Internship Orientation: Ideas & Guide for 2021

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You found our helpful guide to internship orientation.

Internship orientations are onboarding events that introduce interns to policies and procedures and company culture, and also often include training components. The intern orientation is the recruit’s first impression of organization. This guide shows how to organize and host informative and interesting orientations that set temporary team members up for success.

Internship tips are similar to the advice found in books on onboarding and training books.

This post includes:

  • how to plan an intern orientation
  • intern orientation ideas
  • icebreakers for internship orientation
  • intern orientation games

Here is everything you need to know.

What are the steps to planning an intern orientation?

Here are steps to designing an orientation for interns that will help you organize the significant details.

1. Gage the class size

Projecting attendance will help you plan out your agenda. For example, you can prepare large group icebreaker activities for bigger classes or divide smaller groups for intimate discussions. Determining your intern class size will also help you figure out a budget and plan appropriate entertainment.

2. Draw up a checklist

The orientation process includes many moving parts, and you do not want to skip any steps. By creating an intern orientation checklist, you can better organize your thoughts and actions. We created a sample checklist you can use.

Intern orientation checklist

This checklist covers all the intern orientation basics, but feel free to add your own items so that you do not forget a single crucial detail.

3. Schedule mandatory activities first

The orientation serves as the intern’s initiation to the workplace. To ensure a smooth transition, you will need to allot enough time for pivotal activities such as paperwork, training, and introductions. By planning these activities first, you ensure you will have enough time to cover all the basics and set interns up for success.

4. See to the logistics

Another crucial phase of the planning process is to plot out logistics such as room reservations and catering. You should leave plenty of time to arrange these details, a month or two at minimum. Delaying until the last minute can leave you scrambling if your first choices are not available. You will also want to check to ensure that the orientation does not coincide with any other major company event, such as an industry conference, and will want to adapt accordingly in case you cannot avoid a schedule clash.

5. Plan entertainment

All work and no play makes for a dull orientation. While you should aim to give your interns as much information as possible, you should leave room for fun in the schedule. Once you nail down all the practical details, you can fill in the gaps with team building challenges, movies, sundae bars, or other forms of entertainment.

6. Finalize the schedule

Once you settle the particulars, you can order your events into a cohesive schedule. You should definitely share the schedule with anyone helping with the orientation execution well in advance, and you can also make the agenda available to executives and any departments expecting an incoming intern. Whether or not you share the schedule with interns prior to the start date is a judgment call.

How to plan an intern orientation

Below you will find important elements to keep in mind when planning a dynamic orientation for interns.

7. Set expectations

The internship may be the student’s first white collar work experience or first work experience ever. Rules that might seem like common sense to you may not even occur to the intern. To avoid snafus, you should set clear expectations. Whether your orientation is in-person or online, you should suggest that interns arrive a few minutes early. You should also present an intern orientation dress code to ensure all interns understand appropriate attire. The standard intern orientation dress code is usually business casual, but if your orientation includes intense team building activities such as adventure sports or cook offs then you may want to advise attendees to bring a change of clothes.

While spelling out what behavior you expect from the intern, you should also share what interns can expect from the company. Communicating the intern orientation agenda, available resources, company mission, and code of conduct prior to the start date can ease intern anxieties and trigger excitement.

8. Involve the whole company

The saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This proverb applies to internships too. Though HR might organize internships and one particular department might oversee an intern, the whole company is responsible for helping the next generation of the workforce learn and grow.

When planning an intern orientation program, you should reach out to other departments for help and ideas. Together you can brainstorm and develop a cross-training plan that exposes interns to multiple elements of the organization. Taking an active role in planning the program will encourage employees to feel a sense of duty towards the interns and compel colleagues to help more.

9. Create a library of resources

There is an overwhelming amount of organizational knowledge for the interns to absorb. No matter how much you intend to be available whenever the interns need you, other tasks will occasionally demand your attention and force interns to wait. Instead of depending entirely on you for answers, students can consult a helpful library of resources.

