- Understand what an internship is
Internships should not be confused with seasonal or part-time help. There is a specific expectation for the student to be receiving an educational benefit from the experience.
Reference to the “What is an internship?” section for more details.
- Designate an internship coordinator
The internship coordinator will manage all developmental and operational aspects of the program. The coordinator can also supervise the interns in addition to overseeing the program for your organization but those are different tasks and functions. The coordinator will draft the learning objectives of the program, as well as develop engagement opportunities for the interns and serve as point of contact with general questions during the program. The coordinator can be part of the recruitment and hiring process as well. They will be an integral component of the onboarding and orientation process at the beginning of the experience. Finally, at the end of the experience, the coordinator should conduct an exit interview with the interns so they can gather feedback for continuous improvement of the program.
- Set realistic goals for the internship program
Just as internships are not just seasonal or part-time help, the goals of the program should not be limited to work tasks. Interns will need more training, feedback and supervision than regular employees. They will also have specific needs such as academic standards to meet, communication with their home institution, or supervisory meetings or site visits from their faculty of record.
Remember that interns are here to learn and they will not be able to take complete ownership of projects without any kind direction or supervision. Tasks assigned to the interns should be kept in line with an appropriate level of proficiency and expertise for students with no or limited priori experience in their field. It is expected that interns will be held to the same standards as regular employees when it comes to business etiquette, attendance and punctuality, or professional communications. They might need more feedback on the front end to help them understand what those expectations are in your organization.
If you are using the internship program to create a funnel for potential future employees upon graduation of the student, know that not all interns will accept a position with your organization. Students are often encouraged to seek internships in fields they would like to explore but are not fully committed to. An internship is a good way for students to figure out what they want to be doing in the future and what they do not want to pursue.
- Consult federal and state laws and guidelines on internship work
This guidebook contains general information on how to create an internship program but should by no means be understood as an exhaustive list. As in all business and operational matters, be sure your organization follows all applicable legal obligations at both the local, state and federal levels. Consult with counsel before implementing the program to ensure all measures are taken to be in compliance with your specific legal landscape.
Refer to the “Legal considerations” section for some internship specific information.
- Assess the operational needs of your organization
The internship coordinator should assess each departments’ needs for an intern. Some departments will not have enough tasks to keep an intern engaged and productive while some might assign an unmanageable workload to an intern. The coordinator should also take note of each department’s capacity in hosting an intern. Remember that having an intern, at least in the early stages of the internship, will mean more work for their supervisor in terms of training and oversight they will need to provide. A department that is already taped out in terms of supervisory and workload capacities will not be a good environment for an intern to learn, grow and thrive. While it is tempting to add an intern in those situations to increase the output capacity of the department, this strategy often creates a more stressful experience for everyone involved. The coordinator will aim to reach a balance between benefiting from the work of the intern and the demands that training an intern will put on the organization.
- Determine the number and scope of the internship position(s)
Once the internship coordinator assesses the needs and capacity of each department, they will tentatively assign a number of interns to each department where they feel confident the internship will have a positive impact for both the organization and the intern. If not all needs can be covered (see #7 below), the internship coordinator can use their evaluation to establish a priority list to assign the interns.
Each intern’s role and responsibilities should be determined at this point, which will then be used to develop a detailed position description (see #10 below).
- Set a budget
The internship coordinator will develop a budget for the program which will cover the intern’s remunerations (and other payroll associated costs if needed) as well as any costs associated with the intern’s engagement opportunities (see examples in #8 below).
See the “Paid vs. Unpaid Internships” and “U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #71” sections for more information on intern’s remuneration.
- Develop engagement opportunities for the interns
Students are looking for ways to meaningfully engage with their work. They place a high value on their sense of belonging and want to feel cared for and respected by their organization. A great internship program will provide opportunities for the interns in addition to their regular daily tasks. Students can be encouraged to rotate throughout various departments and have a chance to shadow different professionals in their daily work. Some companies even have interns attend executive leadership meetings or spend some one-on-one time with members of the executive team. Another way to provide intern-specific engagement is to have the students work on a capstone project that they can present to the organization’s leadership or via a poster session at the end of their experience open to all employees.
