Motivate Entry Level Staff With An Internship Program

When you say "entry-level internship," new hires cringe at the thought of hours of scut work.

But that’s not what we mean.

We’re talking about a program that helps your newest employees learn, not only their jobs, but the rest of the company as well. A concept that instills the value of cross-training from the start.


Most powerfully for the company: An entry-level internship can help create the collaborative environment that’s vital for business success today. It’s a chance to strike a blow against tribalism before it starts.

Planning Your Entry-Level Internship Program

Many companies already have familiarization tours as part of on-boarding, giving them the perfect springboard for a more-extensive program. If your on-boarding consists of going over policy manuals and completing paperwork, you have some work ahead of you.

Begin by consulting department managers—they’ll be in charge of implementing the program, so create buy-in from the start. Explain goals such as improved communications, increased collaboration, and better understanding. Ask them for ideas for achieving those goals.

Also consult employees who have been at the company for around a year. What do they wish they’d known earlier?

Creating the Right Content for the Internship Program

This is where the managers should turn to their employees: What is it that the rest of the company just doesn’t understand about our department? What do new employees need to know to be partners rather than combatants?

Emphasize the opportunity to train the next generation in what you’d like to see happen. Dwelling on the negative will not be effective. That’s not good parenting or good business. Instead, model the desired behavior.

Have at least a semi-formal presentation. Avoid death by PowerPoint, but make sure the new hire gets an overview of each department. What might seem basic and boring could be vital information for someone new to the world of work.

Spend most of the time, though, immersing the entry-level employee in experiences.

If the research department is developing a major new initiative, walk the new employee through the process. If marketing is creating a campaign, show how print, online, video, and social come together. In the sales department, have the new hire spend a day shadowing a veteran.

Make the process as hands-on as possible. Survey your department for projects the intern could parachute into. After a day of shadowing, ask the intern to develop the next sales presentation and deliver it. Once the marketing campaign is explained, task the intern with creating a portion of it. It’s rare for a new hire today to not have skills on at least one creative front.

There are advantages for both sides here. Your department could benefit from fresh eyes and new insights, while the intern has produced a resume-worthy deliverable.

Allow room for curiosity on both sides. What you think is clear and understandable might not be to someone new to the company. Pause occasionally, and ask if there are questions. At the same time, encourage veteran employees to ask about the new hire’s work as well. It’s a great opportunity to build understanding.

You should also include purely social time. The more people the new hire meets, the better—personal connections are business essentials. Donuts in the morning or an afternoon coffee are fine if the budget is tight. Free food always draws a crowd.

Finding the Right Internship Facilitators

Consider creating department tour guides for each new-hire intern. Look for the person new employees already turn to for advice and guidance. You need someone who’s not only deeply familiar with the company but who knows the work well enough to explain it to someone else.

Enthusiasm and people skills are essential. If the new hire senses he’s being fobbed off on someone who would rather be bathing a cat, the program will fail quickly.

How long the internship should last could vary from department to department. A day should be the absolute minimum. Up to a week is not out of line if the department is complicated, with several sub departments tasked with different functions.

Consider spreading the internship out over several months. New hires can get antsy if they feel they’re always training when they’d rather be doing. Try a day of internship each week or a week of internship out of a month.

This also works well for smaller companies that need entry-level staff to start producing now. Another benefit of spreading out the program: new employees gain enough experience to begin identifying knowledge gaps.

An entry-level internship can be a great way to make sure new employees become more familiar with all aspects of your company. There are long-term benefits as well, such as cultivating a more collaborative atmosphere and improving communications across departments.

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