The Dos – and Don'ts – of An Internship Program

Having previously had the opportunity to intern with six different marketing and communications agencies and departments, I certainly developed a list of “must-haves” and “definitely nots”, or things that made some of my internships the best and others a little less awesome.

Now that I manage interns myself and support the continued development of Liquid’s internship program, I try my best to keep all of these in mind. It’s why our internship listings always read, “Forget coffee runs and twiddling your thumbs, and say hello to Cake Days and real-world experience!”

With classes back in session – and two new interns having joined the Liquid team – I thought it as good a time as any to share this insight!

5 Dos

1. Get the rest of the company excited about having interns in the office

Having an intern in the office can and should be a fun experience for the whole company. Everyone from the president to your most entry-level employee likely has something to teach or share with your intern and will contribute to them having a great experience.

Make sure to share with the company who your intern is, what they’re studying and where they might have interned before, and what they’re hoping to get out of their time with you.

When your intern is really deserving of kudos, send it out via your internal newsletter or collaboration tool so that others can share in your excitement.

Also, ensure that everyone who your intern may work with knows who their point of contact is should they have an idea about a project your intern could help with or some feedback about how your intern’s been doing.

2. Invite your interns to meetings – and make sure they’ve been prepped and that you debrief

Shadowing should be a huge part of your internship program – but only if your intern is getting something out of it! Sitting in on client calls or internal meetings can be a cool experience for interns, but take the time to prep them ahead of the meeting and debrief with them after-the-fact so they learn from each presentation or touch base.

What are you talking about? Who was all invited? What were you trying to achieve?

If possible, send your intern any documents you might be discussing ahead of time and them to write down any words or phrases they don’t recognize or questions they might have about what was discussed that you can answer for them later.

3. Help your interns meet people on other teams

Even if your company is on the smaller side, it can be hard to put faces to names!

Consider ways to provide your intern with opportunities to meet other people in your department as well as in other departments.

Whether that’s structured one-to-ones or getting certain groups together for lunch every week, your intern will appreciate the structured time to connect.

4. Increase your interns’ responsibility as the semester goes on

Monotony can be as boring as not having anything to do!

Your intern may have tasks that they need to complete every week due to the nature of your business, but balance that out with other or different work. 

Consider projects that are iterative or have multiple steps or phases so that your intern feels like they’re making progress and having new experiences.

For instance, if social media is a focus of your internship, have your intern manage a new social media channel every couple of weeks as opposed to just giving them access to the Facebook page for the entirety of their semester. 

5. Get your interns’ feedback

At the end of an internship, ask your intern how they felt about their time with you.

Did they enjoy the projects they worked on? Did they feel like clear expectations were set, project to project, and that they had everything they needed to do a good job? Who were their favorite people to work with?

They’ll hopefully have a lot of positive feedback as well as a few constructive criticisms or other ideas – all which you can take into consideration as you prepare for your next student.

I would ultimately recommend you standardize this in some way, such as via a 10-question survey. But, if you’re just getting started, a 30-minute open discussion between you and your intern should be valuable.

5 Don’ts

1. Send them for coffee

… or to make copies or pick up lunch or deliver files.

If you’re in a pinch, maybe once, but don’t make a habit out of it!

Aim to give your interns a truly valuable experience.

2. As their manager, be your intern’s only checkpoint

Don’t forget the buddy rule!

As your intern’s manager, you’ll sign off on timesheets, provide their school with all the necessary evaluations, and generally be a mentor to them throughout the semester.

But assigning your intern with one or more buddies or coaches can certainly help lighten your load.

It’ll give your intern someone to grab lunch, clarify the dress code for a meeting, or confirm the details of this Friday’s happy hour with.

I’ve found that it’s especially helpful to interns if this person is someone who interned with the company previously.

3. Only pass on industry knowledge to your intern

Yes, your intern is with you for the semester because they want to know more about whatever it is that you do – digital marketing, accounting, engineering, you name it!

But beyond that, most interns could really benefit from advice around all areas of professional development, from their resume and LinkedIn profile and interviewing, to navigating meetings and interacting with difficult clients.

Try to dive into one of these topics every few weeks or as they become relevant.

4. Assume your intern knows how they’re doing

Remember that your intern’s used to getting continuous feedback from parents, teachers, and coaches. “You got a B-“ or “Good game!” Also, consider that this will be many of your interns’ first professional experiences.

So, don’t wait until the end of the internship to let your intern know how they’re doing!

Use as many projects and presentations as an opportunity to give feedback. If your schedule allows for it, a weekly or bi-weekly check-in with your intern could be a good idea. Tell them what they knocked out of the park! Also, let them know what areas of improvement you see for them.

5. Forget to give them a recommendation at the end of their internship

Your intern may ask if they can list you as a reference on their resume or if you could write them a letter of recommendation. Only agree to what you feel comfortable doing – and to what your schedule will realistically allow.

At the very least, I’d always recommend leaving a recommendation on their LinkedIn profile! There, you can take 150-200 words to share with others, potential employers what you thought they did well, even if that was as simple as being punctual or working well as part of a team.

Whether you just brought a fall intern on or you’ve got until next summer to do some planning around your internship program, I hope you’ll take all of this into account as you help to make a student’s semester the best ever!

And as always, if an internship – or full-time role – with Liquid sounds like something you’re interested in, send your resume and a cover letter to