Some examples of engagement activities are leadership or professional development sessions / workshops, lunch and learn meetings that explore a specific topic, interns specific outings to create a sense of community in your cohort. Those activities do not have to be directly linked to work topics. Lunch and learn sessions could be led on mindfulness or self-care. The interns could attend a local sport event such as a little league baseball game.
- Designate mentors & supervisors
Each intern should have a clear designated supervisor that will assign them tasks and will oversee the quality of their work. This supervisor will also ensure that the interns are properly trained to be able to accomplish those tasks. Supervisors can oversee the work of multiple interns if they are in their present department. When possible, cross-department supervision should be avoided in order to establish a clear chain of command system for the interns.
An internship mentor is a great addition to the support tema of an intern while they are on site. It can be the internship coordinator or another employee as long as they are not also the intern’s supervisors. The mentor does not have to be a part of the intern’s department. It is often a plus if the mentor is also an alum from the intern’s institution.
The mentor should make it clear with the intern that they are there for support and not evaluation (which is reserved to the supervisor). They should provide guidance not only on standards specific to your organization, but also on general business acumen, and career or life perspectives. Make sure that the mentors are fully on board with the concept so they will be enthusiastic for the program and will make every effort to devote time and energy to supporting the intern. A reluctant mentor will have more of a negative impact on the intern’s experience than no mentor at all.
- Create detailed position descriptions
It is vital to your internship program that very detailed position descriptions are created for each department that will host an intern. The day to day tasks and activities of an intern will vary greatly depending on where they are assigned in your organization and the position descriptions should reflect that.
The internship coordinator should work closely with your Human Resources department to draft those descriptions. This will ensure all positions comply with legal guidelines, as well as establish clear expectations and standards for the interns once they are on site. Make sure to draft positions descriptions that are easy to understand for students.
See the “Making your job posting student-friendly” section for more recommendations.
- Implement an application process
When recruiting for an internship position, best practice is to follow your usual recruitment procedures. The internship coordinator should work with your HR department to post the intern positions and use your usual hiring platform.
- Recruit, screen and hire candidates
In addition to posting the internship positions through your regular HR channels, you should explore options to reach out directly to local universities in your geographical area.
See the “How to advertise your internship positions” section below and/or the “On Campus Recruitment Resources” section of the website for more details.
Once you start receiving applications, follow your usual recruitment practices to screen, interview, select and hire candidates.
See the “Legal considerations” section for additional resources to consider.
- Onboard and orient the interns
In addition to your regular HR processes for onboarding new employees, the internship coordinator should lead dedicated sessions with the interns. In those, they would introduce the overall program, discuss any additional activities or engagement opportunities that will be offered to the interns, introduce them to their mentors and present themselves as a point of contact / resource during the duration of the internship program.
- Actively manage the internship program
The internship coordinator should proactively reach out to interns during internship to ensure their experience is in line with the goals of the program. The coordinator should also regularly touch base with the mentors and supervisors to identify any potential issues with the intern or the program.
- Provide feedback and evaluations
It is essential that the interns receive regular feedback on their work and performance from their supervisor. This is a critical part of the learning process for interns as they will not be able to self-identify areas in need of improvement or if they are falling behind on established expectations or benchmarks.
Feedback should never be exclusively critical or negative, and should always include recognition of achievements, accomplishments or work accurately completed. Weekly meeting with the interns can be an opportunity for supervisor to celebrate their intern’s progress and growth.
We recommend a mid-internship and an end of the internship evaluation be provided to the intern so they can have an opportunity for skill assessment throughout the experience. This will also give interns not just a sense but a concrete measure of how much they are progressing as young professionals in their field.
Reach out to the Career Center via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like us to collaborate on an evaluation template for your internship program.
- Continue to improve the internship program
Upon the completion of the experience, the internship coordinator should conduct an exit interview with the interns to ask for their feedback on the overall program. This allows the coordinator to make continuous improvements to the program in response to the interns’ needs and wants.
