Your In-Depth Guide to Finding and Retaining Student Interns

This guide provides tools to help create new programs or strengthen existing initiatives, including goal development, planning and mentorship. Our goal is to ensure employers have the resources needed to establish and grow their programs for talented student interns, as well as to provide tools, procedures, and frameworks that help Huskers have quality experiences.

What is an internship vs. a part-time job?

An internship is a learning opportunity offered to a student by an employer where the student gains exposure and practical work experience in a particular field and the employer gains an opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

While there is a huge learning component to any job, internships tie directly back into the learning outcomes at the university and provide them with skills and experiences that will prepare them for a professional-level position. If you are looking for someone to fetch coffee or file papers, a part-time position may be a better fit for you at this time!

Great internships include:

  • Orientation and training for the intern
  • Specific projects and responsibilities for the intern to learn about and contribute to the organization
  • Support from the employer supervisor helping guide learning goals
  • Opportunities for the intern to meet leaders in the organization and have a sense of belonging

Why Are Internships Important to Students?

  • Students are seeking internships because they are eager to learn and explore fields of interest
  • Students are in search of a positive work culture where they can contribute to a team and gain mentorship
  • Students want to test out an organization that could lead to a full-time position 

Top Wishes of Student Interns

Interns want to learn and contribute.  They can help accomplish assignments and projects that might not get accomplished otherwise. 

Be intentional and honest with your interns about what they can expect during their internship in terms of scope of work, training, and support and back it up with action. This will improve the experience for your intern and build your brand to recruit future ones.

Interns want to develop professionally and meet your expectations. Providing constructive feedback and taking time for teachable moments helps them learn and grow.

Create a sense of belongingness for your interns by including them in staff meetings. Can they tag along to that next project meeting or have lunch with a group of colleagues in the office?  Integration will help them feel more valued and a part of the organization.

Remember that interns are new professionals and often need more context and detailed explanation on the how’s and why’s of the work.

Research shows that mentorship makes a difference with interns.  Consider assigning a mentor in the organization that is not the intern’s supervisor who can help integrate and answer questions they may be too timid to ask about.

Take the time to write an on-boarding plan for your intern to help them integrate into the organization quickly and so they feel comfortable and valued as a new member of your team.

Don’t forget to include in your planning that your intern will need a chair, desk, phone, computer and a space of their own.  Support them by having this ready before they start.

While each industry and internship is different, paying interns is critical in providing a good experience (and essential for pipeline recruitment).  In addition to paying an hourly wage, consider other ways to ease financial burdens of your interns such as parking, housing, or even a free lunch now and again.

Why should I hire an intern?

Hiring interns can help organizations:

  • Lower training time, and turnover rates and reduce recruiting costs
  • Build a reputation that pays off with students, colleges, and the community. 
  • Save money while benefiting from the input of talented, eager, and innovative students.

Some other benefits include:

  • A continuous pool of highly-qualified students to recruit into your organization
  • Stronger relationships with the schools you hire your interns from.
  • Built-in word-of-mouth campus ambassadors for your positions and organization
  • More time in your schedule as you have an intern to help with tasks that could have bogged down your day.

How do I get started?

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. We’ve broken this down in two easy steps.

1. Set goals and write a plan

Before you get started, think about what your intern would be doing and have a solid plan for the first 90 days of their employment. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started are:

  • What is the main goal for the internship or program? 
  • What projects and learning opportunities will you offer? 
  • Who will supervise and provide feedback to the intern? 
  • What will training & orientation look like? 
  • What are ways that you will create belongingness & connections for the intern? 
  • Where will they be located? 
  • How will they be compensated & how long will the internship last? 
  • How will the intern be evaluated, and will they do a final presentation? 

This is not an end-all be-all list, just to help get you started in envisioning what you want this position to be!

2. Recruit, recruit, recruit!

Below are some great ways for employers to increase your visibility & brand on-campus: 

  • Post jobs and internships on Handshake 
  • Conduct a search on Handshake and LinkedIn and reach out to students on these platforms
  • Register and attend career fairs & events to promote your organization’s brand on campus. 
  • Sell your organization to students and ask them questions about their interests, goals, and experience! 
  • Request on-campus interview space and follow up with interested students 
  • Research and reach out to UNL RSOs that may be a match to your field.
  • Participate in events on campus such as tabling, employer-in-residence programs, practice interview days, industry panels, and niche events.
  • Offer to do a lunch and learn for career coaches and advisors who work closely with students, so they have more awareness of your organization and opportunities.
  • Offer job shadowing opportunities or create an on-site preview day to highlight career opportunities in your organization and meet your team members in these roles.

Hold up, what’s Handshake?

Great question! For those of you who haven’t used Handshake before, it’s our only UNL-affiliated job board for students and alumni. They have plenty of resources to get you started which can be found below:

While we want to help you with your job posting journey as much as we can, Handshake is a third-party system so we are limited in what we can do as far as access to the platform. Luckily, the Handshake Help Center is a great resource for answering those questions.

  • Develop a robust profile that includes your logo and links to social media.  This makes researching prospective employers easier for students
  • Write compelling descriptions that grab attention
  • Accurately describe responsibilities and qualifications but be careful not to ask for too much experience too soon
  • Students are quick to discard positions they don’t think they are qualified to receive
  • If you have flexible hours and remote work available, indicate that early
  • Maximize attending career fairs by including job description of typical recruiting needs
  • Consider listing any in-person or virtual recruitment events in Handshake for students to see and RSVP and follow-up with students

Job Descriptions Matter!

