Skip to main content

Hiring Interns

Outlined below is general information about internship development.  If you’d like to talk with someone personally about internships for MSU students please contact Victoria Morris at or (517) 884-1313 with any questions. Internship opportunities for MSU students can be posted for free at Handshake.
Internship Definition

An internship is:

  • An on-site work experience directly related to career goals and/or field(s) of interest
  • Supervised, emphasizing learning and professional development
  • Evaluative, provides system for feedback and communication
  • Either paid, unpaid, for-credit, not-for-credit

An internship is not:

  • Routine, repetitive tasks unrelated to identified learning goals
  • A job that does not offer career related learning opportunities and experiences
  • Unsupervised, not evaluated experiences
  • An internship is not doing tasks in a workplace but rather learning and growing professionally.

Quick Points:

  • Internship positions are available from businesses, government departments, non-profit groups and organizations.
  • Credit or non-credit internships can be done during the fall, spring and summer
  • An internship can be paid or unpaid. (A volunteer can also be categorized as an unpaid intern.)
  • Student interns have a supervisor onsite with experience in the students’ area of interest.

Benefits of an Internship Program

  • Students offer fresh perspectives beneficial to business
  • Students have a desire to learn and make contributions to business
  • Students are up-to-date on cutting edge concepts and knowledge
  • Internships offer an effective way for companies to locate and train motivated students to fill immediate needs.
  • Internships create a valuable pipeline of talent for a future workforce.
  • Internships allow employers to pre-screen potential employees for ability, habits, interpersonal skills and adaptability before making a full-time offer, and students get to learn about a company before making a commitment.
  • Employers can seamlessly convert interns to full-time employees who can be productive immediately.

Getting Started
The most important thing that managers need to know about internships is that successful experiences require time and effort on the part of supervisors. Interns can provide valuable support to a department and fill a role or help get a project off the ground. However, it takes time upfront from a supervisor and a commitment to provide the necessary time while the intern is in place.

The first steps of enlisting interns should be planning intern roles and responsibilities. Managers should take the time to draft a basic job description. In addition to planning meaningful activities, supervisors or other employees need to make arrangements for the intern’s workspace, supplies and computer access. Once interns are on board, managers should plan on providing them with basic training and appropriate supervision. Also, a top-notch internship position will incorporate feedback and mentoring (through learning agreements and evaluations). 

Last but not least, managers can sometimes benefit from a reminder that, while interns can provide valuable support to a department, what distinguishes internships from temporary employment is that internships are by definition learning experiences.

  • What are the objectives of the internship
  • Identify meaningful tasks and responsibilities for the intern
  • Make sure you have commitment of all levels of department for an intern
  • Wages for the intern (if paid)
  • Who will be the direct supervisor (mentor)
  • Work environment description
  • People/concepts interns will be exposed to
  • Specific requirements (must attend conferences, trainings, etc)
  • Qualifications sought: equipment, software, language skills, interpersonal skills,  prior experience, coursework, class level, major

Orientation of intern upon arrival:

  • Review the job description
  • Day to day duties
  • Special assigned projects
  • Equipment used (computer, workspace, phone, supplies, etc)
  • Tour of office/location
  • Who will they report to
  • Procedures (calling in sick, etc)

Preparing Managers for Interns

Co-ops vs. Internships:
Some colleges and universities use the term Co-Op (or Cooperative Education) for a certain type of workplace position that is experiential (i.e., experience-based) education. In this way, co-ops are similar to internships; students learn while applying knowledge and skills from the academic setting to a work setting.

Connotations of these two terms (internships and co-ops) are often unique to the people or organizations using them. What an organization may call “internship” may be referred to by a college or university as a “co-op”. The different use of these terms sometimes causes confusion. Generally speaking, co-ops or cooperative education programs involve paid positions. They sometimes entail two six-month assignments, with an academic semester or year in between, but they are not always structured on this timetable.

Paid vs. Unpaid:
Internships are sometimes paid and sometimes unpaid. Ultimately, this is the employer’s decision. Some schools have policies on paying interns, but most will facilitate both types of internships. The market will typically drive the issue of paid vs. unpaid interns. For example, in the fields of accounting and engineering, where students provide very tangible benefits to employers and competition for interns is keen, most internships are paid. On the other hand, internships in human services and advertising are most often unpaid. Human resources, which sometimes pays interns and sometimes doesn’t, falls somewhere in between.

Independent vs. School-Sponsored:
Students can engage in internships through the school, college or university that they attend or independent of them. Schools can have both loose and close relationships with various employers. Most will advertise internship opportunities to students. How closely they monitor internship programs vary. Most colleges and universities will allow students to earn academic credits for participating in internships, depending on the company, the student and the student’s major.

It is also entirely possible for students and employers to arrange internships independent of schools. This approach is better suited for situations where internships are paid and learning objectives are secondary to performing a job.

