How to Create an Excellent Internship

Tips for how Vancouver employers can get the most out of internships.

Are you as an employer getting the most out of your intern?

Tips for how Vancouver employers can get the most out of internships.

It’s June, and that can only mean one thing: inboxes brimming with resumés and letters from prospective interns, hungry for experience. For insights into how to run a successful internship program, we called in the experts: Sue Comeau, manager of the leadership development program at Telus Corp.; Duncan Phillips, vice-president of business development for the internship program at MITACS, a Canadian research network; and Adam Brayford, communications and marketing co-ordinator with SFU.

Know what 
you want
 from your intern

An internship is, in effect, an investment for your company, and shrewd business­people know the importance of setting out clear expectations before investing in anything. “Before you engage the intern, you must make sure that expectations are very clear: you know what you want and they know what is expected of them,” says Phillips. Assign tasks and objectives for interns prior to their arrival. This will ensure the experience becomes more than a make-work project, which benefits nobody. 

Do your intern housekeeping 

With some careful planning, you can set interns up for success from the moment they walk in the door. “It’s really just about making sure the tools that they need to do the role are set up and working, such as a phone or computer,” explains Comeau. This helps interns feel they are more than second-class citizens and that your respect for them will be reflected in the work they carry out. Brayford suggests providing a proper orientation of the workplace upon arrival so interns quickly become familiar with their new environment.

Welcome the intern to the team

An internship is about more than just getting the job done. Making sure interns feel like valued team members will ensure they get the most out of the experience. Comeau suggests assigning interns a buddy in the workplace: “It is important that there is somebody to help them understand who is who and to show them the unwritten policies and guidelines about how to get things done.” Social events are a key part of a team mentality, so don’t forget to add interns to distribution lists and newsletters.

Offer (and accept) 

Remember your first encounter with the business world? Stressful, and more than a little overwhelming, no doubt. Comeau suggests conducting regular coaching sessions and performance reviews to help introduce interns to the workplace. 

And remember, the intern is often part of a larger organization like a university, Phillips stresses. These can be helpful should any problems arise that you feel are out of your hands. 

Value your intern

Interns are equipped with more skills than coffee making and filing, and, although their skill sets may vary, at the end of the day, they are here to learn. Brayford suggests allowing interns to take ownership of some projects: “The intern should be tackling a broad range of responsibilities, some that require extensive thought and some that are low intensity.” Interns can bring new perspectives to an organization, says Phillips. “Students can have a different approach to a situation; they are new and can often contribute something you were not expecting.”