Micro-Internships Build Work Experience and Resumes

By Riia O'Donnell February 6, 2020
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young adults on laptops

​It's a paradox: You can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. The gap between being employable and being employed has challenged entry-level workers for decades, whether they're top-tier college grads or high-schoolers.

Micro-internships can take students through those first steps in their career journey. These short-term work experiences grow skills, build resumes, extend networks and instill confidence.

Jeffrey Moss, CEO of career development company Parker Dewey in Chicago, recognized the catch-22 students face. He developed the company's micro-internship program to address the needs of both sides of the hiring desk. For students, a short-burst project provides a chance to show off skills and capabilities; for businesses, the internship gets much-needed work completed and "test drives" a potential hire.

How They Work

Students sign up as Career Launchers on the Parker Dewey website and browse through projects and compensation posted by hiring authorities. Moss said the majority of the work is in sales, marketing and research, but sometimes there are unique postings. "These are projects that are high priority for companies, but they don't have the time or the staff to get them done. They're short-term, low-risk but time-intensive." Companies look for interns for common tasks as well as more complex ones. "Some of the projects require a judgment call from the intern," he said, "which gives students a real chance to shine."

Students can apply to any posting. They don't need the exact degree path or experience, just a willingness to answer a few questions and the bandwidth to do the work. Most projects last for two weeks, with students paid at completion of the task. Longer internships are often broken into smaller segments so that students are paid throughout the project.

Micro-internships are done remotely, with most students working nights and weekends to meet the project deadline—and gain real-world work experience.

Simon Wang is a Parker Dewey success story. He and his mother left Taiwan when he was 6 years old to immigrate to the U.S. An entrepreneurial spirit helped them find success. Wang was valedictorian of his high school class and won a full scholarship to Ohio University. Then he found out about Parker Dewey.

The paycheck from his first Parker Dewey job "paid for my groceries for the week," he says. From there, Wang performed 20 to 30 other micro-intern projects. His favorite jobs, he said, "are the ones that deal with automation of processes. I remember building a dashboard in Shanghai, China, at 3 a.m. for a client in the restaurant industry in the U.S. The flexibility is amazing."

The program helped him grow as a professional, as well. "The best benefit is the people I meet and work with remotely." Remote work "teaches you a new skill on how to build rapport online when you are not face-to-face with the client." The projects let him sample different industries in ways that went beyond a typical interview. "I was able to gain better insights of the type of work someone would be doing in a specific industry."

Wang said the micro-internships give students a vehicle to display their skills more clearly than resumes and cover letters can convey. Employers can discover talented students waiting for their chance to shine. "Help … students deliver more results," he said, "not resume stacks."

Working and Sourcing Creatively

Micro-internships could be a great option for companies that are looking for creative solutions to project work as well as for insight on a potential new hire. 

One organization's lead generation project hired interns to source leads, offer insight about why the lead was a good prospect and suggest an approach. This not only netted the organization a thousand leads, it outlined who among the interns was a prospect to hire, based on the insight he or she had provided. For some organizations, the success of the project can even lead to creating a new full-time position for the intern.

Amanda Pleasant, recruiter at JLL, a real estate services firm based in Chicago, heard about micro-internships from a colleague. She wondered how much she could really determine about an intern's suitability in such a short amount of time and if her company would be likely to want to hire the intern after the project ended. "However," she said, "once we started the project, our concerns quickly disappeared."

JLL hired a recruiting intern to sort and rank resumes, give a brief explanation of the rankings, and then organize candidate data in an Excel file. She completed the project quickly without any errors and maintained a positive attitude throughout the project. "She was excellent and was considered for a long-term internship after the micro-internship," Pleasant said. "We are recommending micro-internships to other areas of our business. In our experience with the program, the quality of candidates was excellent and we had many viable options. We also learned that the students were bright and we could determine a lot about their work ethic through the project they completed." 

Career Jump-Start

Micro-internships offer tangible experience that students can highlight on their resumes, solving the "no experience" problem.

Students are building networks, confidence and industry knowledge as well, Moss said. Some students don't have connections to land that first job or interview. Micro-internships can facilitate those connections, and, with projects under their belt, students are likely to be more confident in their skills and competencies. And they get a broader idea of possible jobs across industries and fields, Moss added. All finance majors don't have to compete for the same few jobs at Goldman Sachs, for example.

"Micro-internships help grads get to the right job, right away with tangible work and experience that makes them easier for organizations to hire," he adds, "and these kids shine. They're showing what they can do given the opportunity, and businesses are responding."

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