Unpaid Internships: Fast Track to your Dream Job or Glorified Slave Labor?

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas.

So after getting being accepted to your Dream University–after painstakingly editing college applications, obsessing over grades, finding extra-curricular activities that sparked your interest AND would somehow impress a college admissions committee–you thought it was all over, right? Once accepted, you’d think the next logical step is to finish your degree and get a job.

But, especially in today’s economic climate, in which employers are consistently scaling down their college grad hires, a full-time job is one more step away. Welcome to the world of internships.

Even though internships are largely unpaid, applications for what are considered absolutely necessary precursors to scarce jobs are on the rise. That means more competition for positions that will force you to pay for work, and not the other way around.

A recent Chicago Tribune article describes students struggling to raise funds for their internships, sometimes with the help of their parents.  Two internship placement services, The University of Dreams and The Washington Center, are charging as much as $9000 just to help students FIND internships. That, and the cost of living, means some students–who have traditionally worked service related jobs as waiters during summer months– will now be forced to run into serious debt, or miss out on ostensible opportunities.

The value of an unpaid internship, however, goes without saying. Even though we’re all familiar with the coffee-fetching, copy-machine-running clichés, many internships do provide some real, hands-on experience in fields as varied as publishing, marketing, software engineering, and teaching.

An internship gives students the opportunity to get a taste of a prospective career before they dive head-first into a full-time job they may not enjoy.  Since internal hiring is a favored practice among employers, the only way for a recent college grad to work for certain companies is to have worked within the company first. So even if you are fetching coffee, you’ll benefit from being considered an “internal” hire. In fact, an acquaintance of mine did just that–after two unpaid summer internships with Sports Illustrated magazine, he now has full-time job as a sports reporter in SI’s New York City office.

Although unpaid internships seem like an inherently unfair practice, universities often offer stipends to fund internships, and internship placement services do have a variety of need- and merit-based scholarships. What’s more, unpaid internships can offer students an opportunity to learn the difficult lesson of budgeting and living independently.

To get a better idea of what it’s like to be an intern, read former college student Steve Kent’s harrowing but entertaining account of his unpaid internship experience.

Using Video within your HR Processes

video_icon_full

Yesterday afternoon I sat in to listen Bill Boorman‘s Downunder Recruiting show where the discussion was on video, an interesting topic. I am very interested in video within a talent acquisition strategy as this has been a topic for many many years and I am glad to see people are starting to move away from the “Video Resume” as quite frankly that is probably the worse use case for video.

Before we go too much further we need to see video as just another form of content, it just happens to have audio and moving images. This is the key as I see people get stuck with video as just a method for having a talking head, video today can be far more than that.

However for all it’s benefits there is still a low take up of video, especially in Australia. One reason I believe we have not seen a broader take up of video is it is still a fairly hard technology to master both functionally and technically.

Another barrier I see is performance. This is a big issue in Australia, where we are ranked about 42nd on performance for brandband downloads and 72nd for uploads. This can mean it will take hours to upload a large video to your hosting provider and when people are watching your carefully crafted message it keeps stopping due to caching issues.

Technical Mastery

The first challenge is you need to produce good quality audio and images. Many people are uncomfortable with having their voice recorded, let alone appearing on video. Once these hurdles are overcome, a good quality script and plan needs to be prepared.  One aspect often over looked is the location needs to be right, lighting, background images and noise are all aspects to consider.

Then there are the technical aspects, starting with video capture, while webcams are very popular they generally do not produce good quality video, and they are also difficult to move around. But webcams are a great tools for interactive video, such as Skype. Don’t forget you still need to think about composition aspects, what will the other person see in the background of your image?

If you are producing a video for others to watch at a later time your jobs just got a lot harder.

After the captured of the video editing can be a challenge. You need software, which under Windows is a problem (yes Mac OS X users have a much better time here), yes there are open source products but to get that truely polished look you need to purchase software. Then actually rendering of any video beyond 3 – 5 minutes takes a lot of CPU processing power. A high quality video also takes up disk space, think 100MB per minute at standard definition with even more when you go high definition.

