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Small Businesses Developing Internships

A small business owner can offer an internship opportunity that is both meaningful for a student and helpful to the business itself. Internships with smaller organizations are often more project-based. If you are a small business owner, here are some helpful tips for developing an internship opportunity.

  1. Identify a Project
    Hiring an intern can be a good solution for small businesses that have a project to be completed, but not enough staff time to get it done. For example, an intern could work on a promotional campaign for the business. The project should be something of value to the organization, but not of such high importance that it would be better handled by a permanent staff member. Interns want to do meaningful work, and employers can use an intern's energy to complete a project that has been put off for too long.
  2. Define the Project
    What specifically should the intern accomplish? For example, an intern who is working on a promotional campaign might develop a customer database for mailings, create a brochure, and attend local events to promote the business. Elements for the project should be specific and measurable in order to monitor progress.
  3. Identify a Supervisor
    Internships are about learning, and a student intern needs guidance from a motivated supervisor. The supervisor should have the appropriate knowledge and skills to "teach" the intern, such as knowing how to offer constructive feedback. A supervisor also needs to be available to the intern.  Identify a staff member who could work effectively with an intern and with the given project. Make sure he/she wants to supervise the intern, not just have a "gopher."
  4. Identify Required Skills and Create a Job Description
    Identifying the skills needed to complete the project and developing a detailed job description helps an employer attract appropriate candidates for the internship. A good job description also helps Career Services staff members assess the best ways to promote the opportunity to students. See Writing an Internship Position Description for useful tips.
  5. Develop Learning Objectives for the Project
    Again, an internship is about learning. To make the internship successful for both the employer and the intern, a specific and measurable learning plan should be developed at the beginning of the internship. Establish specific, measurable objectives for the intern's work: the task to be completed; how it will be accomplished; how it will be evaluated. Clear communication at the beginning of the internship can help avoid problems down the road.
  6. Orient the Intern to the Organization and the Job
    Before the intern's first day, be sure to have a workspace set up for him/her. Make sure the intern will have access to any resources he/she may need to complete the project (ex. phone, computer, etc.). Also, be sure to have any necessary paperwork prepared. When the intern begins, the supervisor should orient him/her to the organization. In the orientation:
    • Outline daily operations of the office: opening the office, phone usage policies, lunch/break practices, etc.
    • Introduce the intern to all staff members in the organization.
    • Discuss the job, expectations, and specific work standards or procedures.
    • Confirm the length of the internship, salary and benefits (if applicable), vacation policies, and attendance standards.

    Read more about orienting and training interns in Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program.

  7. Evaluate the Intern
    Just as regular supervision helps an intern be successful, regular evaluation is important in the learning process. Giving the intern feedback allows him/her time to make adjustments in behaviors and work performance. It also provides an opportunity to assess how well the intern is meeting the objectives established at the beginning of the internship. The evaluation process can be formal or informal, depending on the culture of the organization. In addition to evaluating the intern, it can be useful to allow the intern to evaluate his/her experience. This can help the supervisor evaluate and make any adjustments to the project and/or for future internship assignments. See Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program  for sample evaluation forms.

Resources: (n.d.). Small employers guide to internships. Retrieved May 4, 2007, from