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Internships: Opportunity or Exploitation?

It's a pretty age-old story I suppose. The beginning of your career you have little to no experience so your options are limited, but hey so are your bills (Except of course I could go off on a tangent here about higher education costing us thousands but not being valued in-kind.. but I'll hold off, for now.)

So what are the options? Mission Objective: Land the internship at a big-name business, learn all the ropes and become a highly sought-after candidate within a year or so. But how often is this a reality?

According to the critically acclaimed career documentary*, "The Devil Wears Prada", the way to the top is through the coffee shop and the dry cleaners and of course the bosses ice-cold heart. While one could argue that Andy walked away with valuable soft-skills like self-confidence and clear priorities (plus a killer wardrobe), I have to wonder how prepared she really was for her big New York job thanks to Miranda's glowing referral. I mean, I feel like there's a reason the movie ends there, right? No one wants to see Andy going through all of that just to get to her desk and realize "Oh, wait.. I haven't written a word in over a year".

Yes I understand Andy took an assistant role and not an internship but this is a popular view on moving up in your career when you are starting out. So how did something that started out as apprenticeship, which was often tradesmen getting young help in return for teaching the trade, turn into preferential treatment to those who can be the best little errand runner? A referral may be a valuable return, but in the bigger picture, sending under skilled workers into your industry, and worse, into your own company, is pretty damaging - at the very least to the value of your own referral.

So are internships right for businesses? Heck yes! There are plenty of companies that are getting this program right today and it is incredibly valuable when they get low-cost labor and create a funnel of skilled employees. Here are just a few things to consider to make sure your internship program is attractive and valuable for the interns, employers and industry alike:

1. Personalized Goals

Even if there are multiple people interning for the same department, interns should be able to define their own goals at the beginning of the program. Allow them to each sit with their leader or a coach and choose at least one skill they would like to work on. Even if their normal duties are errands or busy work, if they are interested in learning about market research or would like to witness pitches etc. allow them a specified amount of time to get this experience.

2. Formal Training

Providing group training and experiences can not only upskill them and give them an overall better understanding of your business, this brings fresh eyes into your processes and gets potential future employees compatible with your culture. Consider series of career skills like office politics and interviewing practices as well as company-related experiences like site-visits or panels with leaders.

3. Coaching

Progress should be continually monitored through coaching conversations that track and adjust goals as well as receives feedback. Having a trusted leader or third-party coach that an intern feels comfortable saying "I'm not sure this process is working" to squeezes the most value out of them. Sometimes a simple question is worth thousand$!

4. Evaluation

At the end of the program there should be some form of evaluation to close; gathering what they have learned, possibly even presenting their own ideas. The recorded evaluation can act as both a recruiting tool to fill full-time positions as well as marketing for quality interns looking for a reputable program they are looking to learn from.

These four simple elements can turn your internship program into an attractive opportunity for quality, low-wage work that will value the experience (i.e. won't call out hungover or show up wearing a crop top) and take a pretty minimal time out of your work day. If you feel unprepared or unable to provide these programs, third-party coaches often have material ready to go and can provide all of these standards in just a few hours a month.

Did I just end my content with some not-so-subtle advertising? Yeah.. I did that. Truthfully, I'm curious what YOUR thoughts and experiences are with internship programs, whether as a participant or a provider. But if you or someone you know are looking for a little help, call me ;)

* - The 2006 film, "The Devil Wears Prada" is categorized by IMDB as a scripted Comedy and Drama, not a documentary. This has been Sarcasm Corner with Kimmie.

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