Educate March 2017

Internships Redefined: What Story Will Your Gen Z Interns Tell?


I don’t believe any member of Generation Z strives to be the coffee and donut intern. What we expect are internships full of memorable skills, projects, conversations and lessons. Those experiences are highly valuable because they transfer into honest stories for future interviews and working practice. If I was a coffee and donut intern, I don’t think I could make up a story about coffee and donuts that would last five minutes, let alone one that would demonstrate my potential as an employee at my next company.

Growing up in a world of stark reality hewn by the recession and global upheaval, members of Gen Z seek to get their hands dirty with real-world experience. We expect no handouts, and we feel discouraged if you give us trivial tasks. In fact, we typically come armed with valuable workplace skills that we’ve already honed. According to a 2015 Cassandra Report, 89 percent of those born between 1998 and 2008 use some of their free time to pursue creative and productive activities, working on skills like entrepreneurship, fundraising, design, videography or app building.

Furthermore, we love to hear or share a good story. Gen Z-ers are regarded as expert curators of our social media posts, and we want to show how our work is making a meaningful impact.

Companies who foster growth and empowerment in their interns benefit by gaining fresh ideas and perspectives. Interns who are given decision-making capacity, such as content development, client list management, or program development, not only take extra burdens off your staff but also contribute to the growth of your company in ways you may not have imagined. Cornell graduate student Bhagyasri Canumalla recently took part in the Area 51 internship at AOL, which gave its participants the challenge “to think of a new idea that AOL staff members hadn’t thought of before.”

“Not only were we allowed to come up with a product idea, but we were allowed to build it all by ourselves,” Canumalla said. “That was a huge confidence-booster…we learned how much we could accomplish in a short span of time.”

Taylor Noe, a junior at the University of Florida, interned at the Child Advocacy Center in Gainesville, where she was trusted with professional tasks that made her experience richer.

“My job was to assist the Child Advocates…by attending interviews, filling out case paperwork and updating the database, mailing out information to families and sometimes sitting with kids while they waited to be interviewed,” said Noe. “I gained a new perspective on what I want from a job: to help others.”

As a college junior, I’ve had two valuable internships. First, I was a promotions intern at an alternative rock radio station called 95.5 WBRU in Providence, Rhode Island. I learned sales promotion while representing clients and imaging promotion while representing the 95.5 WBRU brand. I gained insight into artist management by providing hospitality to artists and bands in a professional setting and developed public relations skills while contacting and documenting contest winners. Presently, I intern at Parisleaf, a digital marketing agency in Gainesville, Florida, where I’m learning about inbound marketing, conducting research, creating search engine-optimized blog and website content and managing multiple social media accounts.

I feel more qualified for future positions at companies because 95.5 WBRU and Parisleaf gave me valuable professional experiences that I can bring to employers. In future interviews, candidates like Canumalla, Noe and myself will be able to relate stories about personal experiences that prove Gen Z is here to make a big impact.

Paid or non-paid, the internships sought by Generation Z are not just added resume points. Companies that can offer important work skills experience will attract Gen Z. Neither of my internships were paid positions — I convinced my dad that my first internship, though unpaid, was worth a 45-minute drive. I knew I would walk away from my experience feeling like my time was spent wisely learning valuable skills and helping the radio station build its brand.

A top-notch internship program should not only stimulate the excitement of learning in today’s Generation Z interns. It should also empower them so they can truly become part of your company’s vision and success and arm them with great stories for future opportunities.


LISA MARINELLI is a third-year advertising major at the University of Florida and is currently interning with the Parisleaf content marketing team. Drawn to unexplored turf, she absorbs her surroundings like a sponge. She finds the perfect background music for every moment of her day.

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