How to Create an Internship Program That Works

With banks and media companies being criticized for their internship programs, here are four ways interns and business owners can make the most of the internship experience.

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By Nina Zipkin


Several banks are cutting back on hours for their interns and junior employees in an effort to address a widespread industry culture that has been on the receiving end of some criticism recently.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal this week, analysts and associates at Credit Suisse are no longer allowed to be at the office from 6 p.m. on Friday through 10 a.m. on Sunday, except for when they are working on a "live deal." Credit Suisse is only the latest bank to make an announcement like this.

Last summer, the death of Moritz Erhardt, an epileptic 21-year-old intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch's London office, prompted the bank to re-examine working standards for their younger staff. A memo was sent out recommending that interns and entry-level employees take at least four weekend days off each month.

Related: The Case for Paying Interns (Infographic)

The Journal also recently reported that both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have created working groups to address the need for more of a work-life balance for their employees, with Goldman also decreasing weekend work. J.P. Morgan Chase has instituted an optional free weekend every month for young bankers as well.

But it isn't just the banks that have to contend with the well-being of young employees and liability. In October, publisher Conde Nast ended their internship program following a class-action lawsuit brought by two former interns, who claimed they were paid less than $1 an hour during their respective stints at W magazine and The New Yorker.

The question remains: What can interns, first-time employees and business owners do to make sure that the experience is beneficial for everyone involved? Here are four strategies that can help.

State your expectations up front. The first few days on the job aren't just about orientation, getting a key to the bathroom and filling out HR paperwork, but setting the tone. Supervisors and interns should talk about what they hope to gain from the experience. "It's crucial to define appropriate tasks an intern can realistically accomplish in the time they have with you...Have ongoing projects that interns can work on when they finish specific assignments. Anticipate questions to save yourself time. Write out procedures for the little things you take for granted, such as using your phone system," says Intern Profits co-founder Dreama Lee. One way to do this is to create a cloud-based training guide that interns can reference any time they have a question. Read more: 5 Ways to Find, Train and Oversee the Ideal Intern

Establish an open-door policy. Your intern is there to learn from you. Everyone is busy and it's easy to get caught up, so set aside some time to check in and see how everything is going in addition to the day-to-day projects and tasks. "Providing anything less than the best educational experience for your interns doesn't just damage your future hiring potential, but also that of other companies within your industry," says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch. Read more: How to Run a Productive Internship Program and Stay Out of Legal Trouble

Help them help you. "Internships are not just a way of attracting full-time candidates; they're a way of finding and hiring new full-time employees who are very familiar with your corporate culture," says Sageworks chairman and co-founder Brian Hamilton. Interns can learn a lot about the position and how it's changed and grown from the people who sat at their desk before them, so schedule some time for the old and new guard to share their ideas, skills and experience. Read more: 5 Reasons You Need Interns to Build Your Business

Tip for Interns: Go in with your eyes open, but enjoy the ride. If you're an intern who's been asked to become a full-time employee, before you decide to accept, you're in the position to ask as many questions as you like about what the role entails. Once you start, "embrace the work," says young entrepreneur and founder of Green Bean restaurant Sarah Haselkorn. Haselkorn recalled of her internship, "I was given tasks I had no idea how to do and was left to figure it out on my own. It's not that my bosses wanted to watch me squirm. They just knew that I had the tools necessary to figure it out...That autonomy and trust is what really helped me grow as an employee, a thinker and a leader." Read more: How to Turn an Internship into Entrepreneurship

Nina Zipkin

Entrepreneur Staff

Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.

Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

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