Employers' Guide to Internships

If you are seeking to develop an internship program for your organization or want to enhance your existing program, this guide is designed to assist you with that process.  Additionally, Mary Willis, the Coordinator of Internships and Professional Experiences for the Jordan College, is happy to meet with you to discuss your internship program development.  Mary can be reached at mwillis@csufresno.edu or 559.278.4207.

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Internship Basics

What is an Internship?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers defines an internship as:

An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

In general an internship:

  • Is a time-limited experience that lasts approximately 3 months and occurs during the fall, spring or summer semesters.  Interns can be asked to return to complete additional internship sessions.
  • May be part or full-time.  Usually it will be part-time during the fall and spring semesters and can be full-time during the summer.
  • May be paid or un-paid.
  • May be part of an educational program that is monitored by faculty to award academic credit.  However, many employers have internship programs that do not require that the intern be enrolled in an internship course.
  • Differs from a part-time job or volunteer experience in that there is an intentional learning agenda built into the experience.  This learning agenda may include the development of learning objectives, reflective writing, observation, assigned reading, participation in professional development activities, evaluation and assessment of outcomes.
  • Has an existing employee in the intern’s department who is assigned to supervise/mentor the intern.
  • An effort is made to establish a reasonable balance between the intern’s learning goals and the specific work an organization needs.
  • Promotes academic, career and/or personal development.

Adapted from materials published by the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE).

What an Internship is NOT

A position that consists of primarily clerical tasks or manual labor is not considered an internship.  While every job may include some “grunt” work, quality internships limit the amount of clerical work performed to less than 20% of the work experience.

Additionally, an internship is not a position that is used to fill the need for a technical skill that your staff doesn’t currently possess.  A student working in this capacity would be a consultant rather than an intern.

Benefits of an Internship

The Benefits of Internships for Employers:

  • A pool of highly motivated pre-professionals.
  • Staff to complete special projects or assist during peak business seasons.
  • Fresh, creative perspectives and new energy for your organization.
  • Cost effective approach to evaluating potential career employees with no long-term commitment.
  • The development of “ambassadors” who will promote your organization and its opportunities to other students.

The Benefits of Internships for Students:

  • Experience a “Test Drive" of their future career.
  • Gain experience to add to their resume.
  • Develop valuable networking contacts who can assist the student in his or her job search in the future.
  • Become more competitive in the job market.
  • Enhance the skills every employer wants in a new employee including communication, teamwork, time management, strong work ethic and problem solving.

What Students Really Want from Their Internship

  • Work that is meaningful, gives them hands on experience and produces results that are not only beneficial in developing their skills, but also beneficial to the organization they are serving.
  • Regular feedback on their performance.  Don’t wait until the final evaluation.
  • To be exposed to different areas of the organization.  Internships that include rotations through different departments provide a rich learning experience.
  • Clear instructions about work assignments.  While the process of a task may seem obvious to you, it most likely isn’t to the intern who may have never done that particular task before.
  • To be considered part of your team.  Consider including them in staff meetings and have them provide reports and presentations about their projects.
  • A mentor.  This may be a person who is not their supervisor, but a person willing to come along side the intern and show him or her “the ropes”.  A mentor is committed to meeting with the intern regularly to process the internship experience.
  • An enjoyable experience.

Creating a Successful Internship Program

As with anything, the key to success for an internship program is careful planning and thoughtful evaluation of its effectiveness during and after the completion of the internship term.  As you begin the process of developing your internship program here are some recommended steps to take:

1. Determine the Needs of Your Organization and the Goals of the Internship Program

In reviewing your organization assess what needs would be filled by adding intern(s) to your staff.  Your needs may include:

  • Additional staff in specific departments during peak seasons.
  • A special project that needs to be completed.
  • Recruiting and retaining new staff including those with management potential.

After you have clearly identified your needs then you can begin to set goals for your internship program.  For example, if your goal is to recruit new talent for your organization, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) suggests these minimum benchmark goals for your internship program:

  • Convert 50% of your graduating interns into regular, full-time hires.
  • Twenty-five percent of all your new-grad hires come from your internship program.