When compiling your library, you will want to include helpful materials. For example, you may include organizational trees, office seating charts, the brand mission statement, company directory, the history, instructions for basic jobs like working the copier or answering phones, as well as a map of the area and suggestions of cool places to explore.

This tool will empower interns to take initiative, as well as teaching valuable research skills.

10. Focus on the most essential factors

During orientation, you must convey a lot of information in a short period of time. To ensure that you hit all crucial points, you should identify and spotlight the most important details. Examples might include your company culture, mission statement, code of conduct, and in-demand industry skills. By honing in on the essential factors, you will focus your intern’s attention and increase the likelihood that students will leave orientation with the intended takeaways.

11. Leave room for fun

Though you have a lot of ground to cover during orientation, you should still leave time for fun and relaxation. Playing is a form of learning, and the interns will retain more of the experience when given time to unwind and network. By carving out leisure time, you will teach interns how to decompress and balance socializing with work. Activities like concerts, karaoke, and carnival games make for fun nighttime entertainment, and you can break up the day with fun and interactive exercises like these morale boosters.

List of intern orientation ideas

From day one buddies to decorated desks to mocktail happy hours, here is a list of intern orientation ideas that both instructs and delights your incoming class.

1. Introduce the intern to an orientation buddy pre-arrival

Rolling up to a brand new company on your first day of work can be intimidating, especially if you do not have any prior work experience. You can quell first-day jitters and help interns be more ready to hit the ground running by assigning a buddy pre-arrival. First, match the intern with a willing mentor. Then, introduce the pair via email. The employee buddy should reach out to the intern in the weeks leading up to the start date to pass on important information, answer questions, and shower the buddy with friendliness. The intern will start work with plenty of background knowledge and will greet a familiar face when arriving at the office.

2. Ask the intern to teach a lesson to the team

An intern’s role is to learn, but the team can learn from the intern as well. College students may lack experience, but might offer insight into new technology, social media trends, or the perspective of younger generations. If your company’s clientele and ideal audience skews young, then interns can provide valuable viewpoints that can improve your team’s approach.

By asking the intern to lead a lesson, you emphasize that every member of the team can be a teacher, even the less experienced teammates. This activity can give the intern confidence that can translate to future interviewing or job searching leverage.

3. Invite the team to decorate the intern’s desk

One way to welcome an intern to a new workspace is to ask the team to decorate the intern’s desk. Colleagues can fill the space with kind notes, knick knacks, office accessories, and decor that make the area feel homier and more personal.

Ideas to decorate the intern’s desk:

  • Bobbleheads
  • Snazzy pens and stationary
  • Takeout menus for good local lunch spots
  • Company swag
  • A fun mouse pad
  • Custom name plate
  • Stash of snacks
  • Calendar/planner
  • Magnets for file cabinet

You could also take a picture of the whole team, including the intern, and set up the photo in a frame on the desk. We suggest using a polaroid camera for instant results, or printing the picture off of a phone immediately. Of course, you could always photoshop the intern into an existing team photo if you want to be funny.

For more inspiration, check out this guide to employee gifts.

4. Incorporate a scavenger hunt as part of the tour

No matter how hard the newbies try to memorize the layout of the building during the tour, chances are, your interns will soon wander the halls in search of the bathroom, copier, or the human resources department. Instead of making the interns rely on memory or a map, you can use a scavenger hunt to drill important locations.

When designing the activity, think about which parts of the building the interns might visit most often, or might seldom visit but still need to know. Then, use these locations as clues or answers on your hunt. One method is to hide a symbol, such as an animal mascot, in key spots around the office. You could also ask interns to capture pictures or videos of the locations.

When interns have to actively seek out the spots, they are much more likely to remember the locations.

