At the early stage of Internship Japan, we spotted an article online, while searching the internet about company-side opinions concerning “investing in interns”. We found this:

At the website of an internationally operating company called Dyn by Chris Widner, who was Dyn's Director of Culture, “focusing on helping company culture stay awesome every single day” at that time. He is currently the Director of Stylist Care for J. Hilburn and on the Board of Advisors for CareerBliss.

Chris WidnerMr. Widner, speaks from a senior management as well as HR leader perspective. Internship Japan is addressing those professionals, “selling” the very ideas Mr. Widner shared, to them. For now in Japan, later to the whole world. Please read the article above first and go on to the interview by Internship Japan after you are finished reading.

The interview partners are Verena Hopp (IJ) and Chris Widner (CW):

IJ: Mr. Widner, quoting your article:

When you’re growing fast, it’s important to be thinking about the future and the most important part of that process is your people. The key to Dyn’s success has always been its people: finding them, growing them and growing with them. This doesn’t apply only for full-time employees, but our interns as well. By recruiting star interns, we’ve been able to develop them into amazing talent who work here full-time.

You shared our very idea about developing a young talent into a future full-time employee. So this system worked out well for you ever since? I believe you see interns not as “cheap laborers” but more like a new power you can form and develop into the kind of workforce your company needs?

CW: This approach worked out very well for Dyn and it’s an approach I’ve seen it work successfully for many other companies, particularly in technology. To your point, these interns come in with a fresh set of eyes with their own ideas. They are eager to learn and ask a lot of great questions. Just by asking questions they will, at times, cause you to rethink what has been done before which can lead to improved products and services. So not only does it give the company an opportunity to develop the interns into the kind of workforce the company needs, but the interns can have a very real impact early on.

IJ: How do you develop the interns? Do you have a tailored program for each individual intern, focusing on their personal talents and strengths?

CW: One reason our interns are so important to us is that we don’t stick them in the corner doing menial work. They work with cutting-edge technology and solve real problems. We’ve had many interns take the opportunity and turn it into a full-time position. Those who haven’t? We still keep in touch with them and have a solid relationship with them all.

IJ: So you got a real plan at the beginning for each intern!? You hand over important work to interns? You trust the interns so very much?!

CW: Absolutely. When you stop viewing interns as “cheap labor” and view them as part of the team, you’re going to trust them with important objectives. There’s competition for talent everywhere, including competition for interns. If you don’t trust them and give them something important to work on, they won’t come back and they’ll tell their friends. The end result will be great interns choosing to go elsewhere which makes it harder to find great talent.

IJ: Internship Japan consists of the following pillars. The very first one is start-up promotion. What do you think about our idea of bringing interns and start-ups together? We believe that interns could easily become partners and create (grow) their own position into full-time opportunities by working on the development of the start-up. In the long run, we want to fund start-up-interns with scholarships to support the start-up, once established and making money,  they might pay us back so the money can be re-used for the next intern-start-up-couple. What do you think about that?

Internship Japan pillars

CW: I love this approach. To survive as a start-up you must be quick and nimble and be willing to take risks. By pairing interns and start-ups together you’re going to accelerate the development of the interns and the start-ups working with them. There’s real value for all parties (Internship Japan, the interns, and the start-ups).

IJ: Why do you think many companies are reluctant to take (especially foreign) interns and how can we bring more acceptance? Tell us some of your good results.

CW: To have a successful internship program, companies must be intentional about it. This means creating relationships with local colleges, identifying opportunities internally for interns, and getting executive support for investing in interns. Many companies simply aren’t willing to dedicate that amount of time for a “temporary employee”.  When it comes to foreign interns there are a number of challenges such as dealing with visas, assisting with apartment hunting, flights, etc. that can discourage companies from going in that direction.

More companies are seeing the value in interns but you can help accelerate this change by helping companies understand that you have talented interns who can deliver results quickly. Spending time with companies to understand their needs from a talent and project standpoint. As you learn about what they’re trying to accomplish, you might be able to see a connection between one of your interns and a need they have that they would not have otherwise seen.

IJ: Tell us about your mentor system! So a company must have a “mentor” to be there for an intern while at the company? How do you organize this, how are the mentors trained and how do the mentors train the interns?

CW: Mentors are key to the success of any intern. It’s important for companies to first ask employees who is willing to be a mentor and has a need for an intern. At that point you should sit down with those potential mentors to understand their needs and how much time they’re willing to commit to mentoring on a weekly basis. It’s really no different than HR sitting down to identify needs for a regular hire. Once you understand the need and how much time the mentor is willing to commit you can talk to the mentor about how to best onboard and train their intern. From there, make the mentor part of the process in selecting the best intern.

IJ: How does the “Intern Day” function? How shall a company set one up? Whom to approach? What to do?

CW: An “Intern Day” is very much like a mini-job fair. You bring interns on-site to get a feel for the company and give them the opportunity to network with each other. You give them a modified new-hire on boarding session and then move to the mentors pitching the internship projects they’re offering. After that you have the interns select which mentors they want to interview with (they can interview for multiple roles) which is what takes up most of the time. An “Intern Day” is at least a half-day event. Then you want the mentors to make their decision over the next 48 hours so you can move forward with finalizing the internships.

