By Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer

We live in a knowledge-based economy where businesses with the best talent win. And since more and more companies are relying on internships to recruit superstars at the entry-level, there’s an ever-increasing need to develop internship programmes that can evaluate a candidate’s true potential.

Internships shouldn’t be based around bringing in a handful of university graduates and giving them menial tasks such as making coffee and delivering photocopies. It should be a solid environment structured for them to learn and develop their skills in. They may even surprise and incline you to take them on full time.

Structuring Your Internship Program

For most organisations, the main objective of their internship programme is to convert talented graduates into full-time employees. However, this doesn’t have to be left to chance.

As internships have become more sophisticated, so have the strategies designed to measure their success. When starting your own program, think about how many interns you can realistically keep busy for the programmes duration.

Once you have an official head count, it’s time to develop a series of measurable benchmarks. For example:

Number of FTEs: (full-time employees) from the programme.

Number of evaluations per intern from project supervisors: As a rule, interns should work with multiple managers. This will give you a broad range of feedback while allowing your newer staff to test-drive their leadership skills.

Number of projects completed per intern: While difficult to quantify, you want to factor in a few projects that challenges your interns ability to think critically and work in teams. Of course there will be time when interns are required to “make copies and coffee” but don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of using your interns for grunt work only. Give them a balance of meaningful work and administrative tasks and see how they handle both.

After you complete the benchmarks for your programme, refer to them often to ensure you’re staying on course.

Finding Intern Candidates

Now that you have a skeleton in place regarding program benchmarks, it’s time to find your interns program’s candidates. Since no single approach works for everyone, the best method is to try a few different tactics and see what sticks.

Naturally, you can post available positions on sites like Monster but you can also reach out to your local colleges and universities as well. ( see: Job Postings)

Identify a handful of schools in your area and just call them up and tell them what you’re looking for. You can also host an information session on your campus. Only a few people may show up, but those who do will be passionate about your industry.

Career fairs are another great place to meet potential candidates, but if you don’t have the time or the budget for on-campus recruiting, you can ask faculty members for the names of their best students.

Finally. Don’t forget about the power of Web 2.0 in recruiting. A dedicated “careers” webpage, Facebook profile and Twitter account can also act as a giant megaphone for attracting potential.

Efficiently Onboarding

When it comes to orientation, the best companies have - at minimum – a series of team-building activities, a “basics” overview so interns know what to expect, and an appearance by key player in their organisation.

Whether your organisation has been hosting internships for decades or your program is just getting off the ground, at the end of the day, most hiring managers are in agreement that it’s one of the most powerful ways to make great new hires - not to mention avoid a few bad ones.

Emily Bennington is the co-author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010.) She hosts the popular career blog Professional Studio 365 and is a regular contributor to Monster.com and the college section of The Huffington Post. She can be reached via email at ebennington@msn.com or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.

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