If a formal exit interview is not practical or in addition to this discussion, the internship coordinator should send a program evaluation survey to the interns. In order to ensure the collection of candid and actionable information for future iterations of the program, survey responses should be kept anonymous. This will allow the interns to provide unfiltered feedback which they might be reluctant to offer in a face-to-face session, or if they are hoping to receive an employment offer from the organization.
- Leverage your internship program for your recruiting needs
Internship programs are an opportunity for your organization to create meaningful and lasting professional relationships with your interns. This can be a powerful tool in recruiting entry-level positions for your organization, as well as future interns. When interns have a positive experience with an internship site, they are more likely to accept offers of employment upon completion of the internship. They can also become a sort of campus ambassador for your brand by speaking positively about their internship with their peers, university staff and faculty. Do not underestimate the power of networking and word of mouth in building or tearing down your organization’s reputation on a campus.
Use your well-rounded and well-designed internship program as an advertisement tool for your organization by promoting it on social media, recruiting materials and your website. Get in touch with your local university’s communications and marketing department and offer to showcase your internship program or some of their students’ experience at your site. Any content that you can generate on your internship program will reinforce the message that your company is a top tier site for both internships and future employment.
An internship is a professional learning experience that offers meaningful, practical work related to a student’s field of study or career interest. An internship gives a student the opportunity for career exploration and development, and to learn new skills.
Internships are length-based, usually matching an academic semester (12 to 15 weeks) or academic break (summer or winter).
The student learning component is central to the internship definition. An internship without learning objectives clearly defined by either the student or the organization is just a part-time or temporary job.
Typically, interns work in tandem or independently on entry-level tasks and projects. They are to assist regular employees in completing routine tasks or special projects. Interns should be considered additional members of an organization but should never displace or replace long-term full-time paid labor.
Internship experiences can be fully in-person, virtual, or hybrid. They should always accommodate the student’s class schedule or other academic obligations such as class seminars or advising appointments. Work hours should be comparable to or less than regular employees’ schedules, with some flexibility to fit the needs of the business.
Quality internship programs ensure that student interns feel a sense of belonging in the organization, assign meaningful and challenging tasks to students, and provide training and opportunities to expend knowledge in response to each student’s skill level. Individual-focused supervision of the student intern is a crucial component of a successful experience. Feedback should be timely, specific, and constructive.
Additional career preparation, networking, professional development, or enrichment activities can be built into an internship program to expose the student to additional areas of the organization. Sites have organized specific activities for interns, such as lunch & learn sessions, meeting with the organization’s leadership, recreational outings to local area events, or capstone project presentations. Such activities complement the student intern’s environment and are not necessary, but are factors that greatly impact interns’ satisfaction and performance.
Student Intern can sometimes experience performance issues. Realistic and achievable goals should be assessed with the student and should be reasonably attainable based on the student’s skill level. When this happens, corrective guidelines should be provided, and the student should be offered a chance to improve their performance. In rare cases when the student intern is unable to perform to the appropriate and expected level of other interns, termination before the conclusion of the internship experience is possible.
Remember: Interns are still learning how to be professionals in their field. The internship is their opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.
How to advertise your internship positions
In addition to the typical job posting avenues that you already use to recruit positions for your organizations, there are additional steps that you can take to advertise your internships throughout the 14 universities part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). The 14 State institutions are: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinbor, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock & West Chester.
- Post on Handshake
Handshake is the digital platform currently being used by all 14 PASSHE institutions. When you post an opportunity through Handshake, you will have the option of sharing the position through a variety of schools and universities across the United States. Make sure to select either all 14 PASSHE institutions or to the ones that are geographically close to the job location (please reference the above map).
Remember that while most universities attract a large number of commuter students living within a 50-mile radius, students from large urban centers will also attend institutions as residential students all across the state. Some of those students will be able to stay in the local geographic area of their university or travel back home if they have a summer internship.
