Guest Post: Bridging college to career...to CEO?August 13, 2009: 1:42 PM ET
You never know who your summer intern will turn out to be. In 1980, Ursula Burns was a summer intern in mechanical engineering at Xerox (XRX). Last month, she became CEO there. In 1985, Sallie Krawcheck was a summer intern at Fortune. She later climbed to the top tier of Citigroup (C), where she served as CFO and ran a $13 billion wealth management unit. Last week, Krawcheck moved to Bank of America (BAC) to head its global wealth and investment management business.
So, treat your intern well. He or she could be your boss someday. As we mention in the current Fortune, smart bosses employ interns to learn how the world is changing. Morgan Stanley (MS) recently published a report on digital media that was written by a 15-year-old summer intern. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CTO Phillip McKinney has interns live with him--to help him understand young consumers.
Another company that manages interns well is Siemens Hearing Instruments, a unit of German-based Siemens AG (SI). Here's Christi Pedra, president and CEO of Siemens Hearing, with some advice for giving interns the best summer experience and getting value in return:
When I attended college (could it really be 30 years ago?), we picked majors that were suitable to a lifetime career in one field. With one position in mind. You could be an accountant or a nurse or a teacher. If you graduated with a general business degree, you hoped for a long career at IBM (IBM), Xerox or some financial institution.
Steadfast and secure. That was then.
This is now. It's acceptable to change jobs frequently, or pursue a totally new career. With life expectancy approaching 80, you could easily have three or four successful and distinct careers.
As CEO of Siemens Hearing, how can I help young people navigate the bridge from college to career?
When I joined Siemens Hearing in 2007, I launched a summer intern program--and in designing it, I took input from my nieces and my son who were in the midst of internships (good and bad). One of my nieces had a great experience at a PR firm in New York City. The CEO invited all the interns to a reception in his home midway through the summer. In contrast, my other niece complained about getting an assignment that her supervisor assumed would take several days. When she finished the project early, there was no one to ask for the next assignment--because her manager went on vacation for three days. The better part of her week was spent browsing the Internet, trying to look busy!
We used these lessons, along with ideas from our employees, to shape our program, which has turned out to be really successful. A few ideas I'll share:
First of all, we make a big deal for our managers to get interns. Department managers submit a proposal for a project that can be completed in 10 weeks. It must have a measurable outcome and benefit to the business. The best proposals are granted interns. HR helps in the sourcing and selection process. For the last three summers, we've hired 12 to 16 interns in their third or fourth year of college, and we pay them attractive wages--on average $18 an hour.
Second, we make it challenging. We give interns assignments that matter to them and to us. This is not a shadow experience. The interns report to a department manager and are assigned a mentor. They're assigned tasks as part of a cross-functional project team and manage assignments against a time line. I've had interns co-author a research paper, redesign a manufacturing line that resulted in a 24% productivity improvement, conduct and publish interviews for on-line media, and create video marketing segments.
Third, we make it real. Each year, we have our interns present their assignments. It used to be that the audience consisted of intern supervisors and me. But over the past couple of years, interest grew so much that we opened it up to all managers and department colleagues. Last year, intern presentation day was standing room only; this year, we reconfigured our training room to accommodate more than 30 attendees. Once again, the intern projects far exceeded expectations. For example, our interns simplified manufacturing tool kits, audited and redefined work instructions, developed internal communication campaigns and validated software. Ten weeks ago, they entered Siemens Hearing Instruments as students, and now they will be leaving us as professionals.
The results have been truly rewarding. We've offered permanent employment to at least one intern from each summer program. We've hired these interns in sales support, web marketing and finance. A win-win for all. And this year, we expect to extend two intern assignments into the fall and hire another two interns into permanent positions.
I kind of wish I were 22 again.
Unlike the job-hopping young people she writes about, Pedra has been with Siemens for more than 20 years. She graduated from Montclair State University and earned her MBA at Rutgers.