Listen to the podcast here.
The helicopter parenting trend made unpaid internships very popular for the Millennial generation. Well-meaning, high-achieving parents thought that giving their children experience in a professional environment would give them a leg up on their college and job applications. They reached through their networks to find friends and family members in positions of power to give their children experiences in highly specialized fields.
Internships moved toward being unpaid because the students didn’t yet have the skills or knowledge to contribute significantly to the organization and they didn’t want to do menial work. Rather, they were looking for educational experiences.
When this trend caught on, it became normal and even expected for students to have flashy unpaid internships listed on their resumes under “work experience.” The problem was, the internships often did not really include work experience.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor added new language to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to protect students from having to do any work when they are not paid for it. Currently, unpaid internships in the U.S. are legally required to be “for the benefit of the intern,” not the employer. Students have since expected internships to be fun and exciting, not tedious and boring as work often is.
The problem is, much of the time, work is tedious and boring. It’s why we get paid to do it. Taking on an unpaid internship to indulge in fun and education doesn’t prepare someone for a job. In fact, it does just the opposite. It sets up false expectations of work.
I recently had a graduate-student intern who was learning what it was like to become an instructor. One day she called me with less than 24 hours notice to tell me she couldn’t teach her portion of a class she had taken on because she had too much schoolwork.
I was not pleased. I saw it as a failure to follow through on a commitment. She never even thought to apologize. Instead, she said she was sorry to miss an opportunity for an experience.
The question was, what kind of experience was she hoping to gain? Did she want to learn what it’s like to teach a class? If so, the most fundamental lesson is to show up. On-time and prepared are the second two lessons. You can be a great executive trainer, but if you miss any of these three pieces, you are likely to get fired.
Unlike unpaid internships, paid work is for the benefit of the employer, subject to many employment laws. Thus, it is important to understand that unpaid interns are not necessarily learning what it means to work. And that’s exactly where the problem lies. Instead of requiring companies to create exciting showcases of jobs for students to get unpaid experiences, it might be more useful to go back to paying students to get real on-the-job experience—a win-win.
But would students want this kind of experience? After all, many students don’t take paid jobs precisely because they don’t think it is the kind of experience that will land them a professional job upon graduation. They feel pressure from companies to have job-relevant experience on their resumes and they feel the only way they can get it is to take unpaid internships.
On the other hand, companies feel pressure from students to have educational experiences and they don’t want to have to pay interns for that. The government says you can’t have students work for free if the experience is not for them. I think we’re getting tangled in the definition of what job relevant experience really is and whether it is educational.
Working at a drug store is job relevant experience for an executive trainer: you have to show up on time and be prepared to work. If I see a year of part-time work at a drug store on someone’s resume, I know they have had to demonstrate responsible, reliable, customer-service oriented behavior. Participating in a 3-week showcase of attention-grabbing events, on the other hand, demonstrates that the person has seen some great stuff. It does not give me a sense of their work ethic or abilities. Both, however, are educational to a student.
In the case of my unpaid intern, I had put significant time and effort into training her and finding opportunities for her to gain experience doing front-line work, such as teaching executives. I considered this my part of the deal. It would have been quicker and easier for me to do the work myself, but I wanted to give her opportunities. I structured the class to have breakout groups where interns could moderate. When the intern called to cancel with a day to spare, I had to drop what I was doing and spend extra time to restructure the class to teach it with one less facilitator.
Did my intern learn anything from this unpaid educational experience? I certainly did. Whether or not interns need to get paid, they definitely need to learn how to behave responsibly if they want to succeed in the workplace.
The BizWiz podcast is a short, 15 minute interview on a targeted business issue. In this episode, Doug Sandler interviews Joanie Connell on Millennials at work.
Questions you’ll get answers to:
- How are Millennials changing the way people do business?
- Why is there so much friction between the older and younger generations?
- What are some of the myths or stereotypes about Millennials that need to be debunked?
- As business leaders and entrepreneurs, what trends do we need to pay attention to that aren’t just passing fads?
- What does it take to be a successful leader in a Millennial world?
- Why are Millennials facing midlife issues so young? How is it affecting their careers?
- Millennials aren’t kids anymore. Many are in their 30s and some are approaching 40. What kinds of challenges are they facing as they approach midlife?
People sometimes ask me why my work is important. While I’m normally pretty clear on the impact of the work I do, lately I’ve been questioning it. Beaten down by daily news of a divided country, threats of war, mass shootings, and natural disasters, it’s hard to think that anything I do makes a difference. I’m not alone in this thinking. I run across it with others all the time.
To stay engaged, I have to keep remembering why I do what I do. I consult, speak, and coach to help people—to help individuals be more successful and happy in their lives and to help organizations be more successful by improving the performance of their people. No matter what goes on in the world around us, making the world a better place—even at a small level—is important, and that’s what keeps me going.
