An employer welcoming the new intern and introducing her to the staff

Onboarding your Intern

Like any new hire, your interns are only as good as the onboarding and training they receive. Dedicating time for training and ongoing communication between you and your student, will provide them with the tools they need to help them succeed both as individuals and within your organization. Well trained interns are a great resource for the organization and will be a benefit to everyone.

Tips for onboarding your intern

Map out your goals for your incoming intern. What do you need them to accomplish to make your life easier?  What do you want them to walk away with at the end of their time with your organization? What icing can you add to the top? Plan it all out, week-by-week, and have the plan ready to go before day one.

Points to consider when making your plan:

  • Assess the current skill and competency level of your intern
  • Identify clear objectives and goals with identified timelines and milestones
  • Whenever possible, incorporate student learning goals into the training plan
  • Reassess and adapt training plans to ensure the WIL experience remains challenging and rewarding

It can be tempting to show your new intern to an empty desk, set them up with an email account and then immediately start giving them spreadsheets to fill out. But just as you probably analyzed every bit of the first impression they made on you in the hiring process, the onus is now on you to make a good first impression on them.

Help your student to connect with your team and integrate into your environment by clearly defining your workplace culture. 

Keep in mind intercultural differences and remember to consider things that you may assume a new employee would already know including:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion practices
  • Incentives and perks
  • Cell phone use in the office
  • Frequency and duration of breaks
  • Areas you encourage initiative vs. hierarchical decision making
  • Company terms and commonly used vocabulary


Your team will be working directly with your new hire. Make sure your intern gets to meet everyone on the team and learns their names. Consider assigning a team member as a “buddy” or "mentor" to help them succeed. Encourage one-on-one coffee meetings with each of your team members These one-on-ones will give everyone a chance to learn more about their new co-worker and gives your intern a chance to hear about what you do and why you do it.

Help your student build good relationships with their co-workers by encouraging them to:

  • Ask questions when they are not understanding something
  • Join coffee and lunch breaks
  • Make time for all staff, not just direct supervisors

You know your mission inside and out. It’s what gets you up in the morning and it’s what keeps you up at night. Rather than assuming that your interns know why it’s important as well (because shouldn’t they if they applied to work for you?), review it with them. Show, don’t tell, and things will stick.

Start things off by reviewing the internship plan you created. Give them a chance to see their week-to-week or month-to-month laid out. Provide your intern with a copy of the plan and encourage them to track their own learning experience.   Ask them about the goals that they have for their time with you.

Share important manuals and information with your student to ensure they understand:

  • Policies and procedures
  • Health plans
  • Safety regulations and guidelines
  • Restricted foods/scented products pertaining to allergies
  • Pay frequency
  • Dress code

Set up one learning goal each week that ties in with the projects your intern is working on and do a training session in 30 to 60 minutes depending on the scope of learning. These meetings are also chances to go over feedback, both your feedback for them and vice versa. Keep those lines of communication open!

Chances are high that your intern is about to graduate and may be pivoting career-wise. In either case, they are looking for work. Give them opportunities to network both within your organization and in the larger field.
Bring them to your organization’s events, take them out to your local non-profit happy hour (if they’re of age), and give them resources on local networking events and access to former interns so that they have a chance to make new friends and chat with those that came before them.

Use this handy printable intern onboarding checklist to ensure you cover the necessities.