5. Host a mocktail happy hour

While happy hours are valuable networking events, your interns will probably be college students and may not be of legal drinking age yet. A mocktail happy hour can teach the fresh hires how to professionally mingle without making anyone reach for an ID.

Booze-free beverages are the stars of the event. You can serve drinks so cool that no one will care that there is no alcohol. Here are a few of our favorite mocktail recipes:

Intern Orientation mocktails list

Serving drinks with paper umbrellas, cocktail swords, and fun cups (think tiki-shaped mugs or novelty wine charms) adds whimsy. You can also up the fun factor by setting up fun bar-friendly games like cornhole, giant Jenga, or board games.

6. Lead interns on a restaurant crawl or food tour

Guiding your crew on a tour of local restaurants kills two birds with one stone; you feed your interns, and acquaint them with the area. After your crawl, the interns will feel much more confident grabbing lunch nearby. There may already be a food tour in your city that you can book for your group. If not, then you can reach out to local restaurants to arrange tastings at each. The best bet is to visit during off-peak hours, but as long as you pre-order the food you should not have a long wait at any stop. The owners may get a kick out of talking to the group about the business, and will likely be happy to gain new regulars. Chances are, your company may already have positive relationships with nearby establishments, so you should start by reaching out to these places first.

7. Solve an Art Heist

Art Heist banner

Art Heist is a 90 minute virtual problem solving game. A host leads teammates through a series of mini-games and puzzles in a race to gather clues and solve the mystery. The game encourages teamwork and quick-thinking, and the variety of the activities gives each intern the opportunity to shine. Art Heist is a great way to ease first day jitters and give new team members a chance to bond. Since the event is virtual, this experience works well as a pre-onboarding mixer as well as an activity for a distributed intern class.

Learn more about Art Heist.

Intern orientation icebreakers

Many interns are amateur networkers, and may need help opening up to peers and new colleagues. You can use the intern orientation icebreakers on this list to ease awkwardness and promote bonding.

1. Icebreaker questions

The quickest and simplest way to break down barriers between strangers is by asking and answering icebreaker questions. An easy way to facilitate icebreaker questions is to print and hand out lists to participants. You could make one long identical list or distribute smaller, random lists to add variety.

Interns can answer questions with other interns, teammates, or both. You could even host a short icebreaker session with the CEO if and schedule time allows.

Here is a list of icebreakers to consider and here is a random question generator.

2. Badges

My local movie theatre prints the staff’s favorite movies on name badges. I thought this was an ingenious way to identify team members. You could use a similar method by including some unique distinguishing factor on your intern’s name tags.

Suggestions:

  • Hometown
  • Favorite food
  • Preferred pet
  • Main motivation
  • Hero
  • Aspiration
  • Website of choice
  • Most used word

The unique identifier could also be industry specific. For instance, marketing interns might list a favorite influencer, publishing interns name a favorite book, and hospitality interns reveal a dream holiday destination.

3. Interviews or quizlets

One way to uncover information about your interns is to administer an informal interview or quizlet. Simply send a short questionnaire to your candidates. As interns return the responses, you can add the short bios to the program or a profile page on the company website, or you can circulate the answers to the staff via email or app.

Here are sample questions you can include:

  • Where were you born?
  • What should we know about you?
  • What is your idea of success?
  • What food could you eat and never tire of?
  • If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy?
  • What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
  • What instantly makes your day better?
  • How do you take your coffee?

The average Facebook feed proves that folks love to share personal questionnaires, so this activity will likely be a hit among your incoming class.

4. Photo swap

A fun way to introduce interns to each other and the other employees is by asking each intern to share a photo. Instead of asking interns to send a standard professional headshot, you can ask attendees for interesting pictures such as baby pictures, Halloween snaps, or school portraits. You can turn the exercise into a guessing game by asking coworkers to match the photos to the intern.

