A stage perk is powerful. Here’s how to make it a win-win

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Celebrate National Internship Awareness Month by rethinking the impact of internships and the young professionals who power them.

In theory, internships are supposed to offer real win-win opportunities for young people and organizations looking to connect with promising workers. Young professionals get a head start on their careers, while the company benefits from new talent.

Of course, that’s the theory. In reality, this dynamic hasn’t always served young people, especially when organizations treat their interns as free or low-cost labor or just to tick a box so they can claim they’re offering a program. of internships. This approach is both a disservice to young people looking for a chance to learn and a missed opportunity to start developing a connection with a potential future employee.

In honour of National Internship Awareness MonthI think it’s high time to show genuine appreciation for interns and the work they provide, especially at a time when so many organizations are struggling to fill their talent pools.

To get a glimpse into the future of internships, I reached out to Zane Landin, a college student, entrepreneur, and “serial intern” who has served in more than 15 different internship opportunities with organizations like General Motors, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. “I believe that students gain so much by interning in any organization,” he says. “At the same time, an intern brings so much value to a company because they essentially bring a new voice. They will be able to look at the company from the outside and bring something new to the table that they may be missing.

Here are some thoughts Landin and I discussed about how organizations can create the kind of win-win situations where young people and organizations come out on top.

Try before you buy

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A young man works hard in high school to get into a great university, goes into a lot of debt to afford it, then graduates, all without knowing what he wants to make do with their career. This is a systemic problem with many institutions of higher education, which are not necessarily designed to give their students an experience to better orient their studies towards the type of career they aspire to.

One way around this dilemma is to create more internship opportunities for students earlier in their college life, which essentially allows them to try before they buy. “Internships play a unique role in helping students learn first-hand what interests them, says Landin. “I speak from experience when I say that it is very difficult for students to determine what really excites them and what they want to pursue after graduation. Universities cannot teach much.

By landing an internship, young people can develop invaluable “job skills”, such as showing up on time and communicating well, as well as gaining experience in different companies and industries.

“Internships serve as a transition period and bridge the gap between education and employment,” says Landin. “I believe internships are like a rite of passage before entering the full-time job market.”

Win-win opportunities

Unfortunately, not all internship programs are created equal. Some organizations make much larger investments to ensure that interns get as much out of their hard work as the organization.

One of the commonalities Landin cited among his best internship experiences was the organization’s commitment to communicating regularly and often with him, especially when the internship was forced to take place remotely during the pandemic. “Communication is vital for everything to work and grow,” he says. “It’s the same for interns. Especially in a virtual format, communication helps keep everyone on the same page and prevents information from getting lost.

Landin says it was empowering knowing he could reach out to his supervisor or team members when he needed extra support, help, or even just to chew the grease on their personal lives. Staying in regular contact with his supervisor also transformed their relationship from boss and intern to mentor and mentee. “A great internship experience occurs when a company and supervisor not only care about the job, but also invest in their intern’s personal and professional growth,” says Landin. “When people can bring their authentic selves to their role, they are inspired to contribute more enthusiastically.”

The type of work required of an intern is also important. Simply assigning labor-intensive “busy work” that no employee wants to do will not contribute to a positive experience for that intern. Interns should be given challenging tasks that will both contribute to their personal growth and help the business at the same time. In short, treat them like regular employees. “When you work on assignments and tasks as an intern that will help grow the business,” Landin says, “you feel valuable and included in the team.”

Make the most of your experience

Before attempting an internship, a young person should do their homework to determine what they want to get out of the experience. While it might be tempting to focus on getting that “dream” job with a big company, it might be more important to understand how that job can help you gain the kind of experience which will pay you back later in your career.

“Focus on your personal and professional growth,” Landin says. “Find every opportunity to learn and grow, even when doing mundane tasks and activities. There’s always an opportunity to learn something new. Sometimes an internship at lesser-known brands and organizations can open even more doors than you think.

Another important factor may be whether the internship is paid or unpaid and whether you can afford it. While Landin says he would like all interns to be paid as employees, he understands that can sometimes be difficult for smaller organizations. That’s why it’s essential to constantly remind yourself of the goals you hope to achieve through the experience.

To that end, Landin suggests getting involved in employee resource groups, hosting coffee talks, and seeking other opportunities outside of your current role with the organization to broaden your experience.

Case in point: While interning at General Motors, Landin became involved with its resource group for employees with disabilities where he completed several projects outside of his internship. “General Motors has been an incredible experience,” he says. “Being part of a community outside of my internship was great. It gave me extra meaning and inspiration to keep moving forward. I felt like I was contributing to the greater good of a community that I was very passionate about.

Take the next step

Even landing an internship in the first place can be a growth opportunity for a young person, especially in the area of ​​networking. It pays to connect with people in careers that interest you through social media and other networks. You can then ask them questions about their careers, share your own story, and see if their organization might have any openings for a new intern.

And don’t forget to keep an up-to-date resume or portfolio handy that reflects your growing set of skills and work experience. For example, Landin used his experience at GM to land his next NASA internship. “I think that’s what set me apart from my peers because they got to see the work I was doing and not just hear me talk about it,” he says.

Perhaps just as importantly, Landin plans to leverage his ongoing internship experiences to land a permanent position with an employer who can pave the way for him to his dream job. I’m not sure the win-win opportunities are any better than this.

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