[Lessons Learned] Running a Corporate Intern Program

Random Observation/Comment #553: Pay attention to your employees and make sure they’re happy. A few emails of recognition can save a whole lot of money losing talent and rehiring.

henry running

After 5 years of running the intern program at Credit Suisse and reporting on Lessons Learned in iconic reflective blog posts each year (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), I think it makes sense to share how a successful intern program operates.

Why an Intern Program?

There have been enough books written about the topic of selective hiring that it’s fairly obvious innovation and culture comes from the people (not some management or leadership style). “Target” schools and prospective students are being approached/groomed through hackathons and aggressive HR recruiting engagement programs.

To beat other competitors to the hiring mark, companies implement pipelines for converting interns to full-times at earlier paces. This is mainly because work experience with real life projects is much more valuable than abstract university-based exercises.

The intern program essentially becomes a 10-week 2-way interview between the company’s groups and the students. It’s structure and organization is crucial for pushing the reputation and brand of the your company.

Before you Begin: Organization / Resources

  • Sponsor – someone needs to fund your program and help you reach out to the right partners. Sometimes the sponsor is a governance board, which is created to overlook most hiring efforts
  • Partnership with HR – the intern program is usually run by HR with their hiring budget, but the specific projects that make the internship meaningful are usually hosted by a program lead
  • Partnership with line managers – line managers ultimately provide requests to hire interns and full times, but for the project, they are also the source of all project ideas and those individual SMEs.
  • Program lead – it helps the individual projects when the program lead is not a part of HR and knows some of the projects from a high level. This person monitors the health and delivery across the projects and pitches to line managers to gain traction on milestones
  • Project leads – a program lead can’t do all the work for each project, so it makes sense to get specific project leads that have some level of expertise in the chosen projects in this space. These leads might flesh out the scope of the project in a strategic way (as with a product or business analyst role), but ultimately they are making sure the time period for the interns are most effectively used

Necessary Prep Work:

  • Project ideas collection process – your line managers are responsible for sending in ideas where they can specifically delegate 1 or 2 SMEs for some “free” resources
  • Project selection process – we created a set of principles and weighted values to evaluate each project, which included: alignment to business, technology interest, feasibility of timeline, support from management, and relevance to finance
  • Project initial analysis – the scope of the project and some of the design analysis needs to be done by the project lead of the specific project in order to reach a successful conclusion. Even when we had devoted business analysts to projects, we wanted to give them a head start to the initial design (similar to an outline of a university project that they’re used to instead of just saying “build whatever you want”)
  • Hiring manager buy-in – managers need to provide SMEs to handhold some of the interns in completing their work


  • Daily project lead stand-ups – project leads should catch up with each group of 4-5 interns on this project. they are there to guide the outputs.
  • Weekly updates with program lead – program lead should also meet all the interns and help do some introductions to the group, but let the project leads raise any escalations
  • Presentation to business – the deliverable of the 8-10 week intern project is usually some presentation to the business side of things. It’s a nice way to tie a bow on the project and ensure hand-off

General Best Practices

  • When pitching the projects to interns, make sure you emphasize how it’s all real work that will be picked up by teams afterwards. No one wants to do throw-away work.
  • Emphasize a full “Software Development Life Cycle” (SDLC) where you’re building from a design and doing the full testing and best practices along the way
  • Pick your project leads wisely. I specifically sourced all my project leads from interns who became full-time employees. This is much easier to manage because you help first-year employees immediately sit on the other side of the intern table.
  • Give credit where credit is due. As a program lead, your middle management role is to make everyone look good and feel good.
  • The final presentation needs a slide on “Lessons Learned.” It’s essential for hiring managers to see that your interns have learned something from real world projects
  • Encourage interns to take the opportunity to learn the company and meet more people. They are not there to do the work full time developers or analysts are doing. I think they will more likely join when they get treated with respect.
  • Provide all interns with a personalized exit interview. Before the intern program is over and decisions on made for providing full time positions, be sure to sit one-on-one with each intern and ask them 1 question: “Pretend this is the interview for your next job. ‘Oh, I see you were an intern last year at Credit Suisse. What did you do and what did you learn?'” At the end of the day, the internship will become a 2 minute pitch at an interview, so be sure to get them ready for it. The output of that interview will ultimately also make these interns represent your company brand in the long run. First impressions matter.

~See Lemons Miss my Interns