Once you have produced your video where do you host it? There are many public services for example is YouTube right you can only host 10 minutes and you have limited controls over security. Vimeo is another service that allows hosting, and for a fee you can control exactly who has access to the video, however the terms of service limit commercial usage. If you want your video to be viewable on mobile phones then things become even more complex as flash, the typical delivery method, has limited penetration on mobile devices.

Internal communications also need an environment to deliver the video, do not underestimate this otherwise your IT team will not be happy with you.  These tools need to be set up before you can begin to use video.

Ok with the negative aspects is video still worth getting involved in? Yes!

Potential Video Usage

Below is a short listing of where you can use video within your HR processes.

  1. Employer branding
  2. Attraction
  3. Training
  4. Employee communications
  5. Job advertisement
  6. Job interviews, with Skype or similar
  7. Candidate videos
  8. Anywhere where audio and images would enhance the message

Video Examples

Job Advertising

A recent job advert video from Australian company Noble Samurai looking for a new Agile Development Lead. During this 4 minute 40 seconds production you get to understand what the roles is about, who you would be working with, the working environment and culture.

The video starts with an interview with the CEO covering some of the things they are looking for. Followed by quick review of the office and some introduction to some of the team. While there are a couple of composition issues but generally the quality is very good.

Branding/Attraction/Employee Communications

Another good example is actually a excellent example on the use of social media in general, ASDA’s The Green Room. The site integrates all sorts of content, but the item I want to highlight is a recent message from the CEO to their employees.

Good practices in using video

Like all of this social media “stuff” quality content is critical. You need to add value to viewers otherwise they will turn off. If you are using video as part of your attraction process, make it real, keep things honest but professional. Keep the video focused, engaging and overall fun. Here are my top 10 production tips:

  1. Spend time planning up front
  2. Tell a story
  3. Have a good microphone
  4. Think about lighting and background composition
  5. Plan your delivery methods
  6. When capturing the video try not to pan too much or too fast
  7. Also limit you use of the zoom
  8. Use a tripod when shooting (whenever practical)
  9. Shoot from different angles, use multiple cameras
  10. Include lots of wide angle shots

Also have a look at Justin Hillier’s views on video.

Downloadable resources

Over on the Inspecht site you can download some free resources to use as part of the HR/Recruitment/Learning/Social Media program. Here are a few to get you going:

There are more to come over the next few weeks.

Workforce development in public and private sector

A couple of weeks ago Kate Carruthers spoke to me about workforce development programs, the results are an article she published on the NSW TAFE eZine web site, under the heading of “Workforce development: Case studies in private and public sector implementation“.

Workforce development is a key issue for both private and public sector businesses.  Previously a fragmented approach to the elements comprising workforce development led to lack of integration and inability to align the workforce to current and future business demands.

We spoke for about an hour on the move to strategic HR assessments, the Kirkpatrick model, that organisations should focus more on head content than on head count, recent Taleo research, the CedarCrestone HR Systems Survey and a global IBM survey all relating to Talent Management. Overall a great discussion and the resulting article is a good read.

The business value of social networks

Tuesday night I was on a panel for the NSW Knowledge Management Forum with three others, Laurie Lock Lee, Tania Maley & Jodie Miners who was roped in as Tania was running late. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant before the event given Laurie has just completed a PhD in the value of social capital to enterprises!

However in preparing for the discussion I reviewed Laurie’s blog and previous work and found I should be able to contribute positively based on my perspective of social networking for HR.

Over the next hour and a half the four of us discussed all sorts of topics, including the value of social software to business! I suspect we could of kept talking for another hour or more. At the end of the day it came down to four high levels of value, recruitment, retention, sharing knowledge amongst silos and leveraging the hidden networks within an organisation. This is a vast simplification of things but a good summary.

From an HR perspective there are several specific areas where leveraging social networks through social software adds value to businesses. Many of these areas are very specific and small but they all add up to larger benefits.

  1. Driving employee engagement
  2. Leaveraging disengaged talent
  3. Sourcing of passive talent
  4. Candidate relationship management
  5. Background checking
  6. Team development
  7. Learning and development
  8. Self service support forums
  9. On boarding

I’m not going to cover all in this blog post, as that would take a long time. Instead I felt I might cover the major factors driving my list; that of Mark Granovetter, Frederick Hertzberg, Emilio Castilla and Alex Edmans. There is also the work by Watson Wyatt on corporate communication, while I feel it is important there could be an element of commericla biasis in their studies.

