Before June 2008 I didn't even believe in internships.
This post is my personal history on how I came to be an intern at 40yrs old, and how I learned to appreciate and capitalize on internships.
In 2003 I left a great job SunGard. I was a young executive in charge of their primary electronic derivative trading product line, MicroHedge AutoQuote. I was respected and confident, but I didn't have a college degree. So I left that job and started up my academic career at Cal Berkeley. I felt it would improve my ability to move forward professionally, and eliminate the awkwardness about 'where did you go to school?' questions.
I graduated from Cal Berkeley in June 2008, with high honors. Good news - no more awkward answers to where did you go to school questions. Bad news - I also quickly learned that in terms of professionally moving forward my education pit stop did the opposite of what I had hoped for. I couldn't buy a job. Eventually I tried internships, and couldn't get those either. A dark time.
July 2008 I applied to an internship at AlphaBird. AlphaBird was two enthusiastic guys with a shaky little ad-tech startup. I was the only applicant to show up for the interview. I got the internship. None of us knew what we were doing. There was no process or training. My job was to get an objective and figure it out, which I learned to do. I learned a lot. A lot about ad-tech, and even more about me.
As AlphaBird began to grow we quickly realized that we needed more interns to work with me. With some success in the business, attracting interns became easier. Actually having them is exactly where the problems started. Most college students didn't have sufficient training in basic business skills. Excel, PowerPoint, online planning tools, even writing a well formed business email were missing. I went from doing all the work, to doing all the work and trying to train other interns to do the work too. Double duty. Miserable. Within 3 months all other interns were cut loose. They didn't bring the right skills and we didn't have the time or resources to properly train them. Double loss.
By this point I knew two things. My personal experience as an intern worked great. My ability to help other interns be productive was terrible. In short, I was the problem, and it was my responsibility to create a better solution. Which I did. I started carving out time from my actual work to document the process of what I was doing in a simple, visual, step by step set of methods. I used Google Slides to capture the steps. I would insert screen shots with simple circles, arrows, and text to illustrate process. In the beginning it was a pretty big challenge to create these process / training documents and the results were 'ok' at best.
After creating a bunch of process and training docs things started to click. I started feel satisfied with the work and the results. With confidence on the rise I brought in another batch of interns. The results were far better. First, intern candidates could review exactly what the job was going to be. It moved the interview process from an awkward dialog to a direct and meaningful conversation based on a clear understanding of what they could deliver day to day, and what we would expect from them. Interns who did accept positions were (mostly) productive on day one. Great outcome.
The next step I took was to train the interns to also create process / training documentation. Like me most interns found creating process / training docs a challenge at first, and then adapted pretty quickly. Eventually we created a meritocracy based deal program. The deal was if you wanted to move up to another work area you had to create and provide the training docs to the person who would fill your existing responsibilities, and the person who had the role you wanted had to do the same for you. 'Train your replacement'. This was our biggest win yet. It totally created incentive to move forward by producing high value process docs, and it did something very cool and unanticipated. A happy accident. The happy accident was that interns began to compile their process work into mini portfolios. I/we were able to quickly review an interns training docs and see how well they understood things, where they needed help, what they were good at, and where they were exceeding expectations. In other words, I could spend 10min and see if someone was ready for a promotion. Increased motivation, increased output.
Some interns stayed and became part of the company as employees, others used their learnings and their portfolios to get other jobs.
I eventually became COO of AlphaBird and helped the company get an acquisition offer over $100M. After leaving AlphaBird I engaged in several other successful ventures. In all cases I brought across my internship program. And began to employ the training processes with all those who reported to me. One of my earliest interns in still with me as a business leader and partner.
CrossPrep, my current venture is a bit of a different story. We are taking the the internship and training program to a new level. We have greatly enhanced our focus on portfolio based learning and philanthropy. With these two program optimizations we are now able to vastly extend the scope and value of the program in all directions. Very satisfying.
Portfolio based learning is a concept where interns begin and end all projects within an organized sharable portfolio. The portfolio is obviously shared with CrossPrep staff, who also officiate the results. More importantly it becomes a total portfolio including any assets desired that interns can share with their future employers and business partners. I have done a lot of hiring in my career. A resume and 30min interview are not the stuff of good decision making. Being able to look at a well organized portfolio or real working assets is optimal. Furthermore, on hiring a candidate every employer dreads the training period. Training means cutting the production of whomever has to do training. Very costly. As an employer if I can look at candidate's portfolio and see direct evidence that they can create process documents about what they learn from me I am really motivated to move forward with them knowing they will save me time on my next hire. It's an uncommon and high value skill.
So why are we training people and even encouraging them to share their portfolios with other potential employers? Our advantage is that we get an inside look at who is kicking ass in the right areas for our business and can offer them employment as desired in real-time. The interns advantage is that they can demonstrate skills above their competition for jobs by leveraging their advantage. In the end we all get the best fit. Best fit equals best output. Everyone does well.
Doing good. Professor Arthur Blaustein told me and an overflowing class full of students that he had a single goal for us. He wanted us to leave Berkeley with the desire and tools to 'do good and well'. In business the obvious goal is to do well, earn profit, grow industriously - while also doing good for others who are in need. I really took to the idea. However, it's a tough thing to actually do. It requires a mindset change. BTW - Tom's Shoes is a great example. In my case I knew the internship program was sort of accomplishing that. I also knew I wanted to do more. CrossPrep is where that next evolution is taking shape.
Our philanthropy program is based on having a clear problem, addressable market, resources to create an effective solution, and a tangible benefit.
- The Problem is that volunteer based 'good works' organizations struggle to attain people who can help with higher level Jr executive work load.
- The addressable market is literally thousands of organizations with a large range of under staffed needs.
- The solution resources are interns. At CrossPrep our internship program operates like as a consulting business that specializes in 'good works' clients. The entire operation is run by inters with CrossPrep staff as oversight and assistance. It's really a business in itself. The functions are HR/Recruiting, Marketing/Business Development, and Consulting Specialist. Marketing and BD find organizations and opportunities, HR staffs the needs with the right Consulting Specialists, and the Consulting Specialists execute that actual work and call of CrossPrep staff as needed.
Our interns benefit from real world, high level work experience, recruiting, and demonstrated charity.
CrossPrep benefits from being part of something great and good market exposure.
And of course the organizations we help in turn help individuals and communities who need it most.
If your thinking about an internship please look into one of our programs.
Or, if your already in business and/or involved in a philanthropic endeavor and looking for some ideas on how to up shift your internship program feel free to connect with me via LinkedIN.
Justin Manes | www.linkedin.com/in/justinmanes