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A Case for Internships

I've created a number of internship programs over the past two decades, and

Eight years ago I hired the three women in the picture for software development internships at the tech startup I recruited for. None of them fit the stereotypical mold of 'traditional intern'. 1) Electrical engineering major who stumbled upon our table at a career fair. 2) While she was a computer science major, yes, she was only 15...and working towards her BS after homeschooling (I saw her speak at an event and recruited her on the spot). 3) Hired post-grad, with a degree was in Linguistics from a small liberal arts college.

What happened post-internship to the three of them?

1) After graduation she was hired on full time and most recently worked in healthcare technology as a software engineer.

2) After getting her PhD, she is now a post-doctoral researcher for a prestigious university, focusing on human-robot interaction (dang!).

3) Post-internship, she was hired on full time, and is now a Senior Software Engineer at an established tech company.

I've hired interns of all ages, backgrounds and colors, and write this to remind folks - both those who are members of a hiring team or as jobseekers - you don't have to be a 19 year old college student with a certain major to intern. Internships are awesome opportunities to not only learn, but get that foot in the door to a company. Applying for internships is all about preparation and presentation.

At the tech startup I mentioned earlier, I built their formal internship program, partnering with the teams to identify opportunities where companies could really benefit from entry level support while providing a great learning environment – the best of both worlds. The success of this program proved without a doubt that even small organizations can benefit from interns, who, if you know how to do it, can serve as a HUGE asset, letting the senior folks do, well, senior work.

To design the program, I enlisted the help of two Senior Engineers to take on the technical aspects of the work they'd be doing - one was my sidekick at job fairs, the other did the technical interview and designed their day-to-day work. Once they were hired, he took a week away from his normal work and served as their mentor, getting them up and running and learning the software, contributing to the code by week's end (Note: none of them came in knowing the software. Instead they were articulate, had learned or self-taught how to create clean code, and proved to be solid problem solvers - all key for the type of work and culture at the company). The program was so successful that after I became a consultant, I teamed up with my former colleague to presented to a startup consortium downtown to show other startups how to do it. These women assisted a very busy startup get the help they needed in areas where it wasn’t appropriate to be allocating senior staff’s time...and proved to be a smart business move.

Thinking about internships made me reflect on the 30+ interns I’ve hired over the years, and so I reached out to them and asked, what would your advice as a former intern be to folks out there?  And here was one of the great responses I thought I’d share that I thought was particularly cool…

“I was on a completely different career path and had a full-time job with benefits. However, I was completely miserable and had been trying to break into a career in tech/marketing and just didn’t have the experience, so I was willing to take the risk. I’m definitely glad I did, because I received a full-time job offer from the company a few months later! I really recommend doing an internship if you’re stuck in a rut and realize that the career you’ve been pursuing isn’t for you — yes, it’s scary and there’s a lot of uncertainty, but it’s better than being secure and completely miserable.”

Hope this provided a little bit of inspiration for those contemplating internships, career changes, and more! For some additional tips in career development for those already working, check out the article I was featured in, 5 Genius Ways to Better Your Career by Leveraging the Job You Already Have.

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