The best way to setup an “Intern Day” is to work with your local colleges and their employer relations departments to determine the best day for the event and have them help with marketing the event to their students. By working with local colleges you’re going to find it much easier to pull of an event like this.

IJ: What does having interns (especially foreign interns?) have to do with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)? In Japan it seems that CSR only has to do with the environment. Do you think investing in young people can be CSR too?

CW: Dyn started in a college dorm room and as we grow, we never want to lose our roots. We’re successful and continue to grow because our people continue to grow and be successful. Internships are not only a way to give back, but a way for us to ensure a bright future.

IJ: Talking about “giving back” IS in fact CSR, isn’t it?

CW: Corporate Social Responsibility is about companies investing time, money, and resources into their communities. Providing opportunities for interns accomplishes this by providing local colleges with the ability to place students in valuable internships. If done correctly, these internships are amazing opportunities for a local student that they would not otherwise have found. This adds value to their educational experience and increases the likelihood of them developing deeper bonds to their local community if they are going to college there and working their during their internship. The end result is stronger students staying local and helping grow the businesses in that area. As those businesses invest in interns it becomes a powerful cycle of CSR.

IJ: Concerning foreign interns, how do you like our idea of international interns learning the local language during / before an internship, funded by the company, to brush up their CV, prepare and have something more from it as an individual? Would that be “giving back” in your opinion, too? What else could be giving back, if the law does not allow to “pay” for an intern for example?

CW: Because communication is critical to the success of any project or relationship I think it’s important for the intern to learn the language before working with the company. Without that skill already in place, the intern won’t be nearly as effective as they could be otherwise. If the intern cannot be paid then you really must rely on the experience of the internship being valuable.

IJ: Question to the HR-person in you: How come companies use so much money paying recruitment companies instead of developing their own workers out of interns? Do you think that the practice of hiring mid-career professionals instead of investing in youngsters will change? If so, how and why? (We have the over-aged western world compared to the young societies in Mongolia, the “Tiger-States” etc. What will globalization do to the HR-market?

CW: This really depends on what the needs of the company are. For many companies they don’t have the time from a business cycle to invest in interns as they need more immediate results. They want the proven solution to their needs.

This is why it’s critical to work with the companies to understand their talent and project needs so you can help them see the value of an intern in their current environment. It’s really about finding the right mix of experienced vs inexperienced talent for each organization. If you can promise a company that your interns can deliver on a project and deliver upon that promise then you have a compelling reason for companies to work with you and your interns instead of sourcing talent through other means. Globalization will allow companies and employees more options in the future.
IJ: What is your statement concerning the question if internships should be paid, compensated or unpaid?

CW: My view is very simple: if an intern is providing real value, they should be compensated as such. There is a slight discount in pay for the opportunity the company is providing and the time they are investing in the intern, but interns should be paid if at all possible.

IJ: How do you think about internships without the possibility of full-time employment, “credits-only-system” some companies seem to use this to get work done without “giving back”?

CW: While I firmly believe interns should be paid if at all possible, I disagree that a company providing a “credits-only system” is not giving back to the interns and their community. If this is all they can provide, it’s worth remembering that the company is investing their time in the interns. This time could instead be used for other community events, so in that sense they are giving back, but in a different way.

IJ: What is your message to companies not yet taking interns?

CW: If you’re not thinking about providing internships, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for your company. Ask yourself “What are some projects that we know we want to work on but aren’t the top priority right now?” By investing a little time into an intern, can they help one of those projects move forward? If so, make it happen.

IJ: We are starting in Japan, but will go global to create a worldwide internship-network for international people, setting and watching over the rules (i.e.UN-Charter, Human Rights as a basis).  We believe that more and more globalization of the world through the internet age also needs common and globally accepted standards. Any thoughts on that?

CW: International internships have the opportunity to help globalization, although you're more likely to find the same companies with a globalized workforce being the ones offering international internships. I'm a bit hesitant on the idea of globalized standards for internships as one of the advantages of internships is the opportunity to give an up-and-comer an opportunity with minimal risk. By enforcing globalized standards, you are raising the requirements of companies providing internships and could find them less willing to do so.

IJ: Do you think a foreign intern, let’s say from Russia, could do well in the early stage of entering the market of his / her own country for a company from abroad, like Japan or the USA?

CW: This is absolutely a great idea and demonstrates the opportunities with international internships. It's a great way to dip your toe into the water of a new market that you might otherwise not look at if you're having to go "all in".

IJ: What do you want to tell our youngsters who are  full of ideas out there?

CW: Take the time to put your ideas on paper and explore them. We have the technology to allow you to test your ideas quickly and easily. Being young is the time to take the most risks with your ideas. Through testing your ideas you’re going to develop your skills which will benefit you greatly in the short-term and the long-term.

IJ: Anything else you want to share with us?

CW: Thank you for your time. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about something I’m passionate about. I applaud you for your efforts to develop a strong intern network that will benefit the interns and the companies they work with.


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