Five Keys to a Successful Internship Program

By Caroline Dumas • July 17, 2015

Caroline Dumas
Caroline Dumas, Naylor Association Solutions

Here’s how to guide ambitious professionals through their first workplace rodeo.

You can find countless articles on the Internet about how to land a college internship, what recruiters look for when hiring, and how to differentiate your resume from others. Rarely do you find advice from the intern’s perspective, telling companies what interns seek in an internship or early work experience.



Tell interns when they’re off target on a task. They can take it. They’re adaptable and anxious to learn. RealLilTweetables

The workplace can be like high school. There are cliques, social norms and unwritten rules that take time to learn. RealLilTweetables

Interns rarely complain about being overworked. They’re more likely to be irked by boredom, unchallenging tasks or lack of meaningful feedback. RealLilTweetables

Based on my personal experience as an intern and discussions with many of the people I have worked and studied with, here are five things to consider if your association is considering starting, or expanding, an internship program:

1. We want to be busy.

No intern wants to be bored on the job. The worst possible scenario a college student can experience with an internship is sitting in a cubicle, counting down each minute of the day with nothing to keep them busy. Don’t be afraid to give us 10 tasks or more to accomplish lying on our desk; we won’t complain about burnout or overload. We’ll rejoice, at least internally, that our time is being filled and not wasted. If you see we’re completing the tasks quickly, add five additional items for us to accomplish. Leaving us with a list of action items will not only help time move faster, but will give us a sense of responsibility and signifies that you trust our capability to efficiently complete the given tasks.

2. Tell us when we’re wrong.

We’re interns. There’s a very high probability that we’ll make some mistakes or miss deadlines. Tell us when we’re off target and we’ll get back on course quickly.

A friend of mine shared an experience she had with her internship. The company she worked for instructed her to provide weekly sales reports to the supervisor, which she would be responsible for compiling weekly. Her supervisor taught her how to do the task and sent her to accomplish the reporting in the coming weeks solo. Each week she completed the task, which she thought she was doing correctly, and submitted it to her supervisor. Unbeknownst to her, she had been completing the task incorrectly throughout the duration of her internship. Instead of her supervisor telling her how to correctly do the reports, her supervisor redid the work. It wasn’t until she received a job with a different company that she realized she did the reports at her internship wrong. You can imagine her disappointment and embarrassment when she listed this competency on her resume, not knowing she actually didn’t know how to do it correctly.

If you tell us we’re wrong, we’re going to be embarrassed. We’re going to be disappointed. But, we need to know when we’re wrong. That’s the way we learn and it’s one way we can improve. Yes, our feelings will be hurt, but it’s more likely we’ll get a bigger takeaway from the internship if you give us a chance to do the work the right way.


Nothing left to chance - Business Strategy
Immerse your interns in your workplace experience and you’ll give them an education they can’t get in class.

3. We don’t know everything.

This one is pretty simple. We’re college students; there is a high possibility we’re currently in the phase where we think we know everything. It’s like puberty; you grow out of this know-it-all phase (hopefully) and it’s basically a rite of passage. I’ll let you in on a little secret: We don’t know everything. We’re clueless. This is our first rodeo and we’re here to learn. We’ll never actually admit our lack of knowledge about a particular subject, but inside we’re silently screaming, “Please, tell me how to do this!” So, when we act like know-it-alls, know we’re actually clueless and tell us how to complete the task or project

4. Immerse us.

Often, companies think an internship is simply about giving someone the opportunity to gain experience in an industry in which they may hope to commit to down the road. As interns, we get immersed in a specific line of work and learn programs and tasks we’ll use throughout our professional careers. All of that is great, but the workforce is more than just paperwork and phone calls. A large part of the workforce is social: social interaction between colleagues, work functions, social hour at lunch time, and co-worker happy hour. We have to adapt to the corporate environment just as we have to adapt to a 9-to-5 job. The workforce can be  like high school. There are social norms and a culture that is unique to each type of workplace, and it’s important for interns to learn how to navigate their future work environment and begin adjusting early on. Though as interns we will likely be with a specific company for a brief period of time, immerse us. We want to experience the social aspects of the working world just as much as we want to experience a 9-5 job. So, don’t assume just because we’re interns that we “probably won’t want to participate.” Invite us. It’s likely we’ll attend.

5. We don’t want to go on coffee runs (Unless you’re buying for us too).

When the search for an internship begins in January, we Google available internships and sift through our university’s career connection website. We narrow down internships suited to our majors and especially our interests. When we read through the “qualifications” and “tasks” portion, we don’t dream of seeing “ability to get coffee” as a requirement. Instead, we look for skills we CAN offer an employer and for skills we CAN’T offer an employer. Why? Because our primary objective for an internship is not to find something to do (we can easily fill our time) or fill a blank space on our resume. Instead, we search for an internship in hopes of applying everything we’ve learned in our 15-hour class schedule to the workforce. We want to practice the tasks and skills we’ve learned in real-life situations, not made-up scenarios by professors. As for the tasks we can’t do, we want to broaden our horizons. A majority of the tasks learned in the workforce can’t be taught in school. Teach us and allow us to learn. We want real work, not to run for coffee.


Regardless of your age or experience on the job, think back to what it was like when you were first starting your career. The tools and technologies may be different, but the insecurities and high hopes are similar. If your association is considering hiring interns, consider these five tips to create the best possible internship experience your organization can offer.

Caroline Dumas is a rising senior at Georgia College and State University studying marketing. She is completing an internship with Naylor’s marketing department for the summer.