Seven Things Every Internship Program Must Have
An internship can transform an entry-level professional or student into a job-ready professional. Graduating with a diploma is great, but graduating with a diploma and a resume featuring accomplishments from a spectacular internship is better. Why? Seasoning, confidence, and practical skills are treasures in every early professional’s workplace. The surest way to gather these treasures […]
An internship can transform an entry-level professional or student into a job-ready professional. Graduating with a diploma is great, but graduating with a diploma and a resume featuring accomplishments from a spectacular internship is better.
Why? Seasoning, confidence, and practical skills are treasures in every early professional’s workplace. The surest way to gather these treasures is an internship.
Not all internships are created equal, however. These are the elements that set a good internship apart from the pack:
Why are so many internships oriented around the summer months? Summertime isn’t the only option for beefing up your hands-on experiences. We’ve built our Exelaration Center [XC] program around short (3-4 hour) shifts throughout the school year. Our budding software developers frequently report that their classroom learning complements the work they do at the XC. Our students can learn best practices in a morning class on campus, then apply them on actual projects with real-world clients in the afternoon.
Mentoring Is Taken Seriously
Mentoring is a key aspect of each supervisor’s primary job, not an afterthought. We’ve all heard nightmare internship scenarios: on the intern’s first day, it’s a last-minute argument about who’s going to oversee the intern. Someone reluctantly agrees to fit it into their schedule as long as it doesn’t interfere with their job. Interns represent your company’s future workforce, and their oversight should be taken seriously. An intern’s boss or mentor should strike the optimal balance between delivering results and using hands-on projects as the primary teaching vehicle. This takes skill, and not everyone is wired to be a teacher while producing work results. Choose your mentors wisely.
A Community of Interns
Being an intern requires stepping outside your comfort zone. Let’s face it: it’s easy to be a college student on a college campus. However, it’s intimidating to be a college student in a workplace full of senior experts and customers. Strong intern programs hire multiple interns within the workplace, effectively building an intern community. Creating an internship community within your workplace has many benefits: it demonstrates to everyone that you take investing in your future workforce seriously. It gives your interns a community of colleagues to learn and commiserate with. At the end of each term, we have a celebratory evening where each departing intern presents a fun and informative “what I’ve learned” show. The best internship programs host multiple interns across different jobs and create a community out of them.
Work Environment Immersion
Effective mentoring is about encountering problems together, in real-time, and experiencing the dynamics of finding a solution. Examples of real-world dynamics are a client’s emotion, an executive’s demands, or a last-minute change. The purpose of an internship is to arm the intern with practical experiences and skills to cope with the real world. The strongest internships are those in which the intern is immersed in the whole work environment.
Focus On Deliverables, Not Just Activities
There’s nothing like that breakthrough moment of learning that occurs when you touch the hot stove and feel pain. Internships work best when they vest responsibility for actual results with the intern. When there’s proper oversight, and when the company is committed to building its future workforce, there will be tolerance (and even encouragement) of interns being held accountable for delivery of production components. I continually marvel at the conscientiousness of the interns who are writing code for our clients. They know that it will be meticulously reviewed by their mentor, and that it is destined for a client environment. Forget double-checking. They are known for triple- and quadruple-checking their work before they consider it ready for review. The accountability of knowing that your software – code you wrote – is going to fuel a client’s business process is the ideal learning vehicle. The best internships aren’t afraid to harness the power of a conscientious apprentice.
Some Formal Instruction
Earlier, I said that our interns frequently report that their classroom learning complements the work they do at the XC. This is not to say that we don’t also provide some formal instruction and lessons. Each of the mentors in our program has a different specialty, which they share with the students in a series of lecture-style presentations. Our classroom sessions on Continuous Delivery, Software Development Theory, and Agile/Scrum best practices give the interns a chance to ask questions about how their specific project assignments relate to these more foundational elements. Doing this not only increases opportunity for learning, but it also shows the how much we value a strong relationship between best-practice theory and the real-world challenges in our clients’ businesses.
A View of Their Future
Every intern is full of curiosity. The thing they are most curious about is what am I going to be doing after I graduate? Good internships give their participants a view into the future workplace. Through informal and scheduled sessions, we invite a significant amount of discussion around careers in information technology: what to expect, what different employers offer, and how career paths evolve. Their motivation escalates to an even higher level when they can see how they fit into a future job and career path. The strongest internship programs give the interns a view into how their career might unfold, and show them how their decisions can influence that.
The transformation from student to professional need not be the stark moment following graduation. A strong internship program bridges the transition and makes both experiences, student AND professional, more enriching and valuable. With today’s tech talent deficit, organizations who choose to engage their future workforces early are the ones who will come out ahead of the game.
The Experiential Learning in Tech Employment (ELITE) Grant has launched as Virginia’s first ever work-based learning grant for mentored software developers. These two inaugural projects engage student engineers from Virginia Tech...