You Organization’s Secret Weapon


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With the tightening labor market, organizations are hiring again in droves.  The demand for talent is high, and finding, attracting, and retaining that talent can make or break organizations.  So, what if you could find high performing, low cost talent, with no locked-in long term commitment?  The solution may be right in front of you, provided you willing to spend a little time of your own to ensure success.

Enter the internship. I love the concept. Interns are one of the most undervalued assets organizations possess. Think about it. They represent an extremely low risk approach to talent acquisition. It has been my experience that in most circumstance raw aptitude is the most critical component of high performers. This raw aptitude can be spotted early on at a significant value.

In hiring interns you get a free rental period with an option to buy if you provide an engaging and meaningful experience. Hiring future potential is a penny stock investment with potentially big dividends. High performing interns are the future vice presidents, entrepreneurs, analysts, financial gurus, and engineers who will change the world. Young folks can do much more than many may think, so don’t relegate them to all grunge work. Don’t underestimate them. Challenge them. You will be pleasantly surprised.

A Primer in Vulcanology

I had two very influential internships. The first was with Carlisle Tire and Rubberwho, at the time, manufactured tires of all sorts and also was a leader in the use of scrap rubber to make gym and playground floors.

Even though it was an unpaid internship, the company was very serious about performance standards. I once was chastised for being 15 minutes late to work even though there was a wicked snowstorm brewing outside. In a manufacturing plant the assumption is you choose to be late.

In this internship I worked for a community psychologist who was responsible for moving the firm from a Tayloristic line production method to self directed work teams. She took the time to mentor and encourage me. My primary assignment was to gauge how the new approach was working and prepare a comprehensive report on employee reaction and engagement (before it was known as a term) within the plant. I was given some general guidelines, the executive secretary to help schedule meetings  a pen, and pad of paper. Other than that, it was my project. I was 19.

I got to interview line managers, production workers, engineers, Q/A specialists, maintenance personnel and all manner of people. I spent the better part of three months being an industrial Studs Terkel talking one-on-one with over 80 employees.  It was an amazing experience. At the end the project I was rewarded by giving a report to the company’s senior management, which included the president. It was my first real solo research project and there was much deliberation during my report about what to do next. Research in action! It would solidify my life long obsession with the use of data to improve organizational performance.

Um Sure….

My second internship was paid. I worked for a bank in southern California. During my interview the hiring manager, who would come to make a huge positive impact in my professional development, asked me this:

“So, do you know SPSS+?”

“Why yes. Yes, I do.” I said looking him straight in the eye.

It wasn’t a lie, but the truth was I had a very rudimentary grasp of the data analytics program, which at the time, was entirely written in code. My calculated risk worked and I was hired. The first day on the job I sat down at my cube and stared at the black and eldritch blue CRT screen with my hand on menacing 5” thick users’ manual I was provided. The cursor mocked me as it blinked and I was a little freaked out.  However, it’s amazing what you can do when you have no choice. Within a few months I was the data analytics master at the bank. I wore the hat of survey writer, data entry clerk, programmer, DBA, and report generator for the multiple studies conducted by the bank. I learned by doing. I was a one-man research department.

Don’t Set Boundaries

Many years ago I read book about Mindfulness by Ellen Langer. It detailed how many geriatric facilities woefully underestimated the capabilities of the elderly, thus actually exasperating their helplessness. She encouraged readers to not set boundaries on people and provided compelling examples that when you challenge people to do extraordinary things, they oftentimes do.

For those in search of your “first real job,” let me say you can do the extraordinary. I remember vividly reviewing HBR case studies in graduate school. In the classroom we were reviewing one case in particular where a controversy came up about the intended strategic direction of an architectural firm in the case provided. The class was converging on what they assumed was the intended strategic direction of the firm based on the information presented.

“No, that’s not what they want at all,” said the superstar student in the class (not me). All heads turned to the young scholar.

“How do you know?” challenged the professor, peering over her reading glasses at him.

“I called up yesterday and asked the CEO,” said the student.

This student had the audacity to look up the CEO of the Norwegian company featured in the case study and ask him about his thoughts directly. This guy pulled the graduate school equivalent of the young Captain Kirk in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Brilliant and daring. Another lesson in reframing the problem to your favor and drawing outside the lines.

Advice for Job Seekers and Employers

So if you are young and you are looking for your first “real job,” fear not; you have more leverage than you think. Employers are competing to onboard smart, young people who are willing to be unconventional.  Neophyte employees who are willing to take risks, do things differently, and work hard are highly sought after. Take a risk and show your prospective employer what you’ve got, don’t just go through the motions.

And if you are an employer, I would suggest you seriously look to interns and young people to help you achieve your objectives. Challenge them. Many can do much more than you think. Give them that big project you put on the back burner and see what they can do. They will need some guidance and help from you, but you will be pleasantly surprised most of the time. Above all treat them well, be respectful, and take the time to teach them in the way others may have done for you. After all, you might be working for them some day.

So a sincere “thank you” to my many great teachers and mentors out there. I am still learning and hope to never stop.  And to interns out there at MaritzCX and elsewhere; keep up the great work your awesome.  Thanks!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and


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