Steps to Developing an Internship Program

Step 1: Define Intern Role/Responsibilities
One of the most fundamentally important steps to bringing an intern into your organization is to define ahead of time what the intern will do; not doing so is a disservice to everyone involved. The last thing an intern wants or your organization needs is to have an intern regularly showing up without his/her work tasks adequately predefined. An interns’ job description should address the roles of the intern as stated above in terms of projects or ongoing responsibilities. (This need not be overly detailed or long. Often four or five sentences can adequately spell out, at least initially, what an intern will do.)

Step 2: Determine Duration / Timing of Internship
The interns’ role may suggest the duration or length. If your company is paying an intern, you may be able to keep an intern for a longer period of time; sometimes a year or two. On the other hand, unpaid internships are likely to be time-limited (e.g., a semester).

Remember that students are operating on a college or university calendar. Often, though not always, this is a semester schedule. The best time to find interns is right before the start of a term.

Step 3: To Pay or Not to Pay….
Based on the industry of the employer, and the length of time an intern is wanted (e.g., 3 months vs. a year or more) a decision should be made upfront whether or not to pay the intern. Some employers have found, or believe, that paid interns are more committed to the organization and well worth the money. Many colleges need to handle paid and unpaid internship requests differently. For this and other reasons, the pay issue should be decided before recruiting applicants.

Step 4: Finding an Intern
Internships for MSU students can be posted for free on Handshake.

There are many bright, motivated students eager to obtain an internship position. Naturally, students are almost always more drawn to paid rather than unpaid internship positions. This is especially true in the summertime. In fields that don’t typically pay interns, there are still students ready and wanting worthwhile, unpaid internship experiences.

If you’d like to talk with someone personally about internships for MSU students please contact:
Garth Motschenbacher (517) 355-5163 or
Victoria Morris (517) 884-1313.

Step 5: Training, Supervising, and Evaluating Interns
Just like new employees, interns will need a certain amount of training and orientation to facilitate the transition into your organization. Simple matters like work space allocation, parking permits, ID cards, and general company information should be planned out before the intern’s arrival.

Colleges and universities vary greatly in the amount of oversight they give to interns. Your organization will provide the fundamental supervision. A primary or individual supervisor should be designated. This person should be someone who is usually available to the intern, not someone who is often out of the office or tied up all day in meetings.

Many colleges will have an intern evaluation form to be completed at the conclusion of the formal internship period, for those internships that are for credit. Again, like employees, interns will benefit from ongoing feedback as well as at the end of the experience.

Step 6: Before the Intern Leaves

  • Finish any evaluations required
  • Make sure the intern returns any department property
  • Have intern leave contact information (if you think they may be someone you’d want to contact about upcoming positions)
  • Make sure intern keeps up the momentum (they shouldn’t slack off the last couple of weeks)
  • Say “Thank You”
  • Write a letter of recommendation (if their work warranted it)

Before an intern completely finishes, a supervisor might arrange for “career information and advice meetings” with a few professionals outside of the interns’ immediate work setting. These meetings can be extremely helpful to a young person who may soon be trying to break into a profession or industry upon graduation.

Top 10 Tips for Successful Internships

  1. Plan and Prepare – Successful internships require some upfront planning and preparation time. Define the intern’s role and responsibilities sufficiently ahead of time. Prepare staff members who will interact with the intern.
  2. Orient and Train – Plan and provide at least basic orientation and training.
  3. Supervise – Designate a supervisor who will be available and committed to overseeing the intern.
  4. Include and Enrich – In addition to the fundamental tasks the intern handles, provide other experiences that will enrich the experience, such as sitting in on staff meetings and client presentations.
  5. Challenge and Use – Find out what specialized skills the intern might possess and find a way to use them in a way that challenges the intern and benefits your organization.
  6. Mentor – Arrange opportunities for the intern to benefit from experienced individuals in your organization. For example, help them connect with others in your organization for career information and advice interviews.
  7. Feedback – Provide ongoing performance feedback to the intern. Also, get feedback FROM them about their experience.
  8. Follow-up – Contact the College representative (if applicable) if you do not receive intern applicants or have any other concerns.
  9. Support – At the conclusion of the internship, give the student a letter of reference that outlines his/her strengths and accomplishments as an intern. Talk to the student about job search strategies that might help him or her break into your field.
  10. Have Fun – College students can bring a breath of fresh air to a workplace. Enjoy your time with them!!

Academic Regulations
Internships can be for-credit or not-for-credit.  If a student is interested in getting credit for an internship it is their responsibility to check with their academic department to determine if this is possible.  If students choose the for-credit option they must be registered and pay student fees. The credited internships must be coordinated with academic advisers so the experience can be measured as a structured outcome (i.e.-research paper, presentation, etc.). Student advisers must be actively involved in the process so the student can receive credit.

International Students
International students can participate in off-campus internships. For more information please contact the Office for International Students & Scholars at:

Legal Issues for Employers
Employers will want to check with their legal representation regarding any questions they may have pertaining to employment issues/regulations and internships.