The Marketer's Guide to Building a Grade-A Internship Program

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Rebecca Corliss
Rebecca Corliss



With the new school year just around the corner, companies are actively recruiting and reviewing candidates to build a new troupe of interns for the fall semester. And for good reason! Intern programs -- when built right -- are a great way to get additional support for your marketing team, and teach your interns the ins and outs of contributing to a business. 

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I started building HubSpot's intern training program two years ago, and since, we've hired approximately 33% of our interns as full-time employees ! I'm very passionate about mentoring talent and setting young marketers up for success, so to help you build a top-notch marketing internship program, check out the following guidelines HubSpot uses for our own intern program.

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What does a good marketing internship program look like?

Good intern managers see each semester as a lifecycle with a solid beginning, middle, and end. With that, the following steps will detail how you can set your intern up for success in the beginning, grow and develop new skills in the middle, and feel satisfied and accomplished at the end. Let's begin!

Start With Training

Set up a learning environment in the beginning.  A lot of companies, especially startups (guilty!), want to rush interns into kicking off projects right away. It makes sense why that's the initial urge; you only have your interns for three or so months! Instead, give all new interns a solid introduction to your company, culture, goals, and tools before digging into work. The goal of your training should be to give as much information and context at the beginning so your interns can understand your company's mission and how your department makes decisions. The more context an intern can gain in the very beginning, the faster he or she will get up to speed when working on a project. Yes, that's right -- your interns will be more productive in the long-run if you invest in learning early! 

So what should you cover in training? In the very least, your company's basics: company goals, departmental goals, organizational structure, how your intern fits into the organization, tools used, how to best ask questions (and get help), and where to get lunch. The latter is more important than you think. ;-)

Create a buddy system.  In HubSpot land, each intern is asked to find a "marketing buddy" who will be that intern's mentor and go-to for "stupid questions" and social support. It's nice for an intern to have a person to lean on who's not his or her boss. This has been a tradition for years now, and it has worked well! Marketing buddies will grab lunch, talk marketing, and ask and give advice. Also, if the buddy is from a different department -- your intern could learn from an additional perspective into the marketing team! That's valuable, too. 

Assign Starter Projects to Get Your Interns' Feet Wet

Training is over. Now it's time to start setting some smaller goals and develop initial projects. This is key; giving your interns small projects in the beginning gives them the opportunity to claim some small wins early. At the same time, you're testing how independent your intern can be with less risk. So what are some good marketing starter projects appropriate for the first two weeks?

Conduct a Research Project: These are great first projects. Not only can you have your intern dive into a subject you want your team to know more about, but your intern will also learn loads along the way. Perhaps an intern could research data for a new blog post, look for trends within your customer base, or dig into some raw data to present to your team. These independent projects also generally require minimal assistance and also strengthen analytical skills, which are important skills to have when looking to get hired in a professional inbound marketing setting .

Create a Small Content Piece: Writing a blog article is something an intern can easily create and "ship" in the first week. Anticipate going through one or two rounds of revisions with your intern, and make sure you offer the time to review in person. When you review (get ready, we're going old-school!), consider printing out the article and walking thorough what changes you made and why. That way your intern can learn why you changed what you did and develop his or her own writing judgment. To take it a step further, ask your intern to check back to learn how much traffic her blog post drove! That's a great early win.

Proof Someone Else's Work: If you're grooming your intern to be a content creator, this is another great project to help them read and learn while completing a task. You can give your intern a variety of things to proof, too: email copy , blog articles, landing page writing, CTA copy. Subconsciously , your intern will be learning about the different content items that complete inbound marketing while reviewing the information.

Shadow a Bigger Project and Help With a Small Piece: This is a great opportunity to teach your intern to think like you and see how you make decisions. Walk your intern through something you're working on, and ask for assistance on a specific piece. Better, see if he or she can suggest how to help! Set a deadline, and go from there. Note, this might make the overall completion of your project take a bit longer, but the intern's learning experience should be worth it. 