- Email to students (via university channels)
Career Centers at all universities can forward your internship opportunities either directly to students, or to the faculty and/or department of the majors you are trying to recruit. You can send an email requesting the internship information to the general email box of each center. When you send your request, remember to include a PDF (preferred) or Word document that includes the position description as well as how/where the students can apply. You can direct applications either to the Handshake posting and/or a direct link to your recruitment site.
- Career Fairs
Attending career fairs, either in person or virtually, is a proven and time-tested way to connect with potential internship candidates. You can sign up to attend those events through each Career Center. Registration information for those events will also usually be available through the Handshake platform.
When attending career fairs, try to include current employees that are alumni from the institution in addition to your staff recruiter. Students especially relate to entry level employees that graduated recently as they can more easily create a connection with people that had common experiences.
- Information tables / Information sessions
Most universities will have an option to host an information table in a high traffic area or an information session to showcase your organization and/or specific positions you have open. Contact each Career Center directly to reserve a table or organize an in-person or virtual information session.
- Students’ clubs & organizations presentation
Students-led clubs and organizations are a great way to connect with students who have special interest in a major or field. Most groups welcome speakers during their meetings or will take any site visit opportunities that your organization can offer. It helps if you sponsor food (pizza is still a basic student diet staple) or branded swag when interacting with students in those clubs.
Think outside the box when looking at connecting with student groups. On each campus, there are hundreds of active organizations that are based on majors, identities, hobbies, interests or even athletic abilities. Take the time to think about some of the skills that are needed in the positions you want to fill and relate those to the skills needed for some of those hobbies. Want someone who is not afraid to call prospective clients or deliver presentations to large groups of stakeholders? Look at the Drama Club, the Debate Team or the Mock Trial Teams. Looking for people with strong creative thinking skills and a penchant to innovate? Get in touch with the Dungeons & Dragons club, Tabletop Games organization or even the ESport team. Interested in recruiting candidates with diverse profiles to enrich your organization’s culture? Connect with the LGBTQIA+ organization or some of the many cultural identity groups like the Latine, African or African-American, Asian & Pacific Islander, or Native-American student associations. In need of strong team players that can work collaboratively in a fast-paced environment? Turn to the intramural teams, club sports or even Pokemon clubs.
Career Centers can help get you in touch with the leaders of those organizations so you can start building relationships with those students.
- Classroom participation
Career Centers can provide employers with introductions to faculty whose area of expertise matches recruiting needs. Here, you could offer to provide material and information to serve as a case study for students in a capstone class, or present a topic-related session during a class. Some faculty members will also welcome alumni of the institution that have more accomplished careers in the field to come and speak to their students about their experience.
Keep in mind that under the rules of academic freedom, faculty members have complete control over their classroom and their curriculum. They will choose how much or how little they want to interact with employers, as well as whether or not they want to open their class time to outside presenters. Some faculty value the added depth that an outside organization’s participation can bring to their classroom discussions while others will want to exclusively focus on scholarly discussion and follow a purely academic curriculum.
- Event sponsorship, Department partnerships or names scholarships
Partnering with Career Center to sponsor their events is a fantastic way to keep your organization’s name front and center in the mind of students. This is especially important for smaller organizations that might not otherwise benefit from a strong name recognition among college students.
Sponsorship and partnership opportunities also exist at the university, college, school or department level. Named scholarships can also be established, either linked to the completion of an internship, solely based on academic merit or focused on need-based funding. If interested, Career Centers can put you in touch with the fundraising staff of their institution or affiliated foundations.
Very few people enjoy reading job descriptions, especially if those are 4 pages long or are too vague in the amount of information they provide. This is especially true of college students who have not yet undertaken a professional job search. Most students start their first year of post-secondary education without a proper resume or ever having to conduct an interview to secure work. In order to attract candidates, it is vital that you make your job posting and position description as student-friendly as possible.
Here is a list of tips and recommendations to achieve this:
- Use plain language. Stay away from industry jargon or organization specific terms.
- Describe the daily tasks student interns will be expected to complete.