2. Obtain Buy-In At All Levels

Having support from everyone in your organization for both the internship program and the interns is a critical component of the program's success.  If top leadership embraces the leadership program and expresses its importance to the rest of the staff, it will be more likely that everyone else will embrace the program as well.  Everyone, from the HR staff person who recruits the students, to the CEO who welcomes the student interns at an orientation event, to the departmental staff who interact with the intern as a mentor or as a colleague, will impact the student’s experience.  The key message to convey to the intern is that he or she is a valuable member of the team and not just “cheap help”.

3. Become Familiar with the Academic Programs in the Area and their Students

While we think that selecting interns from Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology is your best choice, we recognize that you may select interns from other higher education institutions.  Become familiar with the types of programs offered at the colleges in your area and the types of skills, knowledge and experience those programs produce. 

The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology offers the following programs through our seven academic departments:

Agricultural Business

  • B.S. in Agricultural Business

Animal Science & Agricultural Education

  • B.S. in Agricultural Education - Agricultural Communications Option
  • B.S. in Agricultural Education - Teacher Preparation Option
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Production Management Option-Livestock Business Management Emphasis
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Production Management Option-Dairy Science Emphasis
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Production Management Option-Equine Science Emphasis
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Production Management Option-Meat Technology Emphasis
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Science Option-Preprofessional Emphasis
  • B.S. in Animal Science - Science Option-Pre Veterinary Emphasis
  • M.S. in Animal Science

Child, Family & Consumer Sciences

  • B.S. in Child Development
  • B.A. in Family & Consumer Sciences – Family Sciences Emphasis
  • B.A. in Family & Consumer Sciences – Fashion Merchandising Emphasis

Food Science & Nutrition

  • B.S. in Food & Nutritional Science – Culinology Option
  • B.S. in Food & Nutritional Science – Dietetics & Food Administration Option
  • B.S. in Food & Nutritional Science – Food Science Option

Industrial Technology

  • B.S. in Industrial Technology
  • M.S. in Industrial Technology

Plant Science

  • B.S. in Plant Science – Crop Production Management Option
  • B.S. in Plant Science – Plant Health Option
  • M.S. in Plant Science

Viticulture & Enology

  • B.S. in Enology
  • B.S. in Viticulture
  • M.S. in Viticulture & Enology

 

4. Determine if You Will Participate as a Site for Internship Courses

Generally speaking, internships that will be approved for credit through Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agriculture are a minimum of 150 hours (50 hours per unit) in length during the course of the semester.  To be considered for academic credit, the internship must provide:

  • A progressive and meaningful learning experience with a project or daily operations related to the student’s field of study.  (Work must not be more than 20% clerical in nature).
  • A mentor and/or supervisor, who will oversee the student's work, meet with them weekly to discuss progress and complete an evaluation of the student’s performance upon completion of the internship.
  • A workspace and other resources needed to complete the internship in a professional manner.

Additionally, an internship site will be required to sign an Experiential Learning Agreement between the internship site and the university.  The Experiential Learning Agreement is valid for 5 years and applies to any student from any academic program at Fresno State who is pursuing an internship for academic credit. Also, a Learning Plan Agreement between will need to be signed by the internship site, the student and the faculty member teaching the internship course.

Internship site supervisors are required to complete at least one evaluation of the student’s performance at the conclusion of the internship.  A mid-term evaluation may also be required.

Please note that each of the academic departments in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology determines what is required for their specific internship course.  Mary Willis, the Jordan College’s Coordinator of Internships and Professional Experiences, will assist you in accessing department specific course information and the Experiential Learning Agreement.  Contact Mary at mwillis@csufresno.edu or 559.278.4207.

