Internal Internships- A Winning Well Best Practice

Have you ever been an intern? Have you ever hired an intern? 

There are many reasons to hire an intern. Sure some see it as a short-cut to cheap labor or to appease HR. 

But if you’ve ever been part of a great internship program–on either side of the desk– you know that it can be a fantastic job preview–an extensive 2-way interview process. It’s an opportunity to try before you buy.

Internships give interns the opportunity to ask:

  • Does this work align with my passion and purpose?
  • Are these my people? 
  • Can I see myself doing this every day?

Of course, employers are asking similar questions:

  • Does this kid have potential?
  • What unique contributions would they bring to our company?
  • Do they fit in?

Watching my MBA students in the great internship dance is fascinating. You can learn a lot about workplace culture and how to attract and retain millennial talent over a “How’s your internship going?” cup of coffee. (Even more over a beer.)

This observation is why I was so intrigued when I bumped into this best practice while I was doing some Winning Well consulting. 

The senior leadership team had sent me to this location to understand what was going so right and to help them spread it to their other locations. The list of Winning Well best practices was healthy, but this one struck me most.  And it’s going in our next book.

The Power of Internal Internships

The strong culture was keeping people there, but there was also a bit of stagnation. Employees were getting comfortable in their roles and afraid a lateral move would impact their performance rating or earning potential if they were not successful.

So the manager built an Internal Internship program. Employees could raise their hand to intern in another role for two weeks. They would receive some training, shadow, take on some tasks, and finally “try on” the job. No commitment. No risk. No guarantees. 

If after two weeks, everyone loves it, they are encouraged to apply for the next open position.  If they tried it and hated it, at least they knew without a lot of sunk costs or time on either end.

Benefits of Internal Internship

  • Exponentially more discussion around career pathing, even for those who didn’t decide to intern.
  • Frank career path conversations: “No, you cannot do an internship with that attendance record. Let’s get that cleaned up first.”
  • A broader understanding of the big picture. “Oh, that’s why they do it that way.”
  • Increased collaboration across departments, with more folks having walked a mile in the other guy’s shoes.
  • Improved morale and retention. More people seeing a future–not just a job, but a career.

When I asked the manager about the ROI, she was all in. The value of getting the right people in the right seats, performing well, far surpassed the additional time and effort her team spent on the program.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Winning Well.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

3 Comments

  1. I love the thought of the substantial role that interns play day-to-day. Allowing that opportunity for a mentee to explore their potential, while growing themselves and the business. As a current intern for a large department on a university campus, I have been giving humongous opportunities to try my hand that my employer/mentor does not have time for otherwise. My challenge to all those reading is if possible, opening up that chance to bring in a mentee, allow yourself to grow through them. Do they bring in new ideas that you haven’t thought of before? Are they challenging you with a standpoint that you may not see currently? When you bring in a fresh set of ideas, you have the potential to open your eyes to aspects of the business that you have not explored before.

  2. I love your idea of internal internships…the FBI routinely transfers agents to new squads every few months so they get a taste of how other squads work and whether or not they would find a better fit in another type of investigation. It’s a win-win for everyone!

    • Thanks so much, LaRae. I’m always so interested to learn from your experiences in the FBI.

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