Mark in 1973 as part of his book “Getting a Job” (and paper entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties”), documented that 56% of participants in his studies found their existing job through a personal contact. Granovetter also found that 55.6% of the connections were made through “weak ties” who were seen “occasionally” (more than once a year but less than twice a week), and 27.8% “rarely” (less than once a year). These “weak ties” are more likely to professional contacts rather than family members or social contacts.

Research by Professor Emilio Castilla from MIT Sloan School of Management found that employees recruited through employee referral programs can have a higher performance over employees recruited through other means. While Professor Castilla’s research was for a single call centre, the findings have been confirmed further by organisations in the US and Australia.

Frederick Herttzberg in 1959 released a book called “The Motivation to Work” where he divided workplace factors into two groups. Motivators and Hygiene. The Hygiene factors of Job Security,Salary,Relationship with Peers,Work Environment and Company policies were needed otherwise people will complain. However along the would not motiviate people to want to work. Whereas the motivators (Achievement, Recognition, Work Itself, Responsibility, Advance, Growth) were all required for employees to feel engaged.

The work published in 2007 by Alex Edmans, Business Professor from Wharton School, found that happy employees do in fact drive company performance. He measured an annually rebalanced portfolio of Fortune magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” from 1998 – 2005. Companies on the list returned 14% during that time compared to 6% for the overall market.

The Watson Wyatt reports on communication found that organisations with “most effective” communication programs provides a 91% total return to shareholders from 2002-2006 compared to 62% for “least effective”. Improved communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7% increase in market value and effectivly communicating organisations had an employee engagement level 4 times that of least effective.

Using Facebook to Learn

Just a quick post as my laptop battery is about to die:-).

Last week I noticed an interesting post over at The InquisitrUdutu Launches LMS Application For Facebook“, very interesting an actual revenue generating application for Facebook! Their press release can be read here. While the Facebook application is still in Beta it is a very interesting concept, with lots of potential I installed the products and will see how they go. In the meantime here is a summary of the tools.

Udutu already offer a product to author courses, myUdutu, the content can then be distributed either via your own SCORM compliant server or you can use Udutu’s infrastructure. The authoring tool is free, Udutu make money from clients using their infrastructure.

While the new offerings UdutuTeach and UdutuLearn currently only operating on Facebook, Udutu says they will support other social networking platforms, MySpace, Bebo, and LinkedIn. But they don’t say they will support Google’s OpenSocial framework specifically I assume they will. UdutuLearn also seems to allow you to import other SCORM complaint content into the application meaning non-Udutu content could be delivered via the Facebook platform.

From their press release:

The Udutu LMS, which is comprised of the Udutu Teach and Udutu Learn modules, enables both
“teachers” and “learners” to use Facebook, and over time similar sites, to perform a variety of tasks
that coincide with conducting or taking an e-learning session, including:
– uploading courses (SCORM packages) into the social networking platform or developing courses
directly within Facebook
– defining individuals or groups of individuals that are members of the social networking site as
learners or teachers for particular course packages
– tracking learner progress through the SCORM API
– collecting payment for course material (when appropriate)
– generating reports on learner progress (accessible only to course administrators)
– issuing certification to learners that have completed the course in the appropriate manner
– exchanging feedback between learners and teachers about various courses
– providing public evaluations of courses by learners
– searching for courses based on content and other member ratings

There are lots of opportunities for this platform, such an in HR on boarding program that new employees can access via their favourite social network before they join your organisation, or allowing employees to access professional development from home without the need to IT access to your network.
Of course there are lots of commercial opportunities for content providers.

Until September 2008 the tool will be free, following this there will be a $5 per user/course charge, no too bad but could limit some of the take up.

Talent Management Marketplace changes

Last week we saw the announcement that Taleo will acquire Vurv, essentially number 1 taking number 2 in the Talent Management marketplace. This is both good and bad news for the other players in the market. Bad because the combined entity will certainly be a major player, good in that both companies will have to work hard not to lose focus during the acquisition process.