5. Determine a Compensation Plan for Student Interns

Internships can be paid or unpaid.  However, to offer an unpaid internship, you must follow the Department of Labor’s (DOL) requirements pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The DOL has developed a fact sheet for employers regarding the requirements needed to justify an internship being unpaid.  This fact sheet can be found at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

For-profit organizations offering unpaid internships, in addition to meeting the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, must ensure that the student is enrolled in an appropriate academic internship course.  The student can only serve at the internship site for the hours required by the course.  No additional hours can be "volunteered" at a for-profit organization.

If you pay your interns you can offer an hourly salary or a stipend.  When offering a stipend for the internship, ensure that the amount of the stipend is at minimum equal to the minimum wage for the hours worked.

In addition to salary or stipend, determine if you will provide other benefits such as:

  • Providing housing and relocation assistance.
  • Professional development opportunities such as conferences and seminars.
  • A scholarship upon the successful completion of the internship.

The advantages of offering paid internships include a larger pool of candidates (as many students must work to support their education and could not accept an unpaid internship) and a more motivated intern who is eager to learn and wants to make the best impression possible.

6. Create a Position Description

As you create the position you will need to determine:

  • The amount of time it will take for the intern to accomplish the task and projects you intend to give him or her.
  • If the position will be full or part-time.
  • The individual responsible for supervising the intern.
  • If the intern will only work in one department or will be assigned to different departments during the course of the internship.
  • The orientation and training the intern will need.
  • The necessary office space, equipment and supplies the intern will need to complete his or her job.
  • The hours that the intern will be working.
  • The intern’s daily routine.

After making these determinations, you need to create a written job description.  This will be used for marketing the position to students and can inform staff about the position and its clear expectations. 

The job description should include:

  • A brief description of your organization.
  • Position title.
  • Duties and responsibilities.
  • Academic background and skills that are required or preferred.
  • Pay rate or stipend (if any) or other compensation.  Other benefits including professional development, networking opportunities and housing assistance.
  • The skills and knowledge that will be developed as result of the internships.  
  • The hours per week the intern will be working.
  • The start and end date of the internship.  Having a clear beginning and end to the internship is highly recommended.  Keep in mind you can always invite the intern to return for another internship session.
  • Details and deadlines for the application process.

7. Identify Internship Managers and Mentors

The internship manager may simply be the manager in the department where the intern is assigned.  However, if there is more than one individual who could serve in this capacity, the best equipped person would be someone who is interested in developing new employees, can identify potential in inexperienced employees, has the time to spend with the intern to provide adequate supervision and evaluation, and understands the importance of the internship program in recruiting and retaining new employees.

While the internship manager can serve as a mentor to the intern it would be ideal to have another individual serve as a mentor.  This person can serve as resource to the intern as she or he navigates your organization’s culture.  A mentor provides the intern with guidance and a safe place to process the internship experience.  Ideally, the mentor would be someone who has been out of college less than five years, works in the same department as the intern, is familiar with the intern’s projects and day-to-day tasks, and has time and interest in serving as a mentor.

8. Develop an Internship Program Schedule

In addition to the intern's regular work assignments, it is highly recommended that, as an internship provider, you create a formalized internship program schedule.  This schedule can include:

  • Intern Orientation Session
  • Safety Training
  • Presentation by the Senior Executive
  • Training Classes
  • Facility Tours
  • Career Seminars (i.e. resume development, interviewing and networking skills)
  • Panel Discussion with career employees who are not far removed from college graduation
  • Intern socials
  • Volunteer Activities

9. Recruit and Train the Intern

To find the very best candidates for your internship begin recruiting to fill the position at least three to four months prior to when you want the intern to start. 

Fresno State operates on a semester system.  If you want your internship program to follow our students’ academic year, please keep the following dates in mind.