We all are making the world a better place in one way or another. The key is to figure out what your impact is and not lose sight of it.
To keep sight of how you are making the world a better place, look at the ways in which you impact the world, either through your work, your organization’s products or services, or in your life outside of work. Here are some things to consider.
How does your work itself impact the world? Here are some examples of how people’s work positively impacts the world.
- You provide a service that helps people, like performing surgery to unblock arteries.
- You provide a service that makes people happier, like teaching meditation to help people relax or doing standup comedy to make people laugh.
- You increase human knowledge, like conducting scientific research to find cures for diseases or look for life on neighboring planets.
- You help the earth, like by developing sustainable farming practices or delivering farm-to-table dining.
Even if you work in a seemingly meaningless corporate or government bureaucracy, you still have the ability to make a positive impact in your daily life. Think about the power you have to improve someone’s day by simply giving them a smile or asking them how their day is going, or by helping them with a task. You can bring meaning to any job.
If you don’t see how your role impacts people or the world in a significant way, what you do may be part of a bigger organization that has positive impact. How does your organization improve the world?
- Your organization provides a service that helps people, like healthcare.
- Your organization provides a service that makes people happier, like entertainment.
- Your organization increase human knowledge, like through scientific research.
- Your organization helps the planet, like by developing sustainable energy.
I consulted for one pharmaceutical company that reminded its employees daily that the mission of the company was to save lives. The company researched, developed, and sold products to manage diabetes and to manage weight loss. Every single employee at the company was helping to fulfill that mission, whether they were a scientist, an administration assistant, a food service worker, or member of the janitorial staff. Every job was necessary to save lives.
Perhaps your work isn’t your contribution to the world. Rather, you use work as a vehicle to do other things that make an impact. How do you make an impact on the world through your family, friends, or activities?
- You raise children or grandchildren or take care of other family members who need it.
- You give advice and companionship to friends.
- You volunteer at an animal shelter, school, veterans’ association, museum, or some non-profit organization that is helping make the world a better place.
- You write, create art, or perform and share your talent with others.
- You vote.
These are only a few examples of the good that people do and the impact that people have on the world. Yours may be big or small, but every bit counts. In fact, these are precisely the things that do count when there is so much negativity that is outside of our control.
What does a bad hire cost you?
Research shows a bad hire can cost your company at least 30% of their salary, but there’s more than just money at stake. Your personal success is on the line too.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you working too many hours because you’re covering for an ineffective employee?
- Is a single employee dragging your whole team down?
- Are you getting pressure from above to deliver more than your team can accomplish?
- Are other teams performing better than yours?
- Is your boss telling you to be tougher on your employees?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider what action to take. Whether you choose to give the person a chance or let them go depends on a number of factors. However, you can learn how to avoid this situation in the future by following a better hiring process.
No one is perfect, so the key is to hire someone who has or is able to develop the necessary skills and characteristics to succeed at the job. Determining that requires a systematic, objective process.
It’s worth investing time and money into a solid assessment of job candidates. It pays for itself when you have a successful employee and it avoids much greater costs when you don’t. Plus, it helps protect you against unfair hiring practices that could bring about even costlier litigation.
3 Tips for Hiring Good People
1. Create a detailed job description
A good assessment process starts with a detailed job description that includes specific behaviors and characteristics necessary to be successful at the job. For example, an engineering job description might include: “operates computer-assisted engineering or design software or equipment.” A logistics manager’s job description might include: “maintains metrics, reports, process documentation, customer service logs, and training or safety records.”
2. Choose predictive assessment methods
Whether you conduct interviews, tests, or job trials, it’s important to do them in a systematic and objective way. For example, structured interviews with job-relevant questions are better predictors of performance than casual interviews that differ between candidates. A test of emotional intelligence might be a good fit for candidates for a team leader position. With tests, however, it’s important to have a qualified person read and interpret the results.
3. Train people how to assess candidates
Invest in assessment training for those involved in the hiring process. Teach employees and managers how to interview and how to rate candidates. Help them understand what questions are good and which ones are either ineffective or illegal. Walk through the job description with them so they know what they’re looking for in a successful candidate and make sure they ask the same questions to all candidates.
If your team is strapped for time or just not interested in learning this skill, hire an outside firm to do the assessment for you. It doesn’t cost that much and it can save you a bundle in the long run.
Joanie Connell hosts a Women Lead Radio interview with Catherine Mattice, co-author of Back off! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work. Joanie gets Catherine to give tips on how to fight bullies, both for employers and employees. Listen here.
Podcast with guest Joanie Connell
What do you like doing?
Does it make an appearance at your day job?
Bringing more of yourself and who you are at your core into your workplace should be mandatory.
Being authentic in your life and career is more beneficial to your success in your career than being a certain persona that your career molds you to be.