for an intern in your organization, you must also gain the support of other staff members who may be working with and mentoring the intern during his or her stay.

Recruiting for an Internship

Before interviewing and hiring an intern you will need to:

  • Decide who will mentor or supervise the intern.
  • Set objectives for the internship, outlining projects, responsibilities and training.
  • Determine the particulars, such as length and timing of the internship, working hours, applicant selection criteria and compensation.
  • Create a specific job description.
  • Describe the organization and outline duties and necessary skills.
  • Determine the hiring and training procedures.

When you are ready, register with Blugold CareerLink, UW-Eau Claire’s online internship and job posting and resume database.

In Blugold CareerLink you can:

  • Post your internship position(s)
  • Receive and review resumes and cover letters from students applying online
  • Set up on-campus interviews
  • Search student resumes and contact students directly who meet your criteria
  • Register to attend on-campus recruiting events

We encourage you to talk to Career Services staff about tailoring a program that is best suited to attract UW-Eau Claire students.

Planning and Implementing the Internship

Once you have hired an intern and determined the start date, there are a number of details to consider to create a successful start.

  • Provide intern with their supervisor’s name and contact information, as well as where to meet on the first day.
  • Arrange for workspace, phone use, a mailbox, e-mail accounts, payroll forms, parking and any other needs prior to the intern’s arrival.
  • Provide informal or formal training. Cover the basics, including an overview of the organization, an office tour and introductions to staff. Also review dress code, hours and other relevant policies.
  • Develop specific projects and assignments.
  • Allow time for the intern to sit down with their supervisor to review the job description and expectations.
  • Establish performance criteria and offer regular feedback throughout the internship. Based on the intern’s performance, you may want to add or decrease the scope of projects and responsibilities.
  • If there are any issues or concerns, the employer should contact the UW-Eau Claire internship coordinator.

Tips for managing interns

In order to ensure a positive experience, follow these tips:

  • Recognize that some students may need extra attention the first few weeks on the job. For many this may be their first experience in a professional work environment.
  • Plan work assignments progressively so interns can transition from more routine activities early in the program to more complicated responsibilities as the program progresses.
  • Provide interns with enough work. One of the most common complaints is students had too little to do.
  • Assign interns meaningful work, not jobs or tasks no one else wants.
  • Encourage interns to participate in social events, attend professional society meetings and get involved with civic or community work.
  • Provide interns with feedback on a regular basis. Occasionally meet with interns off site to gain insight on their experiences.
  • Before the conclusion of the internship, conduct an exit interview with the intern to solicit feedback on the experience and suggestions for improving the program.
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