5 Ways to Build a Successful Internship Programme

Early talent employers are heading towards another season of summer internships. With everyday life evolving into a new reality as we emerge from the pandemic into a blended working world, we need to adapt and lay the foundations for our interns to successfully develop and gain meaningful experiences.


Here are five strategies to ensure your summer internships secure the graduate talent you need.

1.   Start your internship with your graduate programme in mind 

Over the past three to five years, leading employers have effectively started their graduate programmes at the internship stage. From onboarding and development, to relationships and engagement:  Gone are the days when an internship and graduate programme were two separate things. They are instead at two ends of the same journey.

Before you do anything else, envisage your candidates’ journey, from joining your internship to then joining and finishing your graduate programme.  Their journey doesn’t stop at the end of your internship.  They then go back to university to finish their degree and after re-joining student life they have to go through the recruitment process.  They then go through pre-boarding and keep warm again; and finally on to the graduate programme.

Look at your internship as the beginning of this journey. Use this lens to maximise how you design and communicate with your interns throughout the internship.  Think about what they want to gain from this experience to help them on their journey.

2.     Show your interns who they can be 

Be deliberate about showing and connecting your interns to people they can relate to. As intakes become more diverse, it is equally important to deliberately build opportunities for belonging and inclusion. Seeing themselves in others will help to give your interns a sense of belonging and a belief that your company could be a great place to start their careers.

For example, interns are often exposed to people throughout the business as part of their support structure and learning. Buddies, mentors, speakers at events, etc. Think about who you choose to put forward in these types of roles to help your diverse cohort feel a greater sense of belonging.

 3.     Design experiences to bring out their best 

Add elements of choice into the interns’ agenda.  For example, voting on module topics, selecting from options for social engagements, and so on.

Empower interns to host their own events – perhaps in partnership with current graduates or employee network groups.

Use action-learning and accountability groups to ensure interns apply their new skills straight away and are supported by their peers.


Social activities can help interns settle the nerves, so they can then be their best. These don’t have to be extravagant team building activities (although those are always fun!). They can be simple things involving meals, recreation or even games that let everyone get involved.

4.     Empower your interns with skills they can use right away

To empower your interns, ensure they receive frequent feedback. Schedule regular check-ins so they are aware of how they are doing and what to improve on. This way of learning provides a more personalised experience and allows your interns to build on what they’ve learnt. It also allows them to understand how to adapt from where they are to meet the level of work expected.

Provide your interns with training on the core behavioural skills to aid their transition from education to the world of work.

Have a specific focus on skills to build resilience, wellbeing and belonging – empowering interns to understand the role they have to play in looking after their own wellbeing, to ultimately be a high-performing intern.


Embed self-directed, blended learning throughout the internship experience so that interns are able to take control of their development. Set them clear goals and structured work so that they can personally see their own progress and learn how to work on themselves.

Think about all the possible ways that you can make an intern feel connected to their peers and to your organisation. This includes peer networking, exposure to managers and senior leaders, contact with alumni (graduates) and much more.

5.     Set managers up for success

Your managers are key to the learning and development of those below them. Equipping them with the right knowledge and information is crucial. Managers often need training and support to be able to provide a quality experience to your interns. Set your managers up for success by giving them the understanding they need to help your interns grow and learn in an environment that nurtures them.

Communication is key, how will your interns know if they are doing a good job if you don’t tell them? It is so important for your managers to learn how to communicate with their interns daily to allow them to learn. Frequency of connection is one thing, but the quality is every bit as, if not more, important. It’s worth thinking about supporting those who will have the most interaction with your interns to ensure they know how to build high-quality connections with empathy and authority; this builds trust and enhances belonging.

One of the most important ways to help someone to feel they belong is to ensure they feel seen, heard and valued.  Encourage managers to really get to know the interns underneath them and to be curious, to take an interest in who they are, where they have come from and where they are going. It’s human nature to sometimes assume we understand more than we do about others.  Feeling welcomed into organisations is one of the major steps to feeling belonging, so make sure that everybody involved in integrating interns into your organisation understands the importance of staying curious about each intern and avoiding stereotypical thinking.

Finally, remember to take time to make your interns feel appreciated in their time with you. This in turn encourages them to work harder and inspires them to do better on their programme.

Building a successful internship may take time, but by following these five steps you will be well on your way to start creating your ideal future workforce.

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Josh Mackenzie

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