Your internship program? It needs some help

Here are eight solid tips ensure your company’s summer program delivers a valuable experience for the interns and you.

Most professionals say their internship experience played a pivotal role in sparking their interests and developing their skills. Some were amazing jobs and others, ahem, might not have been so great. Nevertheless, they helped shape us into who we are today.

Now that we have our own interns, it’s time to design a program for aspiring public relations professionals that falls into the amazing category. It requires a delicate balance: It not only has to be designed to alleviate some of your work, but also has to challenge them, hone the skills they’ll need to succeed and inspire them to continue.

In other words, it has to be a kick-ass program.

1. Evaluate you and your colleagues’ internships. Why did you value one internship more than another? What was the coolest part? Which skills did you develop that you have built upon today? If you have colleagues who have gone through your company’s internship program, ask them what they liked and what could be improved.

2. Borrow from a PR 101 syllabus. For many interns, you will have to start with the basics, including how to build a media list, how to differentiate the social media platforms, improving writing skills and learning AP style.

3. Set goals. It’s important to set expectations for incoming interns. There’s only so much you can do in three months. Help your interns decide what they’d like to do and learn, then help them map the path to meet those goals. At the end of the summer, it will feel great to look back and say you’ve accomplished them together.

4. Build a portfolio to showcase their work. I had an internship my junior year of college that allowed me to create a portfolio of work, including press releases, media kits and feature writing. It was invaluable when I was looking for my next internship and my first job. It set me up for success.

5. Build on their interests and strengths. Even though your interns may still be figuring out what they want to do, they’ll likely have an idea what they like to work on. If they’re strong writers, give them assignments to challenge and strengthen their skills. But also don’t shy away assigning them work they’ve never done before. It will help broaden their fundamentals and might turn into a strength.

6. Nudge them to network. Most interns are shy, especially in front of senior leaders. Encourage them to meet with people who can teach them. Help them set up individual meetings with those who can help them in their careers.

7. Allow them to take ownership of a project. Two of the major differences between being an intern and being an employee is ownership and accountability. Giving your interns ownership over a project or a process will go a long way to ensuring their experience is memorable and valuable.

8. Encourage fun. Being an intern can be, by turns, stressful and tedious. Allow for after-work activities, happy hours, lunches and events to build camaraderie and make the summer more enjoyable.

Have other tips for designing a PR internship program? We’d love to hear ’em!

Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York. Connect with her on Twitter. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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