Posted September 13, 2021 by Mark Perna
The best internship programs aim to develop young professionals not just for tomorrow, but for today. Mark’s article, “Interns Unleashed: How To Create Big Wins For Young People—And Your Company,” published at Forbes.com on August 31, 2021.
The days when being an intern meant grabbing coffee or running simple errands are gone. So, too, is the notion that interns should be happy to work for free. Today, an internship is seen by young people as an opportunity to do real work and obtain valuable experience while earning fair compensation for their contributions to the company.
But of course, internships don’t just serve interns. Companies can also benefit from younger workers’ fresh perspective, market knowledge and insights into issues important to their generation that more experienced professionals might not otherwise have.
Plus, a purposeful internship program can serve as a pipeline where young people lay the groundwork for permanent employment at the company where they interned or elsewhere when they’re ready to enter the workforce on a full-time basis.
“Interns benefit from getting real-world experience by taking on meaningful projects, understanding how each person contributes to a company’s success and learning how to adapt to and thrive within a business setting,” says Jeff Elliott, the COO at UWorld, which offers educational content. “We’ve had wonderful experiences with our internship program, and we feel it helps groom the next generation of professionals. We’ve also hired several previous interns after they graduated.”
So how can companies unleash their interns and take the experience to the next level for both parties? Elliott offers some insights garnered from UWorld’s successful internship program and the younger-gen professionals who have made it so impactful.
First, a win-win internship program is strategic. Elliott says UWorld’s internship program really began to thrive when they planned well in advance for the number of interns they needed and the projects they would work on. Just as importantly, they also began gathering feedback at the end of each internship. “Those steps helped us ensure it was valuable for both the interns and company,” he says.
Elliott says that UWorld identifies and recruits prospective summer interns from a variety of sources, including job postings and recommendations from their current employees. The team then interviews each intern to make sure everyone’s expectations line up. “Before we offer them a position, we discuss what their day-to-day experience might look like and get suggestions from them on what departments they would like to work with,” says Elliott. “We assign each intern a mentor to ensure their questions get answered and that they’re guided during their time with us. Their mentors check in with them daily to discuss projects and provide feedback.”
At the end of each summer, interns at UWorld also get the opportunity to deliver a presentation to senior leadership about a project that they worked on during their internship stint. “Their final presentation is a capstone event that allows them to celebrate what they’ve learned and contributed over the summer,” says Elliott. “They practice presenting the project and receive feedback during that process.”
It’s worth pointing out that not all interns are undergraduates. “We had a Harvard grad who interned for us as she worked on her dual M.Ed. and Ph.D. programs,” he says. “The work and insights we received from her are still shaping business decisions for our products almost two years later.”
While UWorld’s interns also gain experience working in a virtual environment by participating in remote meetings and projects, Elliott strongly feels that the most effective internship programs are conducted face-to-face.
By showing up at an office versus working remotely, interns can hone what I call “professional skills,” such as the value of punctuality, interview and presentation skills, how to interact with co-workers and effective time management at work. Elliott adds that interns also get exposed to bigger-picture experiences like being part of a team, which in turn helps build skills like accepting and providing feedback, knowing when to push a suggestion or when to ask questions and do more research. “All these things take effort and commitment,” he says, “which are important for success.”
In-person internships may not always be possible, but when they are, companies and interns should make the most of the opportunity.
Elliott shared an example of high schooler Sahana Rao who landed an internship with UWorld. “Sahana reached out to us through email and that type of assertiveness really impressed us,” says Elliott.
“She wasn’t looking for a summer job—she was looking for an experience.”
Sahana, who had used UWorld to help her improve her SAT scores, believed in their product and thought that working there as an intern would be rewarding. Even better, the company’s offices were just down the road from where she lived. Elliott says that while UWorld didn’t have an open intern position at the time, they decided to hire Sahana anyway. “She had done her research and knew what UWorld was all about,” he says. “Our company mission and standards aligned with how Sahana approaches work and life. She loves to learn new things, loves a challenge and craves feedback—a perfect recipe for successful employment within UWorld.”
For her part, Sahana, who returned for a second summer internship at UWorld, feels that she has gained valuable on-the-job skills. Her role centers on providing feedback and ideas from a consumer and student perspective to help the company’s College Prep department effectively cater to its target demographic: high school students.
Perhaps just as importantly, she feels the internship has helped her gain a real sense of accomplishment.
“Through my work, I feel that I’m directly contributing to the growth of the company and also helping students’ readiness for college and education,” she says. “The directors and employees at UWorld have really been kind and always involve the interns when brainstorming departmental decisions—and they take our ideas into consideration.
“Seeing all the work that I do directly contribute to the development of products and positively impact hundreds of high schoolers is very rewarding.”
Sahana’s experience illustrates why the best internships are always built on a win-win philosophy. A thoughtful internship program will be purposeful, in person whenever possible and designed to solicit the best from each young professional. When companies embrace and unleash the true potential of their interns, they can create big wins for everyone.