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Work for free? In turn for what?

There is a new trend in town. Every company needs one. Interns have become the latest fad in Irish business as companies cut costs in these challenging times.

What "Value" are you offering your Intern?

In theory it seems like a super idea to take on a qualified graduate or student and offer them real life work experience. They gain valuable experience to put on their cv and bolster their chances of securing paid employment. Companies gain a skilled additional staff member at little or no cost.  Seems like a real win win experience, but is it really?

I am meeting many disgruntled interns who feel that they are being exploited by companies. They believe they are been given the “horrid” jobs that no one else wants to do. The other main complaint is the lack of support and training that they are receiving during their internship.
I am also talking to many companies who are hiring interns as a substitute to permanent staff as they do not have the money to take on a new staff member

Many of these businesses are short staffed and under financial strain and do not have the time or resources to train, nurture and develop their intern. This is a recipe for disaster and discontentment. I would suggest that if you are a company that is too busy to add value and training to your intern then you should not consider taking one on.

Very often the expectations of the company are very different to that of the intern.  Many companies take on interns without ever knowing what the intern’s expectations or objectives are.

Prior to hiring an intern I would suggest the following:

  • Clear objectives and expectations for the company and intern are addressed.
  • Ensure that you are prepared to invest ample time to train and develop your intern’s skills.
  • Make sure you give them work that will challenge them and not just the work that no one else wants.
  • Include your staff members in the decision to take on an intern. They need to be on board too. Often staff members are left to train interns and this can cause friction.
  • Make sure that you have the time to meet your intern at the end of every week to celebrate the highs and identify any areas that require special attention the following week.  Interns will excel with praise and structure.

What are your thoughts or experiences with Internships? Do you think they are a good idea for companies to consider in this economic climate?

What value could you offer an intern “in turn” for their work?

Greg is a Social Media trainer and workshop facilitator with the Digital Marketing Institute. He has also delivered lectures and short courses for leading organisations including SureSkills, and The Michael Smurfit Business School. Greg also works with the Ahain Group as a Social Business Consultant. He believes that in order to make social media work for your business you must have a clear business goal, a clearly defined strategy and make sure that everything you do is measureable. Specialities include: Social Media Training | Personal Branding |Social Business Consultancy | Social Strategy Workshops | Interview Techniques | Psychometric Profiling | LinkedIn Training | Facebook Training | Twitter Training | Blogging | Online Video and You Tube Training | Emerging Social Media (Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, Google+ etc.) More information at: and

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  • Anonymous

    Greg, what about doing a piece on consultants being asked to work for free – to take a punt on an organisation. We all know people who’ve been in this situation this past year. Your thoughts please.

  • Anonymous

    Great idea Una.

    This is an approach that can be very beneficial. However as consultants we must be very selective and even strategic about what work we do for free and who we do it with. Like a punter at the races, we should try to back the winners and steer clear of the long shots.

    I will do some thinking and try to come up with a piece for consultants.

  • Anonymous

    Great idea Una.

    This is an approach that can be very beneficial. However as consultants we must be very selective and even strategic about what work we do for free and who we do it with. Like a punter at the races, we should try to back the winners and steer clear of the long shots.

    I will do some thinking and try to come up with a piece for consultants.

  • Anonymous

    I think if this keeps up , no one will have a paid job , to me this is a way of getting cheap labour and if every company does this, where is the paid jobs going to come out for the gradutes? its like we are going back instead of forward , you plow my field and ill pick your spuds and we both will have just enough on the table to eat for part of the week but no money

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry but I think this can be a great strategy for jobseekers/grads if approached in the right way. You have to treat these opportunities for what they are and what you can get out of them. Don’t expect pay, responsibility or sexy work duties and you won’t be disappointed. Quite often you are being used but turn this around and you should use the opportunity/company to get the most out of it. Benefits include you get a foot in the door and never know what may develop, you get a company on your CV, you get a reference, you get an opportunity to expand your business network and contacts, you get an opportunity to find out what different roles/departments do within an organisation (remember most grads haven’t a clue what they want to do). Yes you are at the bottom of the food chain and you are treated accordingly. You are asked to do the rotten tasks BUT why not volunteer for the juicy stuff and ask for more responsibility. What are you saying even more work for free – yes you got it!!

    I did a placement year with college in early 90’s and did everything from making the tea, entertaining guests to filing. I expected to be the plankton in the organisation and that’s what I got. Ok I got paid but let’s just say I wasn’t Donald Trump. This was the much more valuable than the other 3 years of my degree.

