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How to Make Your Internship Program WORK for you

August 6, 2019 | Best Practices | Company

create an internship programIt’s no secret that internship programs are beneficial for students and employers. Students gain valuable work experience while companies gain from the opportunity to see firsthand how a potential employee fits into the team and company.

An internship program isn’t truly successful – and by “successful” I mean by both parties’ standards – unless it’s woven into the fabric of your company’s culture. Hiring summer interns shouldn’t be a last-minute scramble, nor should figuring out where to assign them. Rather, the intern program should be purposeful and intentional. The program itself should be viewed as an integral part of your company’s long-term strategic plan.

Having a strong internship program takes WORK. Here are some measures that we’ve taken to make our Van Meter summer internship program WORK for us – attracting outstanding talent while raising the bar for our company.

Worthwhile experience

Students applying for internships want to gain relevant work experience and exposure to their fields of study to gain an advantage over their peers. Forbes reports that 63 percent of students who complete a paid internship receive a job offer right after college, and at much higher salaries than graduates without the experience.

Our interns leave with worthwhile learning experiences that have lasting value for them. They attend customer meetings, have time with company executives and get regular feedback to help them learn and grow. They also have specific job duties and participate in a group project. We believe skills in project management, teamwork and general business acumen are critical no matter where they end up in life. Van Meter also invests in professional portrait headshots of each intern that they can take with them to use for online profiles or future applications.

Opportunity to Lead

We use our Internship Program as a way to provide introductory leadership experience for some of our existing employee-owners. Each intern is assigned a coach, who serves as the day to day support for the intern. They provide feedback, day to day direction and performance feedback throughout the summer.

Employee-owners who are interested in or who may be on a succession plan for a leadership role gain some insight and experience into leading people. This is a great opportunity to try out leadership.

Recruiting Strategy

We don’t hire the same number of interns every summer. While our program has grown over the years, the number of “open” internships doesn’t have to be the same.

We look closely at the current and future needs of our business before deciding how many interns we should invite. This step is often overlooked or underestimated, but it’s critical to succession planning and ensuring that your interns have a meaningful experience while they’re at Van Meter. Last year our interns represented six departments in as many branch locations. We’ve also hired nine of our interns full time since 2015.

I believe that good people often travel together. This concept applies directly to the success of any internship program. This year 140 students applied for internships at Van Meter, and we accepted 11 of them into the program.

We’re fortunate to have such strong interest from so many talented young people. This success didn’t happen overnight. We’ve worked hard to make our Internship Program valuable for our students; one that they are proud of and excited to share with others. We hear from our students that they are hungry for a place where they can thrive, have a voice, make an impact, and be involved in the community. Gone are the days of status quo where an intern only does the ‘busy’ work. Van Meter gives them those opportunities in a work culture that fully supports them. An intern is never “just an intern” here.

So, when students share their experience at Van Meter with their parents, professors and peers, those people tell other people. We get a ton of referrals this way, which in turn grows our brand and excitement about our program.

successful internship program
The 2019 Van Meter interns participate in a Place-P activity working to clean-up the Tait Cummins Trail in Cedar Rapids.

Knowledge and Culture

At the end of the summer, our interns give a presentation to Van Meter’s leadership team and their family. Each year the presentation is different, because they’re based on that group’s project management assignments over the internship.

It’s incredible to see what the interns have learned about our company, and more importantly our culture. When the interns share what they know of our culture, it shows how they have been able to fit into our company over the 10-week program. This is powerful and helpful in future hiring decisions.

These presentations blow me away, every year, and reinforce the value of Van Meter’s internship program, both for the interns and for our company. When we all WORK together to create a quality internship experience…. We all win!

alicia murphy, van meter inc.




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