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Developing the Ideal HR Internship at Your Company

Tuesday October 27th, 2020

Estimated time to read: 1 minute, 45 seconds

Many successful human resources professionals got their start in the industry by participating in an internship program. For students and entry-level professionals, an HR internship can be a formative experience. It’s often a first step into the working world, a time to quickly gain hands-on experience and, of course, an invaluable learning opportunity.

Here are some important ways HR leaders can create a high-quality internship program that prepares up-and-coming industry professionals for the workplace. 

Use your internship’s FLSA compliance as a teaching moment 

For an HR intern, their own onboarding experience will be an informative part of the journey. Use this moment as an opportunity to discuss the differences between unpaid and paid internships, and how companies can stay in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Organizations should follow the seven-part primary beneficiary test to determine whether an intern must be treated as an employee and paid for their services. Beyond ensuring that your company is complying with FLSA guidelines, educate your newly minted intern about this process and how it relates to the bigger picture of HR compliance.

Establish a clear structure for the HR internship experience

In order to set up your intern and your colleagues for success, it’s important to outline and follow a well-defined internship structure and plan. When your bright-eyed, busy-tailed intern arrives ready to work, make sure everyone knows what the day holds and what's to come including:

  • Setting a regular schedule

  • Assigning a dedicated supervisor

  • Articulating key learning objectives

  • Outlining project milestones

  • Following a formal review process

Plan out short-term projects for your intern to complete

An intern isn’t there to pick up slack for the rest of the company or wrap up urgent assignments. Instead, as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advises, short-term projects are more appropriate for an HR internship. They should be thoughtfully developed and kept on a manageable scale as well. 

Work with your colleagues to define these projects ahead of the internship start date to ensure that the intern will have full access to the right resources, including a mentor, and that they will have a high likelihood of success. Rather than have your newcomer work with confidential data or sensitive company information, choose something that the intern may later use as a portfolio piece.

Train your intern on industry tools and technologies 

College classes don’t often give students access to many of the industry-specific software solutions they’ll use on the job in an HR role. However, employers will prioritize entry-level applicants who can demonstrate some proficiency with human capital management (HCM) platforms and other such tools.

Spend some time teaching your intern about the tools you use, how they work and why they’re important to your business. Give them concrete exercises to complete so they really get to know the system and can build HR software competencies. You might also consider connecting your intern with your software partner, who can share additional industry insights and answer questions.