The Internship Challenge

Jun 18, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 6.37.44 AMLast weekend I had the pleasure of seeing the witty comedy The Internship starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. I went to this movie to experience the dynamic duo from the Wedding Crashers again, but I discovered the movie paralleled an important aspect of my job as a recruiter and university recruiting subject matter expert.

When the general population hears the word “intern,” they often think of the 21-year-old you recruit to file your papers, get your coffee, and complete those other tedious tasks you’d rather not spend your time doing. While this stereotypical view of internships has evolved, there are still internship programs in need of revamping. And The Internship provided some fresh ideas about how to do that.

The movie opened up with two jocular sales executives exhibiting typical “used car salesman” personalities. Due to the economic downturn, they lose their jobs and are forced to venture into the jungle we call the “job search.” They stumble upon an opportunity to interview with Google for a chance at being accepted into an internship program. But the internship program management team discredits their experience and collegiate background, almost sending the applicants to the rejection pile. In the end, the team decides to give the two former salesmen a shot at proving themselves.

Don’t worry; this is not a movie review. But the movie did encompass the true meaning of a well-thought-out internship program. It showed hiring managers that taking time to develop a fun but meaningful internship program is worthwhile. It also sent the message that candidates who do not fit the culture should be weeded out, and taking a chance on students who don’t come from Ivy League schools can pay off. Sometimes those candidates have bigger hearts and more to lose.

I’m not going to lie; the Google campus is amazing! In addition to volleyball courts, free food in the cafeteria (which Vaughn’s character thoroughly enjoys) and nap pods, headquarters exemplifies “Googliness,” a term repeated several times throughout the movie. But the campus isn’t the most impressive part of the movie; the internship program is! Management selects close to 100 interns from across the nation and houses them on campus for an entire summer as they participate in a grueling competition for only a few entry-level opportunities.

On their first day, the interns learn about company culture and etiquette and develop their teams for the summer. They participate in challenges to encourage the teams to collaborate to develop phone apps and sell advertising space; they even have an athletic challenge of quidditch (à la Harry Potter)! The interns are also asked to man the help lines for an hour, which is considered one of the most challenging roles in the company. This is where things get heated! This really lets you see which interns have the heart for the job and fit in with the company culture.

So, how can you use this movie to inspire change in your internship program?

I would like to extend a challenge to all hiring managers and recruiters involved in creating and managing internship programs. Next time you go into your planning meeting, think about more than how many hours a week your interns will work. If you’re really looking for the best of the best, take a chance on students who have a different background or come from a different university than your typical interns. Develop a program that allows students to become absorbed in your culture while they work together on meaningful team projects (and have a little bit of fun!).

It might take some time and effort up front to create the program that will best benefit your company, but you’ll be surprised at the quality of interns interested in the positions and what an impact to the company they can make. You’ll be able to witness who the “fighters” are and which potential hires truly care about your business. Now, channel your inner “Googliness.”


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