Sure, sometimes internships amount to little more than free grunt work for employers. But yours isn't like that. For one, you know that programs asking for free work in exchange for limited learning, while sadly common, are also probably illegalstrictly speaking. Two, you want to offer a quality experience to your interns, because—three—an inspiring internship program is a great way to get your hands on the brightest young talent after graduation.

With summer internship season upon us, how do you accomplish your aim of making your program not only beneficial in the short-term for participants, but also a great training ground for your next star entry-level employee? 

Advice abounds this time of year, and Katie Morrell recently offered tips on the Open Forum blog, including pre-planning activities and structure for your intern to prevent you running around the office trying to find things for your intern to do once they arrive, as well as regular check-ins to ask about their experience and swap tasks they hate for to-dos they'll get more out of.

But beyond these basics, Morrell also offers less expected suggestions that won't simply insure your internship program doesn't suck, but just might elevate it to the sort of experience that turns eager young interns into exceptional new hires. These include:

Give Them Autonomy. 
Interns at Digital Talent Agents, a public relations firm in Columbia, Missouri, are regularly given loose directions and then sent free. "We want them to figure out the best way to do things on their own," says Kelsey Meyer, co-founder. "It's interesting to watch what they come up with when we aren’t breathing over their shoulders."

Task Them With Idea Generation.
Every so often, Meyer will ask her interns for ideas that can help the business. And since chances are good that new interns will fall silent, she's made the process more fun. "We make it into a contest," she says. "If we are having a problem with a client, for example, I will task my interns with coming up with at least one solution by 2:00 p.m. The person whose idea we choose to use will receive a gift certificate for a smoothie at a nearby restaurant." Why does this practice groom interns into great candidates for permanent jobs? "When you are looking to hire someone full-time, you want to know how they will add value to your company," Meyer says. "This exercise teaches them how to think strategically; the more strategically an employee thinks, the less they will think about having to leave at 5:00 p.m. They will instead be thinking about how they can contribute to making your company better."

For more details on Morrell's ideas, check out the complete post. Morrell isn't the only one with suggestions, however. The National Association of Colleges and Employers, which helps bridge the gap between college and the workplace, regularly offers best practices to firms hoping to train up young talent to hire with their internship programs. These includie showcasing interns' work at an expo or presentation event, arranging opportunities for interns to interact with new hires, who are great ambassadors for your firm as being similar to interns in age and career position themselves they're easy to identify with, and bringing in top executives to address your interns.

Have you had notable successes growing new hires with your internship program? How did you manage them?