Internships: A Learning Experience for Everyone  
11/17/2008 4:15:16 PM

By Wendy Lalli -- In an economic environment that is growing more challenging hourly, many students appreciate that an internship with a good company or non-profit organization represents a valuable opportunity. It not only allows them to “test drive’ a job in the real world but meet and interact with decision makers who could hire them in the future. In addition, they may be able to earn a salary and/or credit toward graduation for their efforts.

For all these reasons many schools encourage students to consider taking internships during the school year as well as on summer break. At the University of Iowa, Kiernan D. Leopold, Director, Des Moines Center & Experiential Education, finds more and more students have come to appreciate just how important internships can be. “Many students are looking to beef-up resume experiences for marketability in their job search. They also use internships to confirm that they’ll be happy with their career choices…Plus, they recognize the added value in earning academic credit for time spent at a work site.”

Internships should benefit you too

But students certainly shouldn’t be the only beneficiaries of internship programs. A well-planned, properly run program can provide companies with significant advantages. According to Matthew Zinman, executive director and founder of The Internship Institute, internships can enable companies and non-profits to “infuse their bottom-line with valuable talent while addressing labor shortages, skills gaps, ‘brain drain,’ productivity deficiencies and fulfill corporate social responsibility goals.”

After all, students are expert in preparing reports, taking notes, coordinating projects, creating schedules, and writing research papers. Plus, they often have advanced software skills including a facility with the Internet that comes with being part of the millennial generation. Zinman suggests that this makes interns the ideal choice to “conduct surveys, perform competitive intelligence research, uncover and pursue marketing opportunities, develop and manage website content” among other assignments. And with interns taking on these assignments, your senior staff members will have additional time and energy to concentrate on more complex projects.

Internships can also help develop internal management skills

Managing others, like any other skill set, is often best learned on the job. That’s why using interns to support your middle layer of employees can provide these staff members with a benefit over and beyond mere assistance with their work. Mentoring an intern can provide potential managers with a unique opportunity to develop the necessary organizational and interpersonal skills needed to move on to more responsible roles.

To take full advantage of internships as professional development exercises for your staff, make sure everyone understands who’s responsible for what. Who will the intern report to? Will some kind of written record be kept of their attendance, assignments, accomplishments, and overall performance? Will the person assigned to mentor/manage the intern be given credit (and be held accountable) for his or her performance? These are all questions that should be answered before the internship begins.

Most of all, internships let you audition future hires

Perhaps the single most valuable benefit internships offer companies is that they allow participants to demonstrate their potential as future hires while they’re still in school. Having completed an internship with you, new graduates will not only be familiar with your products and services, clients, and culture, they’ll also have had a chance to develop positive personal relationships within the company. In effect, completing a successful internship is the best assurance a recent graduate can offer that he or she is the ideal applicant for a job.

Internal internships: Another way to nurture talent

Some companies have customized some aspects of the internship concept to fit their specific needs. For example, Corbett Worldwide Healthcare Communications, one of the nation’s leading advertising agencies specializing in pharmaceutical marketing, has instituted a special program, Idea Pharm, to grow creative talent for the company.

The company’s Web site describes Idea Pharm as a comprehensive 12-week program, created to “uncover, nurture, and celebrate the creative capabilities of individuals seeking to improve their skills in generating advertising concepts and campaign ideas.”

The concept is a simple but highly effective one: Run a portfolio development class inside the company for two hours one night a week. Over the course of three months, have students create spec print ads and TV spots for various prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals under the encouraging and supportive tutelage of Corbett’s senior creative management. The program allows employees interested in working in the creative department a chance to show off their potential. And it offers department decision makers an ideal opportunity to assess new talent. This past year, Corbett has expanded the program by inviting seniors and recent grads from area colleges to attend Idea Pharm along with internal students.

A recruitment program and management development program

Robin Shapiro, Corbett’s energetic Senior Vice President, Executive Creative Director, says, “Idea Pharm is more than just a recruitment program. It provides an avenue to develop instructors as well. Most portfolio schools charge thousands of dollars for what we provide free of charge. Obviously, that’s a tremendous cost savings to students. But perhaps the biggest bonus is how good the program makes us feel about ourselves, each other, and the company.”

During the last three years four graduates of Idea Pharm have been moved into the creative department. Shapiro explains, “We know much more about these candidates than most people know when they bring people on board. We’re familiar with their talent, their attitude, and their work ethic. When we make a decision based on a student’s experience in Idea Pharm, both sides know it’s a fit. And that’s helped us retain the talent we’ve hired.”

Idea Pharm students who don’t join the department at the end of the program still gain from their participation. If they complete the assignments, they’ll have a book of three or four campaigns and enjoy a sense of accomplishment in this achievement. They also have an opportunity to interview with a Group Creative Director and get invaluable feedback on their work. At the end of the class students are recognized officially at an award ceremony and instructors are also acknowledged. Clearly Idea Pharm is an excellent opportunity for everyone involved to learn more about marketing pharmaceuticals and enhance their creativity while doing so.

As Robin sees it, “There is a lot of work involved in getting a program like this off the ground. Persistence is absolutely key. But it’s worth every bit of the effort.”

    Make Your Internship Program an "A+" for Everyone

    For a company or non-profit group the success of an internship program depends on making it equally beneficial for your company and the interns you recruit. Here are some tips on how you can achieve both these goals:

    Get the most out of your program by planning ahead:

    1) Define your internal needs and how your interns will help you meet them
    2) Develop relationships with the career service departments of the schools you’d most like to recruit from
    3) Make sure everyone knows what the interns will be doing and for whom

    Attract the best and the brightest:

    1) Offer reasonable compensation since most students are concerned about the money
    2) Give interns meaningful work assignments consistent with their career goals, skill sets, and what you promised in the job description
    3) Be aware of your interns’ other academic requirements and commitments and be flexible enough to accommodate them whenever possible