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Internal Internships- A Winning Well Best Practice

by | Sep 19, 2016 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Winning Well |

Internal internships help your high-potential talent grow in a developmental assignment and prepare for their next role– without the risk of a more permanent move. They can be an important part of your talent development strategy.

Why Internal Internships are So Effective

Have you ever been an intern? Have you ever hired an intern?

There are many reasons to hire an intern. Sure some see it as a shortcut to cheap labor or to appease HR.

But if you’ve ever been part of a great internship program–on either side of the desk– you know that it can be a fantastic job preview–an extensive 2-way interview process. It’s an opportunity to try before you buy.

Internships give interns the opportunity to ask:

  • Does this work align with my passion and purpose?
  • Are these my people?
  • Can I see myself doing this every day?

Of course, employers are asking similar questions:

  • Does this kid have potential?
  • What unique contributions would they bring to our company?
  • Do they fit in?

Watching my MBA students in the great internship dance is fascinating. You can learn a lot about workplace culture and how to attract and retain millennial talent over a “How’s your internship going?” cup of coffee. (Even more over a beer.)

This observation is why I was so intrigued when I bumped into this best practice while I was doing some Winning Well consulting.

The senior leadership team had sent me to this location to understand what was going so right and to help them spread it to their other locations. The list of Winning Well best practices was healthy, but this one struck me most.  And it’s going in our next book.

The Power of Internal Internships

The strong culture was keeping people there, but there was also a bit of stagnation. Employees were getting comfortable in their roles and were afraid a lateral move would impact their performance rating or earning potential if they were not successful.

So the manager built an Internal Internship program. Employees could raise their hand to intern in another role for two weeks. They would receive some training, shadow, take on some tasks, and finally “try on” the job. No commitment. No risk. No guarantees.

If after two weeks, everyone loves it, they are encouraged to apply for the next open position.  If they tried it and hated it, at least they knew without a lot of sunk costs or time on either end.

Benefits of Internal Internship

  • Exponentially more discussion around career pathing, even for those who didn’t decide to intern.
  • Frank career path conversations: “No, you cannot do an internship with that attendance record. Let’s get that cleaned up first.”
  • A broader understanding of the big picture. “Oh, that’s why they do it that way.”
  • Increased collaboration across departments, with more folks having walked a mile in the other guy’s shoes.
  • Improved morale and retention. More people seeing a future–not just a job, but a career.

When I asked the manager about the ROI, she was all in. The value of getting the right people in the right seats, and performing well, far surpassed the additional time and effort her team spent on the program.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Ben Evans

    I love the thought of the substantial role that interns play day-to-day. Allowing that opportunity for a mentee to explore their potential, while growing themselves and the business. As a current intern for a large department on a university campus, I have been giving humongous opportunities to try my hand that my employer/mentor does not have time for otherwise. My challenge to all those reading is if possible, opening up that chance to bring in a mentee, allow yourself to grow through them. Do they bring in new ideas that you haven’t thought of before? Are they challenging you with a standpoint that you may not see currently? When you bring in a fresh set of ideas, you have the potential to open your eyes to aspects of the business that you have not explored before.

  2. LaRae Quy

    I love your idea of internal internships…the FBI routinely transfers agents to new squads every few months so they get a taste of how other squads work and whether or not they would find a better fit in another type of investigation. It’s a win-win for everyone!

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much, LaRae. I’m always so interested to learn from your experiences in the FBI.

  3. Kennedy Kelleher

    The company I work for is looking into internal internships, this sounds like a great idea! I do have a couple of questions..

    – How does pay work? I assume there is some sort of change, I would love to know how you handle this process.
    – What do your the requirements for eligibility?
    – What if the individual would like to intern for more than 2 weeks?

    Thanks for the article, I hope to hear back soon!

    • Kennedy Kelleher

      Oops! I meant to say, “what are the requirements for eligibility?”

  4. Karin Hurt

    Hi Kennedy,

    Thanks for your questions.

    For pay, I would treat this as you would any other kind of special assignment. So, for example, if you have an hourly worker and the position they are trying out is clearly at another pay grade, it would be important to give them a differential.

    However, if you are giving an exempt employee a chance to try something new as part of their development for a short period of time, I don’t think that would be necessary. For example, if you want to give your IT manager a role in your PMO for two weeks, I would consider that similar to sending them to a training class.

    For eligibility, I think that depends on where this fits into your overall talent management approach. I would certainly be sure they are performing in their current role. I wouldn’t necessarily limit this to your high-potentials, because this could be a great way to try out lateral moves.

    I think if it goes more than 2 weeks, it becomes more of a temporary promotion or assignment, and then I would want to set up clear performance expectations and measurements of success.

    P.S. You’ve found some of my early writing…. here are a few more recent articles that might be helpful as you consider creative ways to develop your team.




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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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