  • We are participating in the FAS work placement scheme – a company can take on an unemployed person for 9 months. The give and take parts of the deal are:

    for the company: they get a free employee for 9 months. I don’t know if you have any idea what that means to a business adjusting to lower sales but i can tell you: it is a lifeline.

    for the participant: the company agrees to ensure the participant leaves with a higher quality CV than they came with, increasing their choices and chances of long term employment.

    I think it is an excellent scheme on both sides. The company doesn’t pay with salary, and the participant keeps their SW benefits. The company works towards recovery, the participant works towards boosting their CV. Some can even make a permanent job for themselves at the company, if they can bring enough value.

    Is it open to exploitation? Of course it is, just as everything is. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is the single most mutually beneficial initiative to have come from government for as long as i can remember. click on the big pink ad in the top right.

    Oh, and if anyone wants to participate in the scheme with us, we are looking for someone in Kerry with PHP experience.

  • Michaeldineenonline

    Hi Ivan.  Great post. As Seth Godin writes. You have to be a purple cow. You have to stand out and be memorable, edgy, controversial, consistent, helpful, authoritive, funny, and targeted. I would opt for concise articles over lenghty ones. Positioning I suppose is an even more targeted approach to a niche and is getting more and more necessary. Great post.

  • I prefer to be epic.  That does not mean long, but it does mean to have a big idea.  I don’t blog every day and sometimes I skip a month or two.  But when I do blog, I try to present a big idea – something that most other bloggers in my niche just are not doing.

  • Thanks Michael, 

    Yes, Seth is the best business writer out there by a long shot. Something he said that stuck with me was to be remarkable.

    What he meant by remarkable was not to be clever clever but to write/do/create something that others will remark on.

    Simple when you think about it 🙂


  • Anonymous

    All of the above plus you have to reinvent yourself over and over and over again, so that you can keep the loyal readers curious and constantly (positively ) surprised while you are gaining new readers with each new transformation.

  • Thanks Ivan. This is very timely for me and I was gettting a little tired of hearing ‘find a niche, stand out!” . I like the part about ‘What opinion do you want others to have of your blog?  When someone describes your blog, they say… and  ‘What can’t others take away from you?’

  • “There is something about the physical effort of writing that helps the brain to process the information I think” Great observation, Helen! I think it is because it gets us to slow down and really listen. Thanks for the comment – Niall

  • Hi Niall,
    Writing forces us to think at a slower pace, thereby helping the information to “stick” better. I certainly takes notes in all meetings, whether with the iPad, or on paper (there is something about writing on paper that is fulfilling)
    I feel it also reassures the (potential) client, like your point 3 above.
    It also allows us to refer back to earlier points “earlier you mentioned….” and can really help re-focus the client if they tend to go off on a tangent 🙂
    Interesting points…

  • Some great points there, Elaine. Thanks for sharing your experience and insight. Another one that perhaps I should have mentioned is that note taking allows you to easily summarise at the end of the meeting. I often find when I do so that this prompts the person to add even further details. 

  • Great topic for discussion! I am a pen and paper note taker myself. I feel with all the data floating around in my head, the distractions etc. I need the pen & paper notes. I ask lots of mindful questions about the business and note taking allows me to be a better listener and remember key points. I think it also frees creative thinking. There are probably studies on this. Taking notes and asking the right questions demonstrates credibility to the person sitting in front of you.

  • Hi Andrea, thank you for the great comment! Your point about creative thinking is really interesting, I hadn’t thought of that but I reckon you’re right. I must go find out 🙂

  • I think taking notes is good for you.It doesn’t matter which meeting you are going to attend.Your reasons to take notes are really good.Some time our mind is so tired at that time we are not able to remind every points in our mind so in that situation note taking is best way to remind all things in proper way. I enjoy at the time of reading your post.Its really an informative & interesting post.Keep sharing with us in future too.

  • Dermot

    Hi Niall, I absolutely concur with your comments.
     Recently I have noticed sales people using a laptop to record their notes in Wordpad or similar. This may be very efficient and helpful for posting into say, CRM application. However, main problem I would have with it it is,the screen/lid of the laptop behaves like a physical barrier between you and the client. If you and the client are on opposite sides of the desk, there is already a barrier there.When you do later go to record your notes into the CRM, I often find that I will remember other aspects of the conversation, that I did not record, and can now enter them also into CRM.Dermot

  • I always take written notes, Niall, during face-to-face meetings.  When I’m with clients or people I know I’ll often use my laptop since I can type faster than I can write.

    I also take notes during literally every business phone call I have.  I currently have 1,700 Outlook Journal items with significant details of more than 2500 phone calls. What’s great is that they are searchable! 

    Your number 5 above is important. I always go into meetings with a plan, and often questions.  Having them in front of me is a big plus.

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