When people think of internships, they probably imagine high school or college students pursuing practical, on-the-job experience during semester breaks or over the summer.

Many millions of students have taken this path as a stepping-stone to a full-time career — that much hasn’t changed. But what’s different today is the wide variety of internships available and the people they attract.

Internships are a strategic investment with tangible returns for your business. For example, they can:

  • Create new talent pipelines with a replenishing pool of potential hires you get to see in action.
  • Open doors for overlooked and untapped talent, especially for people who might lack the usual pathways into your field.
  • Elevate your company’s brand image by demonstrating a commitment to helping people grow professionally.


The new face of internships

Internships are changing — for the better. The remote work wave, sparked by the pandemic, has broadened opportunities through virtual internships. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams allow interns to contribute from anywhere, breaking down geographical barriers.

In addition, internships are starting to look like formal mentorships in certain respects, with structured onboarding, assigned advisors, clear learning goals, regular feedback and experiential projects.

But while internships serve as an entry point into the professional world, mentorships are designed to nurture the careers of your already onboarded staff. So, even as internships become more sophisticated and include elements of mentorship, remember that each has a unique role in career development.


Non-traditional internships

Internships today can take multiple non-traditional forms, freeing your organization to put together a program that works for your talent needs. Consider these various formats:

  • “Returnships.” These programs focus on people who have been away from the workplace for a period of time — like stay-at-home parents or those who have taken an employment hiatus. Though these interns may need some refresher guidance, their experience, enthusiasm and dedication often make them invaluable team members.
  • Career transition internships. For many people, the pandemic re-sorted their personal priorities, and many workers are deciding to shift industries, fields or positions. Employers can ease this transition by offering a structured program for gaining hands-on experience and new skills.
  • Executive internships. Designed for seasoned professionals, executive internships offer practical experience in navigating the higher levels of an organization. Programs like these can serve as bridges to senior roles or even the C-suite.
  • Micro-internships. These are short-term, highly focused programs that last anywhere from a week to a month. Micro-internships allow candidates to complete specific projects or objectives, giving them a quick but deep dive into an industry or role. This format is excellent for companies wanting to work on short-term initiatives and individuals who might not have the time for a longer commitment but still want to gain valuable experience.
  • Nonprofit/social impact internships: As the name suggests, social impact internships are for people driven to make a meaningful, positive difference in the world. Because nonprofits often operate on shoestring budgets, these positions will likely be unpaid.


Elements of a successful internship program

Crafting a top-notch internship program — whether traditional or non-traditional — takes skilled planning and execution. To set yours up for success, here are some key elements to consider:

  • Active recruiting. Start by attracting a wide array of candidates using platforms like LinkedIn and other social media to announce opportunities. Don't overlook the power of word-of-mouth recommendations either. If targeting college students, build relationships with university career services departments.
  • Dedicated supervision. After onboarding, make sure each intern is paired with a willing supervisor. This person should oversee the intern's daily tasks and serve as a mentor who can offer career advice and answer questions.
  • Constant feedback. Honest and frequent communication — in the form of constructive feedback — is critical. Let your interns know what you consider their strengths and areas for improvement. This information is priceless for their professional growth.
  • Interesting and diverse assignments. Variety is the spice of internship programs. Encourage interns to engage with multiple projects and different members both within and outside of your team. This approach will give them a comprehensive view of the company and help identify where their skills fit best.
  • Layers of skill-building. Incorporate some workshops or training sessions into internships. These added educational experiences can equip interns with new skills, increasing their marketability for future roles.
  • Networking access. Introduce interns to professionals within and, if possible, outside the organization. In-house networking events and industry conferences are great places for interns to start building their connections.

Internships aren't just for students anymore. For career changers, experienced professionals or those re-entering the workforce, offering a range of internship programs can give your company an edge. It's about broadening horizons — for your workforce and your business.