"Micro-internships," or project-based internships, are emerging as a way for students to get a foot in the door and for employers to test talent before making a commitment.
Lasting just days or weeks, micro-internships can create a more meaningful experience, too, according to Jeffrey Moss, CEO of Parker Dewey, a platform that enables such arrangements. Rather than longer programs that involve a fair bit of busy work, micro-internships often focus on one, substantive project.
This could have an intern writing a blog post or compiling research, for example, he said. For many companies, these are tasks that are important, but don't always get done. "It gives the career professional or student early insight into what the job is really about," said Moss, "and manager buy-in is high. Rather than a department head trying to create an interesting day or weeks full of intern work, micro-interns get specific projects done for the manager."
Testing talent before you hire
For employers looking to test drive talent, Moss said, micro-internships offer insight into the way a person works. Projects are tangible and can demonstrate how someone executes instructions. For students or career re-launchers, they offer a chance to showcase their talents as they grow. "They develop an authentic relationship with someone who may be their manager down the road," said Moss. "They're paid for their work and get real-world experience for their resume, typically in a few days or weeks, and generally done remotely."
The ability to work remotely creates a more democratic system for interns, as well. Students who don't have access to large markets or businesses can still get a foot in the door. For underserved populations, that access could be a key factor in their career trajectory.
Adam Rekkbie was an undergraduate at Bentley University when he learned about the opportunity to do project work through Parker Dewey. He emailed HR Dive from Peru to talk about his experience: "I figured this would be a good way for me to earn a little extra money while also expanding on my skills and learning more about different industries," he said.
Generally, employers choose students to work on a project, building a relationship with them and offering help along the way, Moss said.
Rekkbie has completed nine projects to date, and they run the gamut: market research, creating a business plan for a doctor, migrating and cleaning up data, product research and more.
Rekkbie said the arrangement was a win-win for him and the employers. As a full-time student, he enjoyed the flexibility of working around his schedule. He also said he gained insight into a broad range of industries while still making money.
And employers say the fast access to high-quality talent is invaluable. Ryan Sarti, director of marketing and sales operations at Sturtevant Richmont, is a convert. In a one-person department, he told HR Dive, there are lots of projects that are high priority, but bandwidth is limited. With micro-internships, he can spell out what he needs and when and then choose among candidates; "I can organize a project quickly, hand it off with minimal time and feedback, and get really good high quality work done."
Larger companies are using these as a way to test potential employees, Moss said. Microsoft, for example, is using micro-internships for immediate support and early access to talent.
Growing the talent pool
Feedback throughout the project is open-ended. Sarti said he likes to give and get detailed comments. Interns ask good questions, he said, and the more feedback you give, the more they grow. That's critical because, after all, they may be working with you one day, he said.
Rekkbie noted the networking opportunities, too: "I have had a couple clients I did work for come back to me and ask for help on additional projects because of how satisfied they were with my initial work," he said. "These clients also provide me with valuable insights related to careers."
And while students may not snag a job directly from the internship, Moss said, they'll be better able to articulate to other employers the direct experience they have.