In fields from finance to politics and from healthcare to media, a great internship can be a student’s first step to the right career. Internships offer real-world learning experiences helping students explore companies and industries and teaching them how to engage in a business culture. Internships also benefit companies by bringing in talent, nurturing that talent, and generating a flow of talent for the future. 

How can a company build an internship program that supports and nurtures talent and benefits both the company and the intern? We asked Jennie Anderson, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at AIG, how companies can build stronger internship programs while reducing common risks. Providing education and learning opportunities, setting and communicating clear guidelines, and assisting interns in understanding the company’s brand all help develop a more successful internship program.

1. Design a program that is truly educational for your interns. “It’s not making copies anymore; it is interactivity and engagement for successful internships,” says Anderson. “Give interns a set of criteria—here’s a project to complete in your ten weeks, and we’ll guide your progress along the way.”  At AIG, groups of interns use company resources to design and execute business projects. Presenting their projects to one another and to members of our company, interns receive direct feedback on their work as they would on their assignments in a college classroom. “It’s an extension of college, but with action learning,” says Anderson. “In college, you’re reading case studies, but here, you’re actually participating….It’s good for the intern, and it’s good for our company.”

2. Effectively train management to bring out the best in your interns. Train managers on how to effectively leverage an intern’s skills. Establish measurable goals, conduct weekly check-ins to track the progress of interns, and provide valuable feedback. Formalize and document the guidelines of your internship program, and clearly communicate these guidelines to managers and interns.

3. Help interns build relationships with one another to enhance their experience. A strong internship program encourages teamwork. When interns work in groups, they learn from others who have different background and skillsets. “Interns prefer to collaborate and design new methodology,” says Anderson. “We make room within AIG’s program to build in time for project design and camaraderie.” Opportunities to collaborate can make your internship program rewarding for students by helping them understand different work styles and how to communicate to reach a business goal. “In college, you may be an independent contributor,” says Anderson. “Here you’re part of a cross-organizational team, and you imagine a product or service that comes out of being in that setting.” 

4. Use technology to make policies and learning experiences more accessible for interns. “Centralize information so that everyone knows the guidelines and knows the dos and don’ts of an internship,” says Anderson. Make sure that “everyone has the same information and that it’s accessible 24/7.”. For example, AIG offers an online intern portal that gives interns instant access to internship policies, learning sessions, and gameified educational activities. So when interns log on, everything they need is at their fingertips. It’s important that the information and learning experiences you provide are “in your interns’ mode of information gathering,” says Anderson.  

5. Teach interns about leadership, and educate them about career development. Interns are interested in “learning about people’s career paths,” says Anderson. Empower interns by letting them hear your leaders speak about their career journeys, how they’ve learned, and their experiences within your company, and give interns information on how to develop their own careers. At AIG, interns can log onto the intern portal to hear leaders offer insights and advice and to livestream sessions on how to build their skills within the company. “We teach them how to build a resume and how to network…to help build their careers,” says Anderson. For training and assimilation, AIG interns also attend live sessions where varied members of the company discuss their roles and business perspectives.

6. Don’t underestimate interns—leverage their creativity. In the age of social media, interns come in informed: they know more about your company than ever before. “They’re much more educated, and they have much more access to research,” says Anderson. Further into the internship, when they’ve gained insight into a specific area of your company, ask interns to share their recommendations, and take the time to listen to these fresh perspectives. “Not everything is new, but interns have a new approach to it,” says Anderson. “Let their creativity shine through.”

7. Help interns understand your company so they can become ambassadors. Whether your company is global or fits in one room, show interns the opportunities your company can provide. If you can give interns a clear view of your company’s strengths, then your interns can return to school and share their positive experience at your company with their friends. “Make sure your interns understand your brand strategy so they can be ambassadors of your company,” says Anderson. “Interns are the talent destined to be your future leaders.” 

    * The content contained herein is intended for general informational purposes only.  Companies and individuals should not solely rely on the information or suggestions provided in this article for the prevention or mitigation of the risks discussed herein.