5. Interactive maps

The internship is one destination on the student’s journey. You can highlight some of the stops that eventually led to your door by creating an interactive map. To make the map, either print out an outline of a world map, or queue up an electronic globe in Google Maps or similar software. Next, invite the interns to mark significant locations such as hometowns, cities attended college in, or the coolest place ever visited. Beyond providing a talking point and revealing common traits, these maps can highlight the diversity of your intern class.

6. Social media group

Social media allows interns to get a head start on icebreakers. By starting a social media group for your incoming class, you will allow your interns to make connections and forge friendships before arriving at the office. This group can act as a resource and support system throughout the process, and you can use the page to announce team events or post interactive challenges. You can also potentially recycle the user-generated content into your marketing assets or next year’s intern recruiting materials.

For more icebreaker ideas, check out this post on large group icebreaker games.

Intern orientation games

Games can break up the monotony of information sessions and give interns a shared challenge to overcome. Here are a few games that are perfect for intern orientations.

1. The human knot

The human knot is one of the most classic team building activities for good reason. The exercise is easy to set up, easy to explain, and finishes quickly. The game requires critical thinking and effective communication, two skills that are essential for the workplace. To play the human knot, participants form a ring and grab the hands of two players across the circle. Then, the players must untangle themselves.

Check out more icebreaker games for small groups.

2. Questions only

Improv games are ideal for intern orientation because improvisation requires participants to think on their feet, a trait that will help interns immensely during the course of the program and their professional careers. Questions only is one of the simplest improv games. As the title suggests, players must speak only in questions. A player that utters a statement or takes too long to respond is out. You can turn the game into a competition and present the last man standing with a prize.

Here is a list with more improv activities, and a list of fun question games.

3. The chain game

The chain game looks for common traits. One person stands in the middle of the room to start. The player states a fact, such as “I am a twin,” or “I once traveled to Africa.” Anyone else to whom the fact applies races to link arms. The first player to reach the speaker joins the chain, and then proceeds to share another fact. The game continues until no more players remain. You could also challenge the group to beat a certain time.

4. Sticker shock

To play this game, you will give each player five same-colored stickers. The game should involve anywhere from four to six colors. When you give the go ahead, players will move about the space and seek to collect one of each color sticker. The first player that collects all of the colors wins. To make the game more of a challenge, you can decree that players must keep one hand behind the back at all times, so that players can steal stickers or block thieves, but not both at once.

For more orientation game ideas, check out this post on team building games.

Conclusion

An orientation sets the tone for an intern orientation, and a great orientation can set interns up for success. By planning a gathering that is equal parts informational and welcoming, you can empower your interns to excel.

For more welcome event tips, check out this guide to virtual orientation week ideas.

FAQ: Internship orientation

Below are answers to some of the most common questions about intern orientation.

What are intern orientations?

Intern orientations are the first interactions between interns and your organization. Typically, during these orientations you will describe your company’s mission and culture, reinforce program expectations, and ease interns into the work environment. Good intern orientations strike a balance between onboarding and entertaining.

Why are internship orientations important? 

Intern orientations provide a foundation for workplace performance. The orientation sets the tone for the program by communicating the company’s mission and values, clarifying expectations, and training interns in necessary systems and skills. Orientation also allows interns the opportunity to connect and begin building professional relationships.

What are intern orientation tools?

Planning an internship orientation is an intensive process, but there are many tools to keep your event smooth and organized. These tools include intern orientation checklists, human resources software, schedules, programs, event volunteers, and intern orientation packets.

How do you run a virtual intern orientation?

As remote work becomes more common and recruiters embrace a global pool of talent, many more companies offer online internships. To run a virtual intern orientation, you should use collaborative platforms such as virtual meeting software like Zoom, online communication tools like Slack, and cloud-based applications such as the Google Suite. Prior to the start date, you should establish rules such as expected working hours and online communication best practices. You should provide virtual tours and plan face to face time via web call during the orientation, and should also allow interns the opportunity to ask questions and interact with peers using tools like chats and breakout rooms.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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