6 tips for running a successful internship

Successful internships are those that will have clout on CVs by genuinely adding value to the intern and the employer.

My company has just finished the second year of our internship for black and minority ethnic graduates (based on Taylor Bennett Foundation’s flagship programme in London). It’s a three week intense training programme designed to address the lack of diversity in the PR and communications profession. Here’s my top tips:

1. Have a specific purpose for your internship

Running an internship in response to a business need or wider industry issue gives it focus and means that you can measure success. Our internship is specifically designed to attract those who would not have otherwise considered working in PR, into a long term career in the industry in the UK. One of last year’s interns moving to London for a job at the world’s largest independent PR agency Edelman is a clear sign we’re doing something right!

2. Make time, space and resources for interns

Don’t underestimate the amount of time, space and resource needed to train and manage interns. An internship isn’t work shadowing or observing – it’s about on the job training and development – so make sure this is built into the programme and they don’t have periods of time with nothing to do. It’s not just the delivery of the internship but the planning, promotion and recruitment process that needs to be taken into account as well. Assess all this before deciding whether to run an internship or you may end up with too much on your plate.

3. Get others involved in delivering the internship

No business works in isolation – so don’t keep your interns chained to their desks. Take them around the organisations and out to client meetings and networking events. It’s this exposure to colleagues, clients and contacts that will add real value to them. An internship can also act as a door opener for conversations with people you want to build a relationship with – win-win.

4. Set real life projects for interns

It is no good training interns in the theory of how to do things – they’ve done that at university. Combine training sessions and master classes with ‘real life’ projects to work on. This gives them ownership of something important and work to add to their portfolio.

5. Be a life long mentor to interns

Once the internship is over, it’s not the end of the relationship. Even if you don’t offer your interns a permanent job, it’s important to stay in touch and offer ongoing support and help. We use our networks and contacts to open doors for our interns and help them open doors for themselves. If the interns do well, it reflects well on us and means the programme is achieving its goals.

6. Pay your interns

Following the BBC2 documentary about unpaid interns in the fashion industry earlier this year, there has been lots of debate about whether interns should be paid and what is classed as exploitation. We pay our interns a training allowance as well as investing time and resource in them. This shows that you’re serious about them and they, in turn, will take the internship seriously.

Following the success of the first two years of the our PR internship, we’re now looking for a major partner to support us in widening its scope and taking it forward. Does anyone have best practice examples of businesses and organisations working together to offer collaborative internships?

Victoria Tomlinson is founder and owner of Harrogate-based PR consultancy, Northern Lights. A former director of Ernst & Young, she started her career as a graduate trainee for Plessey and later with Bradbury Wilkinson, the banknote printers, travelling around the world to sell banknotes to foreign governments. She joined Arthur Young as part of their start-up marketing team and was made a director of client services on the management committee and managing a 100-strong division. Victoria sits on the boards of Bradford University School of Management, Northern Ballet Theatre and Common Purpose North Yorkshire. She is a Prince’s Trust mentor.