Every Thursday, “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” sends out an intern in a trench coat with two free tickets to that night’s show. Whoever finds the incognito intern first gets the tickets and their picture on the show’s Tumblr.
Sandwiched into these phone camera photos is the trench-clad ticket-giver, who has just completed one of his or her duties as an intern for the NBC talk show.
Being sought after by Fallon fans may seem interesting or fun, but most recruiting experts say an internship’s main objective is to give its participants a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a classroom to the real-world work environment. Odd tasks like Fallon’s #TrenchcoatTix and Old Spice’s 2010 internship program that sent three interns surfing and snowboarding around the world with the job of promoting their products are fine, as long as there’s a more substantial learning experience to back them up.
“I understand how to make it more brand-specific and further the company brand by creating these internships,” said Allison Cheston, a career adviser. Brand image drives everything that happens at a company and should be understood by every member of the organization — including interns — but it shouldn't be the only factor in planning an internship.
"The issue I have with the Fallon gig is it's not designed to teach the interns anything about working in the entertainment business," Cheston wrote in an email. "While connecting with the audience is fun, it doesn't show them how tough it is to produce a successful show."
But groups such as Starcom MediaVest Group, a national media communications agency, align their internship programs to incorporate fun activities while providing professional experience. SMG recruiter Kayla Canvasser said she thinks about SMG’s brand image every day when funneling the company’s goals down to its interns’ duties.
Interns at SMG participate in adventurous activities, but there’s always a deeper developmental purpose to the fun. For example, Canvasser said they plan city-wide scavenger hunts during the summer program to cultivate a better understanding of how consumers think and act, promote a streetwise perspective and provide participants with creative fodder to help them in their work once they return to their desks.
That work — and the professional growth that comes with it — is critical to the worker and the business. Tracy Brisson, founder of recruitment consultant agency The Opportunities Project, said organizations conduct final check-ins and have interns formally present what they learned and accomplished as a way of making sure the program met developmental goals. These recaps can also alert the organization to what needs improvement to make sure they meet the goals set up at the beginning of their tenure.
From the intern’s perspective, final evaluations can help them consolidate their achievements into marketable skills and experiences. “In the end, how would you want that intern to be able to go and speak to their next employer about the skills they learned?” Brisson said.
For SMG, however, that next employer might be SMG.
Maggie Diemunsch, the company’s human resource manager, said the main business value to providing a program balancing experience and brand image is it gives interns a realistic preview of what it’s like to work for the company, which hires a sizable number of its past interns.
“From the business perspective, we now have interns who have worked for the organization, who have been trained internally, who understand our systems and understand how we operate and can then provide that vision once they’re back in the door as full-time employees,” Diemunsch said.