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Why internship programs FAIL

internship programs fail

When well-intentioned internship programs fail

If you are going to provide an internship program to a candidate in school or just graduating, don’t think you are doing them or anyone a favor by allowing them to file your papers or run the Xerox machine. Yes, I know it is a tough economy, and “some” experience is better than none, but no one wins when we make an intern your little slave for the summer.  Yes, we all dream of little hot/handsome interns getting our coffee, but if this is how we are going to educate our next generation, then don’t complain when they fail at running our companies and government. This is their first insight into the working world, make it a good one.

If you are hiring an intern because you need cheap labor for a crappy job and can rationalize it because you think the intern is going to “gain valuable experience”, think again. 

If you have a manager that will mentor the intern, want to establish a recruiting tool and brand at your local college, and intend to follow-up, then post the position.    

I think internship programs are a great thing, especially in this economy. When we look at a resume of someone coming out of school, we appreciate this sort of experience. We don’t care if it is painting houses or working in the marketing department of ACME Corp. Working through school shows that the candidate didn’t just study.  Internships hint to the real initiative, time management skills, ability to prioritize, and dedication to name just a few. Honestly, I don’t even care what they did at the internship. I actually take it for granted that most companies do nothing for the intern.  But an internship on a resume shows the candidate isn’t just slacking off during the summer and received some exposure to a company culture.  They will have some idea of what to expect in the real world. Triple AAA ball before the Majors.   

If you are going to provide an internship program, think about the intern and ask yourself, WHAT BULLET POINTS WILL THE INTERN BE ABLE TO LIST ON THEIR RESUME when this gig is done. If you are contemplating an internship, think about what you will be able to add to your resume at the end of the position before you accept.  

If all they have to show for their time is filing, mailing, stapling and running the Xerox machine, then HR failed.  The company has failed.  If the resume says “attended project meetings” the company FAILED. If they can list that they participated in a 4-week project doing research on financial projections, products, or had a role in launching a product, that is something worth putting down on the resume.        

If you are an HR person/ manager reading the above and thinking “this dumbass just doesn’t know how to come up with the right bullets on their resume”, then YOU FAILED.  Interns are not supposed to know how to write a resume. HELP THEM!  An intern may not know what they are missing if they don’t receive any help. They don’t know any better. But I believe they WILL recognize anyone taking the time out of their schedule to help them with these details.     

We are talking about an intern.  How should they know better?  If they knew better, they wouldn’t be an INTERN!  They would be a savant genius and employed full-time in a think tank. The company, the Manager, the HR person should help this intern understand the value of what they are getting out the tasks assigned and either help them with the resume bullet points OR, help them understand what they are getting out of these assignments so they can write a worthwhile resume.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to put down quantifiable actions on their resume. 

Below are a few real-world bullet points coming from the experience where the intern didn’t realize what they were getting or wasn’t mentored on how to list the accomplishment:

  • Ran excel reports
  • Sat in on project meetings
  • Helped run the annual golf tournament

Better examples of bullet points for an intern:

  • Compiled data on customer turnover using Excel. This project helped determine 3 alternatives for retaining customers longer and increased retention by 10%. 
  • Recorded and compiled notes during weekly Scrum meetings for the Agile development team. Learned development life cycle, recorded team hours, and entered bugs into Bug Tracking system.
  • Worked with the Marketing team to coordinate company events including the annual Golf Tournaments with a budget of $100,000.00.  Ensured that guests learned about company products via personal presentations and marketing collateral handouts.   

I think that one of the most valuable things that a company can do for an intern is to teach them “how to write a resume” and “how to interview”. This shouldn’t come from a Professor who hasn’t had to interview for 10-20 years, let alone face Corporate America. Done well, this is a skill that will stick with an individual for a long time. The classes can be geared toward getting a job with your specific company based on the culture and values that your company looks for. I don’t think this can be accomplished in 2-3 hours.   

If you are an HR person or a Manager asking me “Why would I help someone go to the competition?” FAIL!  If you do your job right, if you provide that intern a valuable, challenging experience, and you set them up with tips on how to interview with YOUR company, WHY WOULDN”T THEY COME BACK?

Every hire is the opportunity for your company to make a lasting impact on ANY employee, but this is the interns first real job, and “everyone remembers their first” (real job).  Make it so the memories are ones you want your company associated with.  


What to wear to an interview

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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