When I was a student I don’t think I ever even heard the word internship, let alone felt the need to do one during my summer holidays. Whenever I required some cash to supplement my pocket money or grant (yes, I was lucky enough to go to university when they still existed), I would simply go and get a job – picking up lifelong lessons about the world of business along the way while collecting discarded trolleys in a supermarket car park, selling petrol and cigarettes in a gas station, and gutting turkeys in a slaughter house.
I was quite taken aback, therefore, to see the pressure that my two daughters were under to secure internships during their final years at high school and during their time at college. It certainly brought home to me how much more competitive life is for young people these days compared to when I was finding my way in the world. Whereas I was paid for the work experience that I gained, with many internships young people now have to give their time for free to obtain it (and continue to draw from the bank of Mum and Dad to fund them.)
In principle, internships are a very good idea. If they are thoughtfully designed and implemented, they can benefit both the intern by giving them valuable work experience and the company that hires them by providing them with an opportunity to identify potential talent and fresh new ideas and insights from a different perspective. Having recently welcomed my third group of summer interns to the VIA Marketing department, here are some thoughts on how to make it a win-win experience for both parties:
1.) Give your interns real projects that have an impact on the business rather than make-work tasks like filing or online database searches. In addition, try to define a key deliverable that marks the end of the project and provides concrete evidence of achievement, such as a report, an eBook, a website, or even a product prototype, that your interns can point to after they have left. Even better, define some clear metrics that your interns can work towards while they are working for you. “I increased xx by xx% over two months” looks a lot more impressive on a resume or job application than “I completed a two-month internship.”
2.) Treat your interns as part of your team. While you obviously need to be careful about protecting confidential information, strive to let them participate in as many department meetings and activities as possible. Encourage them to take part in discussions rather than sitting in silence. They will probably be able to provide you with useful ideas and perspectives that you have never considered.
3.) Provide your interns with reasonable financial support. While it might be tempting to offer unpaid internships, this automatically limits the pool of available candidates and excludes those who can’t afford to undertake one for free. At VIA, we offer our interns a stipend that covers basic living expenses as well as free accommodation for those who come from overseas. If that level of support is not feasible, at the very least transportation and food expenses should be covered.
I feel very lucky to have three amazing young interns from Berkeley and the University of Illinois join our marketing team this summer to work with our VPai 360-degree camera promotions. In addition to helping to build up our social media presence, they have also been out and about in Taipei learning how to use the cameras and shooting their own content. You can read about their first date with VPai here.
For their next major project, Joyce, Tiffany, and Benoit will be heading down to Taitung to take 360-degree footage of the famous Balloon Festival there. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that.