8 Tips for a Successful Summer Internship Program

June 22, 2023

Summer Internship Program

Taking on an intern is a big commitment. Taking on 11 is an even bigger one. That’s how many young people the bank has welcomed onto our team this summer, and yet the reward is ours.

From the fresh perspective they bring to the coaching skills they bring out, Bank Iowa interns are helping our staff live out the bank’s purpose in real time.

If you are thinking of taking on an intern (or 11), the lessons we’ve learned over years of fine-tuning our summer program may be helpful. Check them out…

Give Yourself Time. It’s not too early to start planning a summer 2024 program now. It takes time to determine the skill sets you need for mutual benefit, the connections you need for effective recruiting and the internal folks you will lean on to ensure a relevant, positive program. Ideally, you’ll begin recruiting in the fall for summer internships.

Make College Connections. The Bank Iowa program would not be a success without the support of our state’s colleges and universities. As early as possible, introduce yourself to the career services leaders at the schools where you’ll recruit. Get their advice on what makes a great internship. Differentiate yourself by following the professionals’ guidance; they’ll be more likely to point top talent your way.

Welcome First-Years. Traditionally, internships have been awarded to college juniors, seniors and even recent graduates. Today, however, universities and colleges are encouraging students to pursue internships much earlier, even in their freshman years. Don’t shy away from this. Welcoming first- and second-year students widens your applicant pool and puts you in position to have meaningful influence over a student’s next steps, whether that’s selecting the right coursework or choosing the right major/minor.

Establish Paths for Two-Way Learning. Every business needs to adapt to meet the changing needs of a younger team, and just as importantly, a younger customer base. Formalize two-way learning so that interns feel comfortable sharing opportunities for your business to establish trust with younger generations. Ensure the success of your program by selecting (and training) the right team members to serve as supervisors and mentors.

Differentiate Interns from Seasonal Help. Too often, companies wind up giving “busy” work to their interns instead of developing them as future leaders. Establish clear guidelines for the types of projects assigned to interns vs. seasonal workers. Interns should be given meaningful work that builds professional skills. Your goal should be to maximize development—for both the intern and the supervisor. At Bank Iowa, it’s a prestigious honor to be selected to lead an intern.

Teach Core Business. Along those same lines, carve out time to educate your interns on the holistic operations of the business. Don’t assume they understand how you make money, the value you bring to the marketplace or how you innovate. Sometimes what feels obvious to you is anything but for a young, ambitious person new to the industry.  

Give Interns the Stage. Bank Iowa interns close out their experiences by presenting to the team. They get to show off the work they accomplished, share what they learned and give kudos to the leadership team that helped them develop. Both sides benefit from the debrief, as interns get to see in one place the totality of their experience, and the bank gets to see what worked best and where we have room to improve.

Be Patient. Don’t be discouraged if interns do not convert to full-time positions right away. If you give them a positive experience, they may remember you when they are ready to make their second or third professional move. Getting experience at another organization may help your former intern realize that the best professional fit for them is, in fact, with you. (Pro tip for small-town or rural Iowa businesses: recruit students who hail from your area; they are much more likely to return home for full-time employment after college.)

Internship programs are an investment, perhaps more in time than dollars (Although most internships are paid these days, so you’ll want to set aside a healthy budget for your program.). Either way, you want a good ROI from each of your investments, and an internship program is no different.

Rather than wing-it or follow the lead of your intern(s), take the time to be strategic in your development of a formal program. Establish an upfront plan, follow some best practices and continuously improve. That’s the most prudent way to achieve the returns you expect and your interns deserve.

By Bank Iowa Learning and Development Manager Jill Shedek