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4 secrets of creating great internship programs

The quantity of internship programs may be skyrocketing, but the same can't always be said about their quality. From complaints about the low or non-existent pay and lack of mentorship to reports that recession-rattled staff are too busy to shepherd interns, internships often fail young people, the company or both (and many of them even manage to be illegal).

So what can you do if your company is determined to be different, offering interns a genuine learning experience and creating a pipeline of fresh talent for your organization? The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has some suggestions. A whopping 15 of them to be exact (or even a complete guide on the subject for those in need of the real deep dive).

All of these are worth a look if you're setting up an internship program or looking to improve an existing one, but to give you a taste of what you might be doing wrong, here are some of the freshest ideas:

Showcase intern work through presentations/expos. Students work very hard at completing their work and are generally proud of their accomplishments. Setting up a venue for them to do presentations (formal presentations or in a fair-type setting such as an expo) not only allows them to demonstrate their achievements, but also showcases the internship program to all employees.

Bring in speakers from your company's executive ranks. One of the greatest advantages to students in having internships is the access they get to accomplished professionals in their field. Consequently, speakers from the executive ranks are very popular with students -- it's a great career development and role modeling experience for interns. Having a CEO speak is especially impressive.... For you, having your executives speak to interns is another way to "sell" your organization to the interns, and get your executives invested in (and supporting) your program.

Invite career center staff and faculty to visit interns on site. Although some programs -- especially those that are very structured on the university side -- make visits by career center staff and faculty a regular practice, most do not. In general, career center staff and faculty members have relatively few opportunities to visit employer work sites to see firsthand the types of experiences that their students are getting. By inviting them to your site, you will build a better working relationship with these groups, which can lead to more student referrals, enhanced campus visibility, and increased flexibility on their parts when your business needs dictate it.

Hold new-hire panels. New-hire panels are one of the best ways I have found to showcase an organization to interns as a great place to work. These are panels of five or six people who were hired as new grads within the last three years. They act as panelists in a meeting of interns, giving a brief summary of their background and then answering questions from the intern audience. Your interns get insight about your organization from your new hires -- people who they perceive are like themselves and who they consequently view as credible sources of information.

If you're a student or grad on the other side of the internship experience, fret not. MoneyWatch has plenty of tips for you to get the most out of your internship as well, including ways to make your resume stand out and some tough love advice from the CEO of YouTern.

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