Remember, students are usually looking at many different opportunities on Handshake and other sites, so job descriptions make a difference. Envision what the intern will be doing, what their days will be like, etc. This can help curate the job description as well as help with conversations with candidates going forward.

  • Brief description of the responsibilities of the internship and learning opportunities 
  • Required and preferred qualifications (usually skills) 
  • How many hours per week, wage, time and/or flexible hours 
  • How to apply 
  • A brief description of your organization’s mission, goals, values, and culture would also be a great addition to include for recruiting Gen Z students

I’ve hired my intern, what’s next?

Tips for creating a meaningful internship experience resource

  • Work with the intern to create learning objectives or SMART goals, helping to provide structure around learning and set expectations for future feedback
  • Take interns on a tour of your facilities and introduce them to other employees or partners early in the experience. 
  • Give interns company materials to read such as newsletters, annual reports, organizational charts, or memos from the CEO.  
  • Encourage interns to spend breaks or lunches in places where employees gather 
  • Schedule regular 1:1 meetings or check-in to give or receive feedback 
  • Give interns the opportunities to attend and observe in professional meetings  
  • Allow and encourage interns to interview company personnel 
  • Encourage interns to walk around and observe others working 
  • Pair them up with other professionals who can share more about what they do and how it contributes to the organization

Tangible tips to develop your intern

  • Meet regularly with your intern to provide supervision and support
  • Review the internship position description and ensure goals are being met
  • Review objectives and/or SMART goals set between you and the intern and revisit any that have changed or need adjusted to ensure completion
  • Check in on tasks and assignments and ask about progress to help clarify expectations
  • Determine if additional assistance or training is needed to help the intern be successful
  • Ask the intern for feedback on their experience thus far and make necessary adjustments regarding concerns 
  • Provide written evaluations by both the intern and supervisor can provide the opportunity to publicize the success of your internship program and help to formalize the internship program for future interns and the organization

  • Interns desire a mentor who will help guide and encourage their support from the classroom to the work environment
  • Remember, an internship is an extension of the learning process so having someone ask questions about future goals and help connect them to opportunities and/or people who align with them  
  • Mentors also coach and advise around the ‘tricky things’ and provide positive encouragement will make the internship much more meaningful

Help interns build a portfolio of work accomplished during the experience.  This helps provide a tangible outcome and provides the interns with a sense of accomplishment and professional growth they can reflect upon in future interviews.

Some specific ideas for a portfolio may include: 

  • A copy of the job description 
  • SMART goals/learning objectives 
  • Performance evaluations 
  • Press releases, newsletters, charts, graphs, etc. that they helped create 
  • Specific project related documents/links that could be shared externally 
  • Consider having your intern do a final presentation to overview their internship experience to a small group

Best Practices & Offer Guidelines

UNL adheres to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) best practices which note the following:

“Experience shows the best employment decisions for both students and employers are those made without pressure and with the greatest amount of information. Students given sufficient time to attend career fairs, participate in on-campus interviews, and/or complete the interviewing in which they are currently engaged are more likely to make good long-term employment decisions and may be less likely to renege on job acceptances.” (NACE’s position on Reasonable Offer Deadline Guidelines)

Additionally, UNL Career Services has the right to refuse service to employers for the following:

  • Misrepresentation by dishonesty or lack of information
  • Fraud
  • Complaint by students
  • Harassment of UNL students, staff, or faculty
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Requiring at the time of application personal information such as bank account information or social security numbers
  • Internship positions do not likely interest or prepare college students for future careers
  • An excessive outlay of personal funding is required to obtain an internship.
  • Failure to adhere to UNL Career Services policies and/or any violations of university rules and regulations, as well as any local, state, and federal laws.

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to internships, or any work for that matter, the best practice is to offer paid positions. However, if your organization finds itself in a situation where a team member needs support, you can explore unpaid internships. The Department of Labor has outlined several criteria for unpaid internships. One of the biggest things to note is the work the intern is doing cannot replace the work of a full-time employee.

At this moment, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln only approves unpaid internships that are located in Lincoln, require less than 10 hours a week of work, and follow the Department of Labor guidelines.

Most students do not seek credit for their internships, however, if a student chooses to pursue academic credit, they will work with their academic advisors and faculty to identify a course that might apply depending on if the experience meets internship criteria. As an employer, a student may ask for you to sign documents proving work or ask you questions for course assignments. If you have additional questions, please reach out to careerservices@unl.edu

Hiring International students for internships do NOT require visa sponsorships. Authorization is granted by the university through the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) through Curricular Practical Training (CPT). International students may participate in multiple experiences during their college experience.

Documentation is needed and a best practice is for employers to provide an offer letter to the student outlining the terms of employment and also complete an Internship Memorandum of Understanding.

The internship must relate to the student’s academic program and they must pursue academic credit alongside the internship. It’s the student’s responsibility to apply for CPT and get the internship experience authorized by the university, a process that can take up to two weeks depending on the time of year.

We get it! There’s a lot to think about regarding internships and bringing on talent. For a more in-depth breakdown of what we’ve learned about internships, please access the file below.