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How to start an internship program at your business

Assign an internship coordinator

  • A coordinator will ensure that your program stays organized and relevant. This person will be in charge of collecting résumés, promoting the position, sorting résumés, coordinating interviews, and providing work and space for the interns.

Develop the program

  • Assess your company's needs and resources. Clarify what your company is trying to gain from the internship and determine what you will need to provide to your intern to help them succeed. It is important to be realistic about the availability of meaningful work for the intern.
  • Design a comprehensive program that will include information on learning objectives and goals, daily responsibilities, short and long-term projects, supervisor assignments, evaluation procedures, policies and expectations, and orientation and off-boarding processes. 
  • Write a job description and create a mission statement.  An example - "This Internship Program provides students with hands-on experience. We show them how a business is run, the daily tasks that go into managing a business, and have them help out with brainstorming, necessary organizational and administrative tasks, social media, press releases, and marketing campaigns while taking their future interests into consideration and providing each student with a person mentor and guide throughout the duration of their internship."
  • Encourage companywide buy-in. It is important that all levels of employees, including leadership, support the internship program. Company wide support will help the intern to feel welcome and will lead to adequate allocation of resources to create an inclusive environment. Create a presentation to deliver to colleagues to demonstrate the benefits stemming from internship programs.
  • Explore how many additional individuals can be accommodated in your current space. Set up the space where the intern will work.
  • Determine length (typically 3-6 months) and schedule (full time or part time) of the internship. Coordinating your internships with college and high school schedules can give you a greater pool of qualified applicants. Internships that last longer than 120 days follow different Labor and Industry standards for benefits.
  • Create the internship compensation plan with an approved budget.
  • Coordinate the team to supervise the intern. Match the intern with a suitable mentor and assign a direct supervisor to administer work assignments and monitor progress. The supervisor can be the internship coordinator or can be an additional team member. One of the team members should introduce the intern to the entire office at a staff meeting or during an initial office walk through to help the intern learn about the employees and the roles/projects they are working on.
  • Select a start date and give yourself at least 2 months to recruit and onboard candidates.
  • Post the position and market on job boards, college and high school campuses, and job centers. 
  • Evaluate candidates. 
  • Interview, select and hire interns.

Legal considerations

  • Paid vs. unpaid - Internships can be paid or unpaid. A paid intern will have all of the same legal protections and benefits as an employee if they work more than 30 hours a week for a period longer than 120 days. If they are unpaid, they're usually subject to stringent labor guidelines. In the U.S., federal law mandates that unpaid interns must not benefit the company economically or be used to displace the work done by paid employees. Regulations vary from state to state. In Washington state, there are limited circumstances in which unpaid student internships are allowed and exempt from the Minimum Wage Act, Chapter 49.46 RCW and the Industrial Insurance Laws, Chapter 51 RCW. 
  • Important Department of Labor regulations to follow with unpaid internships
  1. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries - Unpaid Internship 101
  2. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries - Employment Standards, Hours Worked RCW 49.12
  3. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries - Employment Standards, Minimum Hourly Wage RCW 49.46.020 
  • Important considerations when working with interns who are minors. There are many opportunities to work with high school students as interns.
  1. State of Washington Business Licensing Service - Minor Work Permit
  2. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries - Teen Workers

High school and college program credit options

  • ​College credit - Internships for college students typically are related to the student's major or career goal. The internship plan generally involves students working in professional settings under the supervision and monitoring of practicing professionals. Receiving college credit is the responsibility of the intern/student. Determine before the start of the internship if it qualifies for credit so that you can be aware of the additional documentation required by the academic institution. Often, the college will require a company summary, biweekly evaluations for the employer or student to fill out and an end of internship evaluation for the employer to complete to ensure that the student fulfilled the internship.
  • High School credit - Working with high schools to support Career Connected learning experiences for students is currently a statewide effort to enrich a high school students experience and give them additional tools when deciding on post high school plans. More and more high school students are participating in internships as the value is becoming more widely recognized. To learn more about working with high school students and the potential to coordinate the internship with graduation credits contact your area coordinator at @@.
    Resources: WAC 392-410-315 WSL Credit, STW FLSA, DOL FLSA Intern, WAC296 Minor Prohibited Occupations

Testimonials from employers with successful internship programs

  • INHS
  • Pearson Packaging
  • Microsoft

Start using the internship tool