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From setting goals for your interns to pairing them with mentors, there are several ways to cultivate your business's internship program. — Getty Images/fizkes

Creating an internship program is a great way to attract new talent while offering students or recent graduates the chance to gain experience in their field. An internship program gives your company the ability to mold and develop young ambitious talent that can bring new ideas and ways of innovation. Interns start at a reasonable rate and often become full-time employees down the line. If your company is looking towards starting an internship program, even one that is remote, here are seven steps to take.

[Read: 7 Tips for Hiring a More Diverse Workforce]

Hire an internship coordinator

One of the ways internship programs become ineffective and fail is that they do not have a leader with a set vision in charge. When you're first looking to start an internship program, hire an internship coordinator to create the program and be in charge of implementing it. This doesn't have to be an outside hire. In fact, it may be beneficial to give these responsibilities to one or two full-time employees who already know how the company operates. Just make sure these internal hires have adequate time to both focus on their full-time job and develop the interns.

Research your state’s internship laws

Before you get too far in the creation of your program, understand your state’s specific requirements for employing interns. Some states require interns to be paid, while others merely require an exchange of college credit. How your state defines interns can affect the minimum wage, their compensation, their protection under company policies and if they are entitled to certain benefits from your business.

Set realistic goals for the program

New internship programs can sometimes be too ambitious in what they set out to accomplish. Once you've set up the length of the internship and the number of interns, you'll have at one time, set goals for how your interns will work within your system. You can have them work on a few major projects or help support long-term functions of your job and have a daily routine. No matter how your interns work at your company, you should be tracking their progress and giving them reports on how they're doing throughout the internship so they can achieve their goals by the end.

[Read: 10 Tools to Help You Manage Employee Productivity Even If They Are Working From Home]

Think about the types of interns you'd like to attract to your company and brainstorm how they can showcase those qualities through their application process.

Create an application process

Think about the types of interns you'd like to attract to your company and brainstorm how they can showcase those qualities through their application process. Perhaps a cover letter and a resume will suffice, however, most college students and new graduates don't have too much working experience. You can think outside the box, asking for personal essays, examples of their work or letters of recommendation. Also think about what the interview process will be like and the questions you'd like to ask of them.

Offer mentors to each intern

Once your interns have been hired and you've learned about their personal and professional goals and ambitions, connect them with someone within your organization to mentor them. This gives them a personal relationship within the company and someone to learn and get feedback from. You don't need to necessarily pair them with upper-level employees. It may be more beneficial that they learn from entry- or junior-level employees who have come from a similar path and have similar professional goals. Pairing them with someone closer to their own age can also help your interns learn about company culture and form social connections.

Focus on intern development

Given that this will be the first time in a professional work environment for many of your interns, you want to make sure they're learning about your industry and developing as individuals. Have your internship coordinator meet with just the interns once a week to set up a rapport, see what they're learning and be conscious of any issues they are having. Your coordinators should also bring in different employees to share their experience, learn about the interns and answer their questions. Encourage the interns to follow up with any speakers that resonated with them, with the speaker’s permission.

[Read: 8 Simple Ways to Retain Your Best Employees]

Keep in touch

Many leaders now see internships as exceptionally long job interviews. If an intern excelled at your program and is well respected within the company, they'd be a great addition to your workforce when a position becomes open. When you hire a former intern, there is less onboarding to do, as they already know the system which they will be working in, saving you time and money. Even if you don't think they would be a good fit at your company or have an open position, keep in touch with any interns who stood out, as they could become clients or vendors for your business down the line.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 10, 2020