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How to Develop an Ideal HR Internship Program


Many successful human resources professionals got their start in the industry by participating in an internship program. For students and entry-level professionals, an HR internship can be a formative experience. It’s often a first step into the working world, a time to quickly gain hands-on experience and, of course, an invaluable learning opportunity.

Here are some important ways HR leaders can create an ideal internship program that prepares up-and-coming industry professionals for the workplace.

Use your internship’s FLSA compliance as a teaching moment

For an HR intern, their own onboarding experience will be an informative part of the journey. Use this moment as an opportunity to discuss the differences between unpaid and paid internships, and how companies can stay in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Beyond ensuring that your company is complying with FLSA guidelines, educate your newly intern about this process and how it relates to the bigger picture of HR compliance.

You need to ensure that you have an organizational agreement

What is the purpose of your internship program? What objectives do you want to meet through the program? Where do you need them and for how long? What tasks are they going to do?

You have to make sure that the organization agrees to this before you even consider bringing on an intern or an internship program.

You want to create a plan for your internship program. Without a plan, it will not be successful.

Establish a clear structure for the HR internship experience

In order to set up your intern and your colleagues for success, it’s important to outline and follow a well-defined internship structure and plan. When your bright-eyed, busy-tailed intern arrives ready to work, make sure everyone knows what the day holds and what's to come including:

  • Setting a regular schedule

  • Assigning a dedicated supervisor

  • Articulating key learning objectives

  • Outlining project milestones

  • Following a formal review process

Work with your colleagues to define these projects ahead of the internship start date to ensure that the intern will have full access to the right resources, including a mentor, and that they will have a high likelihood of success. Rather than have your newcomer work with confidential data or sensitive company information, choose something that the intern may later use as a portfolio piece.

Another important component of a successful internship program is that the interns have a point person

Someone who is designated for these interns if they have questions or concerns. This point person should have a good understanding of the full internship program and each individual’s objectives. As a result, this person should be a mentor to these interns throughout the program.

Train your intern on industry tools and technologies

College classes don’t often give students access to many of the industry-specific software solutions they’ll use on the job in an HR role. However, employers will prioritize entry-level applicants who can demonstrate some proficiency with human capital management (HCM) platforms and other such tools. Spend some time teaching your intern about the tools you use, how they work and why they’re important to your business.

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