Jason Corsello from The Human Capitalist has some good analysis of the deal, and fundamentally asks is this good for the customer? I suspect only time will tell.

Further to this I tend to agree with other commentators the consolidation of the Talent Management application space is not going to stop anytime soon. Inside Recruiting as a good interview with Authoria‘s president and CEO, Tod Loofbourrow about the deal. A key quote from Tod:

“Short term, the consolidation from 45 to a handful simplifies recruiters’ technology choices. But the factors driving the consolidation — the broader talent management opportunity — will force recruiters to go beyond a recruiting-only mindset, and come to grips with more strategic organizational needs and talent management opportunities such as quality of hiring; filling gaps in leadership pipelines; and retaining high performers.”

There has been lots of debate over the last few year about what is Talent Management, most recruiting vendors have added some talent management features but no one really has an end to end strong offering, assuming talent management is covers workforce planning, acquisition, performance management, career development, succession management, e-learning and compensation management. A thought confirmed by James Holincheck in his December 2007 report for Gartner, sorry there is no easy link directly to the report search for his research it will costs you US$195 for the report.

Another thought what does it mean for our local Australia vendors in this space? Will the combined entity make competing against them too difficult at the high end, and limit local vendors to the Small to Medium end of the market?

Corporations in virtual worlds

There has been a fair amount written over the last couple years of corporation running public presentations and employee communication sessions in virtual world such as SecondLife. Some of the largest users have been IBM, Sun Microsystems and Cisco, however most fo this work seems to have been public type presentations.

A couple of weeks ago Nortel conducted internal presentation using a prototype “virtual mixed-reality world”. This environment joined together several technologies such as voice, corporate security and identity management.

Everything was linked to our telecom infrastructure, corporate security and identity management systems. In other virtual reality experiences, like Second Life or multi-player on-line gaming systems, you need to go into their footprint and are limited by their capabilities. For example, although a name may be attached to an Avatar, you have no way of really knowing who that individual is in the real world. Yesterday, the virtual experience (complete with high-quality spatial audio) became part of our own IT ecosystem.

What will be interesting is how these environments scale, which is something Second Life has struggled with for years. Where each island (read server) is limited to about 50 simultaneous users which makes management of large scale events very difficult.

However these types of technologies (telepresence, virtual worlds etc) once mainstream will have a profound impact on the way organisations operate in the future, think learning and collaboration.

Learning and YouTube

A couple of days ago I came across an article in the Australian IT about how a leading Australian university, Macquarie University, is starting to look at using YouTube to deliver lectures.

Very interesting idea.

Macquarie has been making lectures available for download to students for about 3 years now, so a move to video is not surprising.  However such a move is not without possible issues:-

Placing videos of lectures on YouTube is something the varsity is working on but two issues need to be resolved beforehand.

“We can’t just point the camera at the lecturer and upload the lesson. The back of a lecturer’s head isn’t necessarily the thing you want to be watching … we have to be more creative.

“There’s also the question of copyright for when the lecturer shows a video as part of the lecture … it’s fine for us to show that on campus but we have to be careful if it’s on the internet and if someone downloads it,” Mr Hole said.

It will be interesting to watch where this goes.

(Disclosure: I happen to work for Nortel, mentioned at the end of the article but have nothing to do with this deal or any other deal. As it happens I only noticed the Nortel reference after I started writing this post.)

Educating HR on metrics & technology

As I mentioned a few days ago I have been asked to help re-write a topic in AHRI’s Professional Diploma of HR looking at measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of HR and selection and implementation of HRIS systems. Over the last few days I have been re-reading lots of books and articles I have floating around to develop the content.

One of the first areas I have begun looking at is Return on Investment, or ROI. ROI is critical for both understanding the effectiveness of an HR organisation/program and critical to justifying expense on an HRIS system.

This lead me to dig out an old book of mine, “Third Wave Project Management” by Rob Thomsett, written in the early 1990’s much of the content is a bit dated but still a very good read. I was looking for references to Gane & Sarsen’s software development methods from the late 70’s. In the book Rob works through how to use Cost Avoidance, Improve Service and Increased Revenue to measure value when building business cases.

By the way Improving Service, which is what lots of HRIS business cases are built on, should always have a secondary benefit of  avoiding costs or increasing revenue.