Friday, March 27, 2009

To Intern or Not?

My Smart Answers column this week answers a question from a business student who wonders if an internship would help fulfill her entrepreneurial ambitions.

I always advise people thinking about starting a business to work in the industry first. The more familiar you are with business, the better your chances of succeeding. Even those who have great talent at a particular enterprise can benefit by learning how to monetize that endeavor.

Getting inside the business world and soaking up knowledge like a sponge can help immensely, particularly if you're also taking classes and under girding your experience with business theory.

A couple of bloggers added some interesting perspectives of their own to my column.

One commenter raised an eyebrow about how much interns really learn about the inner workings of a company. Given the right environment, and the right attitude, I think an enterprising intern can learn a lot. Of course, it depends on whether s/he is asking good questions and forming relationships with people willing to answer.

Another brought up the tricky question of whether business owners will hire individuals who might one day be competitors. My feeling is that this isn't a big concern at larger companies that are unlikely to be threatened by startups.

Entrepreneurs who hire interns would be wise to ask about an intern's future plans if they're worried about competition, and the ethical intern must answer truthfully if entrepreneurship is a goal. However, the most successful small business owners tend to worry less about competitors and focus more on strategic partnerships.

A bright and ambitious intern who wants to own her own company may someday figure into your succession planning. A non-compete agreement could be used so that the intern doesn't directly compete with your firm for several years. Or you could enjoy a terrific relationship and become a partner or board member of her company in future.


  1. Sorry I don't have the link--but Morning Edition/or Day to Day on NPR covered a company that places high school and college students at smart internships, for mind-boggling fees! $7000 was quoted. Considering that most internships (for students) pay little if anything, it certainly sets up a class divide:who can afford subsidizing their child--

  2. I didn't know about the internship placement service but I can't say I'm surprised. Anytime there is a need and people willing to pay for it, an enterprising individual will start a business to fill that niche.

    When my older son was applying to colleges, I investigated a couple of services that counsel students about where to apply, what to write in their essays, etc. The fees were astronomical: Geared toward ambitious parents bent on getting their kids into Ivy League schools - or else.

    Not for me, that was for sure.

    In terms of subsidizing your kid's intership, only a wealthy few could do it, given that you're probably supporting said kid while they're interning, not to mention paying for or subsidizing their college education.