Five Lessons to Take Away from the Industry’s Most Coveted Internship Programs

Arvind Mehrotra

In a country (India) where unemployment and underemployment are a growing concern, I cannot overstress the crucial role played by internship programs. They serve as a stepping stone between theoretical education and real-world application, equipping students with networking, communication, relationship-building skills, professional skills, practical knowledge and experience learning, personal growth challenging to transfer in a classroom environment. Granted that access to internship programs is still limited in India, I believe there is a real potential for broader reach and democratization in the coming years, well beyond the handful of currently covered institutions.Indeed, between 2019 and 2020, the number of students applying for internships increased by 35%, according to a report by Internshala. New startups are born to address this opportunity of Online Internships like Internshape. Despite a raging pandemic, 76,000 young professionals were eager to get a headstart on their careers with work from home internship programs and gain an advantage in professional life in a largely unfavourable (or at least competitive) labour environment. How can India Inc. rise to meet this demand and support Internship projects?

There are five key lessons to learn from these leading corporates, recognised for their excellent internship programs for the last few decades:

1. Ensure a flat workplace hierarchy like Goldman Sachs

Internships are all about participation, involvement, and hands-on learning, practical learning and development, to grow from personal capabilities, and seek professional skills which in turn hinge on a feeling of inclusivity — a flat workplace hierarchy segments employees based on specialization, function and competitive job market. Workplace hierarchy by seniority, rank, or salary bracket makes it difficult for interns to adjust in the organization’s professional experience. It is crucial to make it easier for interns to ask queries and learn faster in an open environment, empathising with co-workers and even aspiring to be in their shoes.

2. Offer regular, personalised feedback like Facebook

Facebook has a highly structured internship program that doubles up a rigorous training period for future employees. There are boot camps, summer projects, self-reviews, and peer reviews, with feedback at every level. Make sure to share 360-degree feedback from the direct manager, project team members, peers, and the recruiter responsible for the intern to aid in what Facebook calls “calibration” –essentially upskilling and revisiting priorities to ensure later fitment.

3. Mimic a real-world work environment like Amazon

If you handhold an employee through the internship period, it is unlikely that you will be able to gauge their actual readiness, cultural fitment, and skill levels (particularly intangible ones like problem-solving). That’s why Amazon is careful about placing their interns at the deep end from day one, with proper guidance for personal and professional development. It includes a dynamic, frequently changing team, networking expectations, deadlines, and corporate behavioural protocols.

4. Broadbase project participation like PayTM

Broadcasting an intern across multiple projects in professional life— often of different specialities and functional ownership — can indicate where someone would be the best fit. The intern also needs to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the company as a whole instead of a single focus area of conceptual knowledge. Assigning interns to diverse projects can be challenging, making sure you train managers on this specific aspect.

5: Remote Internship enabled by companies like ESRI

In an article written by Kaelyn Lynch in RippleMatch, “For the employers that were able to keep their internship programs running, they were tasked with figuring out everything from remote work logistics to programming changes to online community building.” She analysed many companies who excelled in the remote internship during the pandemic. To see more detail click the link in RippleMatch to understand virtual interrnships. I am bringing out a case study from the same article of a company I am pretty familiar with, i.e. ESRI. ESRI decided to continue the internship program and made it virtual. The key to the success of remote internship was upping communication key to success. To ensure that interns received the one-on-one mentorship they hoped for, HR planning took into account. The company thus set up daily events with workshops around different themes for undergraduate and graduate internships.

While internships can significantly improve a person’s employability and job satisfaction, they are also a stressful time. Particularly for corporates, 

1 in 3 

interns said they were stressed (incidentally, the same holds for just 14% of doctor-interns). These five takeaways can help you fine tune your existing internship program or even start one in 2021, tapping into India’s massive and interested talent base in a competitive job market.