For an Intern During

Advertise During

Fall Semester (3rd week of August to 3rd week of December)

March – July

Spring Semester (2nd week of January to the 3rd Week of May)

September – November

Summer Semester (4th week of May to 2nd week of August)

January – April

To recruit students specifically from Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology you can:

  • Post your internship opportunity to our free, web-based internship and job posting system, HireFresnoState.  You can access HireFresnoState directly at https://employer.gradleaders.com/FresnoState/Employers/Login.aspx?jprid=3781 or via "Log into HireFresnoState" menu item on the left side of this page.
  • Contact Mary Willis, the Coordinator of Internships and Professional Experiences for the Jordan College, at mwillis@csufresno.edu or by phone at 559.278.4207 and she’ll be happy to post the position for you.
  • Any position that is posted is also emailed to students who fit the criteria and shared with relevant campus organizations.  If your internship is also open to students in academic disciplines outside of the Jordan College, the position will be shared with the Fresno State Career Career Development Center and the appropriate academic departments.

After identifying the interns you wish to hire, prepare a formal offer letter that requires the intern’s signature as evidence of acceptance.  This offer letter should include:

  • Dates of employment, both starting and ending
  • Compensation
  • Reporting structure
  • The intern’s duties, responsibilities and tasks
  • Working conditions
  • Other expectations of the employer

Once you’ve selected your interns, providing orientation and training is your next step.  While your interns may have worked in part-time positions while going to school, they may not have been exposed to the importance of teamwork, organizational politics, confidentiality and proprietary information or the organization’s focus on the "bottom line". Topics for training can include:

  • Mission and Structure of the Organization
  • Organizational Policies and Procedures, Culture and Expectations
  • Safety Training – This should always be included.
  • The Intern’s Specific Responsibilities

As mentioned previously, providing the intern with regularly scheduled feedback is critical to the intern’s development.  The intern also needs the opportunity to safely process his or her experience in your program.  Providing a mentor, who is not the intern’s supervisor, will also enhance the intern's overall experience.

10. Evaluate the Intern and the Program

If your intern is receiving academic credit for the internship, you will be asked to complete at least one evaluation of the student’s performance.  If only one evaluation, this will be completed toward the end of the semester.  Some courses will also require a mid-semester evaluation.  Giving the intern honest feedback is essential to their growth as young professionals.

Regardless of whether or not the intern is receiving academic credit, your internship program should have an evaluation process to assess the quality of your internship program and assists you in making decisions about offering long-term employment to your graduating interns.  This evaluation process should include:

  • Intern feedback through surveys and focus groups.
  • Intern mid-term and final reports and presentations on their projects. 
  • Exit interviews concerning the interns’ experience in the program.
  • Intern manager evaluations.

With this information you can continue to refine your program so as to ultimately achieve your recruitment goals.  As mentioned previously, recommended goals include:

  • Converting 50% of your graduating interns into regular, full-time hires.
  • Hiring at least 25% of all your new-grad hires through your internship program.

 Legal Issues Related to Internships

It is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney familiar with labor law in your state.  The information below is not legal advice.

To Pay or Not to Pay

Internships can be paid or unpaid.  However, to offer an unpaid internship, you must follow the Department of Labor’s (DOL) requirements pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The DOL has developed a fact sheet for employers regarding the requirements needed to justify an internship being unpaid.  This fact sheet can be found at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf.

For-profit organizations offering unpaid internships, in addition to meeting the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, must ensure that the student is enrolled in an appropriate academic internship course.  The student can only serve at the internship site for the hours required by the course.  No additional hours can be "volunteered" at a for-profit organization.

If you pay your interns you can offer an hourly salary or a stipend.  When offering a stipend for the internship, ensure that the amount of the stipend is a minimum equal to minimum wage for the hours worked.

In addition to salary or stipend, determine if you will provide other benefits such as:

  • Provide housing and relocation assistance.
  • Professional development opportunities such as conferences and seminars.
  • A scholarship upon the successful completion of the internship.

The advantages of offering paid internships include a larger pool of candidates (as many students must work to support their education and could not accept an unpaid internship) and a more motivated intern who is eager to learn and wants to make the best impression possible. 

International Students

If you choose to offer internships to international students from Fresno State, the internship must be related to their course of study and they must be enrolled in the appropriate academic internship course.  The students will work with our Office of International Student Service and Programs (http://www.fresnostate.edu/academics/issp/) to obtain the necessary authorization to serve in your internship program.