Help Your Intern Develop Ownership With Bigger Projects

After your intern has had some early wins and understands at a high level how your marketing team jives (generally at week 2 or 3), it's time to give your intern something to own and manage on their own. Truly managing an entire project helps interns develop a sense of pride and accountability.

Tackle a Major Analytical Project: At HubSpot, having analytical chops is a highly valued skill. In fact, all marketers should make it a goal to learn how to analyze, interpret, and communicate data. Have your intern think of a major question or problem and do some deep data analysis to answer that question. In the marketing world, that data could come from Facebook Insights, HootSuite, HubSpot Sources , Google Analytics, or anything else. 

Design and Execute an Independent Campaign: This is a great independent project that brings direct results to your company and gives your intern true, hands-on experience. Have your intern choose a goal that is important to your marketing organization. Then have him or her create and execute an original plan, most likely allowing your intern to interact with other parts of your organization and build each part of the campaign. For example, perhaps the intern would want to generate more leads from your business blog. He or she first could create a landing page you will only promote via your blog, and then write the blog content to promote the offer on that landing page . Their next step would be to coordinate with marketers on your team who manage email and social media marketing to plan additional promotion for the blog article. V oilà! Then, make sure your intern tracks and collects the results from this project and documents it in his or her portfolio, too.

Write and Publish a Major Piece of Content: Need a new ebook or whitepaper? Ask your intern to step up to the challenge! Have your intern create a full, ready-to-publish piece of content. Your intern should research, write, add images, lay out, and design the entire ebook . By managing each piece of the process, your intern will understand all the steps necessary to create the content and feel true ownership of what he or she made! 

Create and Give a Presentation: Presentation skills are crucial in the working world, and every intern should have an opportunity to practice in front of an audience. As either a midway or final project, have your intern create a presentation from scratch on either something they learned at your company or something interesting that could help your entire team. Did your intern learn how to use a new tool? Did they uncover some interesting takeaways from a research project they tackled? Ask your intern to teach everyone else what they discovered.

What NOT to Do With Your Interns

Don't give difficult, independent projects right off the bat. Unless your intern has experience doing a similar major project from a previous job, you might be setting your intern up for failure and thus driving low morale. However, if completing a major project early is absolutely necessary and there is no one in the company to teach your intern how to do it, set that expectation early. Tell your intern it will be hard, provide examples of resources or tutorials that can help, and suggest how your intern can request feedback or assistance during the process. Now everyone is on the same page.

Don't make it difficult for your intern to ask for help. Especially at busy companies, as an intern, asking questions and potentially interrupting your manager can be incredibly intimidating. However, there will be many situations where hesitating to ask will lower that intern's productivity immensely. The best way to solve this is set a precedent in the beginning: tell your intern how you would prefer to receive questions. Is it by email? Corporate chat? A daily meeting? By agreeing on a system in the beginning, your intern will know it's safe to request help, and it will be on the terms that are least disruptive to you.

Don't ignore mistakes and shy away from giving feedback. Often, when an intern does something wrong, it's because he or she doesn't know what is right! Giving consistent feedback is key to helping your interns improve and take on a greater learning curve. At HubSpot, we give all interns midway and final reviews. The midway review serves two purposes: to give an intern feedback that he or she can act on right away to improve the second half of their internship, and to make the final review less daunting. The second point is key to an intern's growth and transition into a fulltime employee, whether it's at your company or somewhere else. Getting a review in a "safer" intern environment will make it easier for him or her to handle a review in the professional working world.

Don't cloister your intern to your specific department.   Internships are great opportunities to learn about how a business works as a whole and explore all the cogs that go into the machine. We've had a few interns investigate the sales team and develop an interest in selling software. Encourage interns to meet employees from other departments, invite people out to lunch, and learn about other jobs within your company. 

These points should help you build your own internship program and set your interns up for success . By helping to develop happier, more productive interns, you will get more value from them, and they'll become external cheerleaders who will rave about working for your company. You'll be growing your employee base before you know it!

What tips do you have for running an effective internship program?

Image Credit: David Boyle

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Topics: Marketing Jobs

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