What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ursula Burns, Tony Adams and Andrea Jung have in common? All are successful CEOs. All are heads of profitable, respected companies. And believe it or not, they all got their start as interns. If a business is questioning whether or not interns add value, consider this: would you have passed up having talent (albeit burgeoning and developing) of this caliber? Whether or not the next Ursula Burns walks through the doors, interns can assist with important projects and bring resources, creativity and energy to the table.
I'm a big believer in the value of interns. I've gone to different graduate schools and looked through databases of student resumes, searching for people who could help me do market research, financial analysis and other projects. It's one of the smartest moves a business can make. Here's why:
- They're good at it. That's the bottom line. I always talk about A players. Here, you want A students. These young people know how to do research. If they've made it to the graduate level, they're adept with computers, with finding and using different resources, with writing reports, with analysis.
So, it's a great deal for the company. But what about the intern? Recently, internships, particularly unpaid, have received a great deal of scrutiny. Is it fair to them? Are they being worked too hard, and is the return not worth their investment? There has got to be something in it for the intern. Here are a few ways that I made sure internships were as valuable for the intern as for the company:
- Titles. I typically don't call people "interns." I call them my "financial analysts" or my "market research assistants." This allows them to put something more concrete and professional on their resumes.
Another Word on Pay
Intern pay is becoming a sticky legal issue. In 2012, unpaid interns who worked on the movie Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for violating minimum wage laws. A New York Federal Court judge ruled in their favor. In 2014 an intern for Alexander McQueen filed suit for the same reason, and there are sure to be more. While not all unpaid internships are illegal, companies need to be cautious -- and ethical. This is someone who is working for them. Why not pay them?
A caveat to that: I was a professor and taught a number of foreign students who were required to do an internship. To meet the terms of their agreement in coming to the US, those internships had to be unpaid. And sometimes, students want or need experience in a particular field and are willing to sacrifice pay. Say a student wants to work with a venture capitalist or a commercial contractor, for instance, but firms are not hiring. He may decide that the experience is worth more than a paycheck -- and the firm is unlikely to turn down this free help. If this is his choice, more power to him. It's his decision. If a company, however, approaches people and asks them to work unpaid, they're taking advantage of them. It's that simple.
Qualified interns are a tremendous asset to companies. They are not free or cheap labor: they are contributors who bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and enthusiasm into the office.
Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor and coach. Today, as one of DC's premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Contact Mike for an executive coaching session.