- Spell out requirements such as major, class standing and specific classes needed if applicable. (i.e. Have completed Tax Accounting or Audit for students in CPA offices)
- Be mindful that GPA is not a predictor of success for an intern. Listing a GPA requirement will prevent quality students from applying to your opportunity if they don’t meet the GPA criteria, even if it is only one of the many factors you use to evaluate candidates.
- Apply the same caution when listing previous length of experience or areas of expertise. Students will shy away from positions if they feel they are short even by a few months. Most students also tend to discard their part-time or seasonal experience as not as valuable as longer-term or continuous professional positions. As a result, students, especially in lower class standings like first-year and sophomore, will underestimate the amount of work experience and relevant skills they can bring to a position.
As part of our partnership with the PA Bankers Association, the Shippensburg University Career Center can provide consultation on making your job descriptions easier to grasp for students. We will offer suggestions on how to make your positions more manageable for students who are looking for internship opportunities. Contact us at email@example.com for assistance.
The Fair Labor Standard Act provides the legal guidelines on limits to unpaid employment at the federal level. The January 2018 worksheet #71 on unpaid internships issued by the Department of Labor highlights standards that have to be met by employers in order to offer unpaid internship opportunities. Please refer to the Department of Labor worksheet and consult with your legal counsel if you have specific questions regarding compensation for interns.
Please note that those guidelines apply mainly to for-profit organizations. There are provisions and exemptions for certain non-profit and governmental organizations.
For unpaid internships, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determines whether an individual is an employee depending on whether the intern receives “significant remuneration” in some form, such as a pension, group life insurance, workers’ compensation, or access to professional certifications. An intern who receives only some small benefit that is an “inconsequential incident of an otherwise gratuitous relationship” may not be considered an employee. However, individuals who apply and/or participate in a training or apprenticeship program are protected against discrimination with respect to admission and participation in the program, regardless of whether the individual is an employee.
For paid interns, the EEOC uses the same test as it does for independent contractors.
Internship sites should apply to the intern their respective policies of non discrimination based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regard to sex, age, race, color, creed, and national origin, as well as the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and all other applicable laws.
- Insurance requirements
Member universities of the State System of Pennsylvania are unable to provide liability coverage for student interns. Upon the request of the internship site, students can secure and maintain professional liability insurance for the duration of their internship. Paid interns are subject to the internship site’s own liability coverage.
- Credit reports / Health screenings / Proof of vaccination / Background checks
Internship sites are able to conduct background checks for student interns, provided that those comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines. Such background check procedures can include financial or credit checks compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, health screenings for communicable disease (ex: TB test), or proof of vaccinations. This information should be requested only when necessary for the intern to perform their duties. All requests should follow non-discrimination guidelines at the federal and state levels.
- Title IX
The Organization agrees to cooperate with the University in its investigation of claims of discrimination or harassment, in accordance with the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C §1681 et seq.
The Organization shall report any incident in which a student is the victim of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking or sexual harassment to the University Title IX Coordinator.
The question of whether to offer pay or not to student interns often comes up when developing an internship program. There are both legal and ethical aspects to consider when examining the question of remuneration of interns. While each organization can make their own determination on those two aspects of the dilemma, here are some additional considerations to take into account:
- Competition with other employers
When setting an hourly rate or a stipend compensation for your interns, organizations have to take into consideration their competitors, not only in their own industry but also organizations that operate in the general labor market. While most Career Centers can give you a range of typical remuneration for interns in their area and major/field, keep in mind that students often will choose pay rate over experience. A true picture of your competition for the talent pool of interns has to also include retail, hospitality, logistics and warehousing, or general administrative current pay rate. If a student can secure a $15 or $17 hourly rate at mass merchandiser or grocery stores, this becomes the rate you have to match or exceed in order to attract qualified students.
