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Internships – Who Benefits More, Intern or Company?
Of all the requests we receive, the only type which exceeds those seeking employment are those seeking internships. Both types spring from youthful exuberance about the work we show on our website and an eagerness to participate in the career of their dreams.
Marketing is probably one of the most popular job choices, especially since it can represent so many avenues of creativity and personal challenge, not to mention financial reward. For a young person grappling with both the responsibilities of fulfilling college requirements and focusing on a lifelong profession, it isn’t hard to understand why a marketing internship sounds very appealing. However, with visions of Hollywood glamour dancing in their heads, few students find the optimal internship experience they are looking for.
Not only is the ideal internship few and far between, it is now more common to find that it now rarely offers payment for today’s student efforts. In fact, with the unemployment rate within this age group flirting with 20%, it has become increasingly common for some internships to require students to pay a fee to apply and, if selected, to pay even more handsomely to participate. In addition, while a good number of internships offer positions but no pay, another variety of internship is described as “virtual,” meaning the students participate from their own location, skipping the once usual need to travel halfway around the world for the truly coveted worldly experience.
From a company standpoint, internships can be a drain of corporate time, creative effort and disruption of production but are offered as a way to reinforce positive public relations and company benevolence. After all, the conscientious commercial environment that welcomes interns into their hallowed bastions of concept and creation would hardly wish to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of these hungry babes, hoping instead that they will return home with stories of fulfillment and fervor, delivering the company’s preferred message to the intended public target market.
That isn’t the only reason some companies encourage internships, though. For some, it is a way to capitalize on youthful energy to satisfy the need to fill a position for very little or no money. Often these are the programs that give internships a bad name. Student accounts of time spent running insipid errands or acting as staff “gofers” do little to instill confidence in the hearts of diligent candidates, and by extension, their paying parents.
That brings us to our program, which happens to be a virtual internship, neither paid for the student nor free for the taking, but one of significant substance and desirable reputation. Although it once was offered at no charge out of the generosity of our company spirit, a lack of available time regrettably changed our policy. While students who apply must meet rigorous standards of academic achievement and ability, the range of possibilities for internship focus are practically unlimited since the student can choose from any number of marketing tasks, which involve visual or textual applications, can be self-generated or dictated by our company, and offer concentrated, individual attention from a seasoned, successful expert in the field. Candidates must be able to communicate via email at a professional level with our company’s internship advisor, sending work accomplished for review at specifically scheduled intervals. To qualify for school credit and internship completion, our company is also required to report student progress to the school’s advisor with a full assessment of overall performance to conclude the experience.
The first student to apply was in his junior year at the University of California at Berkeley. Of Asian descent with English as his second language, he stated that although he could apply for school credits, he was not interested in that aspect of the internship. Rather, he wanted to study marketing with a professional who could help prepare him for his ultimate goal: the development of an innovative product to benefit humanity in third world countries where clean drinking water was in short supply and an issue critical to survival. His invention was a bottle which purified every pollutant out of any source of water including seawater through a series of filters and could be carried easily, reused multiple times and be affordable to the poverty-stricken masses who could use it. His plan after graduation was to start an investor- and family-funded company, manufacture in South America, and ship to Africa and Asia where he would market the product and orchestrate a donation program through various global organizations like the Red Cross. With a maturity and comportment of the highest caliber, this student was clearly out of the ordinary, obediently meeting our every request on time and with obvious diligence. Carrying a full course load, he nonetheless delivered internship projects once a week, developing with our guidance product name, logo and tagline, along with billboard for both outdoor and Internet usage. Since he needed to ultimately present his concept to the investment community, we recommended the preparation of a business plan for which he needed to present his product, its benefits, its construction, and its scientific documentation and proof of authenticity, as well as research all projected startup costs, followed by projections of income for the initial periods of operation. During these exercises, it became increasingly apparent that his “invention” already existed and was being actively marketed on a worldwide scale by major corporate entities, revealing the enormous expenses involved to take a product like this to market, and making this internship more of a learning experience than an actual precursor to a lifelong career path. Disappointed but never discouraged, he opted to terminate the internship after five months of concerted effort by informing us that he had been accepted into a new on-site program where he could pursue his evolving interest. In a recent email, he wrote:
“I have not been able to launch my vision due to similar products in the market, but my internship with you has led me to an interest in environmental economics and public health. I will be working this summer for an organization that installs solar panels within rural villages in the Philippines. I just wanted to thank you for your mentorship that certainly has had a large role in getting me this far.”
The second student to apply was a junior at the State University of New York at Albany, the daughter of a client, with an interest in marketing. Although such a scenario might suggest preferential treatment, nothing could be farther from the truth. Considering her school’s meticulous internship standards and her father’s professional goals for her, we knew our most disciplined and uncompromising effort would be expected. But unlike our first student, she needed to be told exactly what was expected of her, from program content to strict deadline. As a communications major, she chose to apply her writing skills to a series of six major-length articles on a range of topics we proposed. Somewhat disillusioned with her lack of command of the English language, to say the least, we slogged through six weeks of arduous editing, instructions for rewrites, explanations of errors and correct usage, further editing and need for more rewrites, concluding each episode as a “learning experience” with the goal of perfecting her efforts in the next topic. For a student to undergo such unrelenting criticism within a free internship which would reap her nothing beyond a few school credits for which she probably had no monetary appreciation since her father was obviously footing her college bill, she deserved a lot of credit for maintaining her composure, pleasant disposition and polite grateful attitude throughout. In fact, when we finally got through the final article which admittedly was an improvement over the others but still rife with the same old previously-corrected errors, we were obligated to report the entire less-than-perfect experience to her school advisor as well as her father when he asked. Shocked to find out from both sources that this student has a severe learning disability, we were told they viewed the internship as a major success. Having never been told of this condition, we wondered whether we had been too hard on her but from the consensus of opinion, we believed we had acted professionally and had managed to elevate her performance to a higher level than everyone believed possible. Her final note of thanks touched our hearts.
“Your comments to my advisor were very sweet and I appreciate your kind words. I am truly grateful for all of your efforts on my behalf. Thank you for helping me become a better writer.”
So, who benefits more, intern or company? From the two student internships reviewed above, I believe we delivered something valuable for which we were aptly commended. But from our point of view, there is no honor greater than seeing the fruits of our efforts contributing to the development of a young mind for which the future holds so much promise.
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