I continue to be amazed at the response from readers on the topic of internships.
My colleague, Aaron Wolowiec, founder of Event Garde, posted on Collaborate, a private social network for members of the American Society of Association Executives, that I was looking for examples of successful internship programs. And examples I got. Lots of them.
Associations aren’t usually top of mind for students looking for internships, said Todd Von Deak, president and founder of Philadelphia-based TVD Associates, but they should be. Interns often think associations are run solely by volunteers and are therefore broke. But perhaps with better networking and marketing, associations could change that.
“Internship programs can help associations extend their staff in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible and the pipeline for identifying and vetting full-time hires can’t be underestimated,” he said. “We work in a profession that isn’t necessarily the first idea for a new graduate of where they want to work, but internship programs tell local communities that associations are a viable career option. We as an industry have to be doing more of that.”
Before founding his own association management firm, Von Deak’s association was named co-employer of the year at Drexel University. In 10 years, it employed about 125 interns.
He recently wrote about internships for the magazine of the Mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives. In that article, Lisa DeLuca, associate director of career services at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, offered some insight.
For starters, DeLuca suggests associations:
• Reach out to on-campus career center staff
• Hire interns and co-ops. Students on campus talk, and word of mouth matters.
• Encourage alumni on staff to return to campus to share their knowledge
In that same article, Von Deak referenced a recent study by GradStaff, which suggested the cost to fill and train a new employee could run an organization more than $10,000.
Given that, it makes sense to create a pipeline of talent to the organizations: interns. Essentially, associations can engage a team of talent scouts who will steer some of the best students to consider the organization.
Von Deak’s interns earned a stipend, but weren’t paid otherwise. But he admitted that trend is changing.
“They would do a period of administrative tasks each day, but at the same time, they would write, develop promotions, lead work sessions and even pitch to our CEO,” he said. “I’ve always felt that an intern’s ideas are as good as anyone’s. The only thing the full timer has is perhaps a little more of an appreciation and understanding of how to make an idea work within the context of their company.”
And then there’s Frances Reimers, senior account executive at PCI, a marketing and creative production agency in Alexandria, Va.
PCI pays its interns $10 per hour. In the three years since the inception of its internship program, PCI has employed six interns, all of whom assisted with marketing, idea creation and pitching and research. Reimers looks for students who aren’t afraid to speak up and who have the confidence to hit the ground running.
To find interns, PCI advertises on local university websites and uses social media to engage. And from there, it’s about being prepared.
“Make sure you have a dedicated staff person with the right managerial skills to work with young adults,” Reimers said. “Have a formal plan in place to hire, train and manage interns. Just like any other employee, they need guidance, goals and direction to be provided by their employer. And provide interns an opportunity at the end of their time with you to voice their opinion about their experience – and listen to what they say. Finally, provide your interns a seat at the table – they have great ideas.”
“Feedback from our interns tells me they enjoy the professional, high-energy environment, the coaching and mentoring they receive from their manager and the opportunity to learn more about VisitPittburgh. For the students: Don’t be afraid of non-paid internships, as many times the knowledge you gain far outweighs the short-term loss in wages. Also, make sure you learn about the entire organization, not just the department in which you’re interning. For employers: Commitment from the president and senior management must be in place for the internship program to be successful.”
– Jason Fulvi, executive vice president, VisitPITTSBURGH
“Being an intern at Hargrove helped me establish a terrific professional foundation. I learned a lot of organizational skills, how to use email and all the basic computer software. I learned the terminology of our business, how to manage a budget and how to interact with clients. The internship was a great opportunity because I could demonstrate my value. I’m not the best in an interview or on a test, so this way I could prove to Hargrove that I would be successful.”
– Renee Spragg, national account manager, Hargrove (a trade show, exhibit and event company in Lanham, Md.)
Thanks to everyone who provided insight, advice and examples. I may write about this topic in the future, especially as we watch the repercussions of the Black Swan case unfold. So please keep the feedback coming.