- Equity considerations
The student profile at each university will vary greatly in terms of academic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. As public agents of upwards mobility in the state of Pennsylvania, the 14 universities of the PASSHE system have populations of students who often face economic challenges and barriers while attending college. A lot of our students are Pell Grant recipients (typically students with an Expected Family Contribution of less than $6,000), first-generation students (first in their family to attend college), military affiliated students, non-traditional students or parents.
The majority of PASSHE universities students HAVE to work in order to afford college. Some students also work to help support their families in addition to supporting their own needs while in school. Most of them work part-time during the regular Fall and Spring terms, as well as pick up full time employment during longer Winter or Summer breaks.
When an organization offers only unpaid internships, they effectively shut the door of opportunity for the majority of our students. This reinforces systems that favor upper socio-economic classes or students who can afford the luxury of not being paid in exchange for experience or resume-building opportunities. Organizations lose access to qualified, hard-working and dedicated students and continue to attract homogenous pools of candidates often deeply lacking in diversity.
In addition to the legal and ethical obligations highlighted previously, please consider the hidden impact of supporting the practice of unpaid internships, and its long term cost to our workforce.
- Short-term vs. long-term Return On Investment
Employers should view their internship offerings as a pipeline for recruiting emerging and entry-level talent into their organizations. An internship gives you the opportunity to evaluate how a student intern performs as well as how they fit into the company’s culture and how they integrate in their potential future team.
With those considerations in mind, offering an unpaid internship might represent an operational savings in the short term, but will almost always cost your organization in the long-term, especially in terms of missed opportunities to attract underrepresented talent.
At most higher education institutions, students can choose to take their internship experience for academic credit or not. The majority of the host organization responsibilities will be similar in both situations, with some additions in a “for academic credit” internship.
- Provide the intern with a detailed job description and defined expectations
- Provide the intern with adequate or ongoing training
- Offer weekly supervision sessions to the intern
- Deliver detailed feedback of the intern’s performance
- Offer additional activities for team building, professional or leadership development sessions to the interns throughout the program
- Develop remedial or performance enhancement plans if interns fail to meet expectations
- Resort to termination only when all remedial avenues have failed
- Sign an affiliation agreement with Shippensburg University if the internship is unpaid
- Answer promptly any evaluation surveys sent by the institution to measure the intern’s performance
- Provide the faculty internship supervisor access to the site and the intern’s supervisor either in person or virtually
- Be familiar with your reporting obligations under Title IX (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C §1681 et seq.)
When taking the internship experience for academic credit, the student will have to ensure additional requirements are filled during their experience.
- Fulfill the duties assigned by the internship site as determined in the position description
- Follow all local, State and Federal laws and regulations
- Complete the assignments detailed in the internship class syllabus
- Communicate with the faculty assigned to supervise the internship class
- Ensure your internship site supervisor submits all surveys or evaluations required by the college or department
- Help facilitate a site visit or meeting with the internship site supervisor if requested by the faculty
- Report any Title IX violations to your institution (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C §1681 et seq.)
- Follow your institution’s code of conduct while enrolled in the internship class
When a student is not registering their internship for academic credit, or not counting their experience to fulfill a graduation requirement in their program of study, the university has no legal oversight of the relationship between site and student intern. If difficulties arise during the internship experience, the Career Center may provide consultation and general guidance to either parties on how to best approach the situation. However, the institution has no mechanism that will allow any enforcement of those suggestions. This support to either the site, the student, or both should not be construed as legal advice.
If the internship is unpaid, the university will enter into an affiliation agreement with the internship site that will determine the responsibilities and liability of each party involved.
The faculty internship supervisor will grade assignments and reach out to the internship site for visits, meetings or evaluation of the intern.
Please note that nothing contained within this site may be construed as “legal advice”. Some of the material found here has been condensed from statutes, regulations, court decisions, policies of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and of the State System, and other sources. Users should always consult with appropriate licensed counsel if specific legal or factual issues are involved. The materials here are presented for informational purposes only.
Shippensburg University is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education and an equal opportunity educational institution. Direct requests for reasonable accommodations and other inquiries to the Office of Accessibility
Resources, Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257-2299, (717) 477-1364, firstname.lastname@example.org.