MY EXPERIENCE SPEAKING AT LOCAL COLLEGES
In 2013, we started a paid internship program at Wild Attire as one of our initiatives to participate in the non-existent Orange County startup narrative. I want to preface this by saying we have no pipe dreams of following in the footsteps of SV, NY, or even the LA scenes. And to be frank, our mission is not all altruistic either.
I once read that Travis Barker gave private drum lessons (well past his fame and fortune) to aspiring musicians. His reason was that he wanted to keep tabs on upcoming talent and if she or he was really good, he would sign them. Secondly, this was Travis’ way of training – it was a way for him to continue practicing his craft. I’ve never really forgotten this, so we devised our own paid mentorship program where we take local talent and teach them what it’s like to work in an office where actual work gets done; where you can’t hide behind meetings, where you can’t rest on your laurels, where you’ll be held responsible for deadlines, and more importantly, where you are judged and rewarded on merit. By implementing our program, it becomes a win-win for both us and the students, because no matter what, both parties will be gaining from this mutual relationship.
Even before WA, starting an internship program has always been a life goal of mine. I’ve always felt that our education system severely lacks hands-on training, but most of all, students don’t take it upon themselves to seek “on-the-job” training opportunities. Giving students and even post-grads training, affords us the opportunity to seek out new talent, but more importantly, affords the mentee a chance to see what it’s like to work in a small office vs. the corporate world. If nothing at all, the intern learns a ton of great skills that will be applicable no matter where she or he goes afterwards.
As a way to promote the program, I’ve been mentioning it during my College Talks – where I speak at different colleges and to professional college organizations about the startup world.
Here is what I’ve found in the 3 years we’ve done this:
1. [Most] students have no idea about the world outside of school. They are perfectly content with learning what is being taught at school only. They don’t see a reason why internships are important, until they graduate. Most of them learn that finding a job will be difficult, but they have accepted this in a form of passive submission or make it an excuse to not explore what’s out there. What they don’t realize is that it takes more than just learning in school, but knowing how to apply your skills to any job. That’s what internships and work experience do. They help students gain valuable skills and prepare them for their careers and, ultimately, encourage them to experience something new. The world is a big place, so students shouldn’t limit themselves to what is only taught in school.
2. Students have little interest in foreign affairs. Perhaps this is a reflection of a larger issue in our society, but I think the Ivory Tower does little by way of promoting students’ interests towards the world past their noses. Most students don’t have knowledge about the issues going on in the world outside of their ecosystem, therefore, they lack a well-rounded and enriched lens. The narratives are often very narrow and one-sided during the Q&A sessions, so it becomes difficult to engage in any meaningful conversation with students. With only having a limited knowledge about foreign affairs, students are doing a disservice to themselves by not enriching their lens and thus, not being able to approach new views or ideas in any business.
3. Participation sucks. There is always a handful of students who really take advantage of me being at their school. They ask questions, want to stay afterwards and walk me to my car, ask for my business card, offer to buy me coffee, and even show up to our offices and hangout. I know these students will be successful, because they go the extra mile. Then there are others – the overwhelming majority – who have their eyes glazed over and are most likely thinking about their next activity. They don’t want to pay attention and have no interest/realization of how important it is for them to do something outside of school. It all comes down to how much you want it. If something is really important to you, take the actions necessary to get it. Believe me, that extra mile will not go unnoticed and could make the difference between you and the next person competing for the same job.
4. Follow-ups are very rare. I’m always amazed at how many students choose to come to events and even more amazed at the students who approach me afterwards. I call these “my hustlers.” They come to thank me and ask questions and then they hit me with “may I have your business card?,” or “how can I find out more information about your company’s internship programs?” But what I’m utterly disappointed at, is the lack of follow up that ensues. I would say, out of 100 students, about 30 approach me and roughly 10 follow up. That means 20 students didn’t care enough for the position to make that crucial extra step. If you want the opportunity, follow up and that will show me that you want the job. I would rather give the position to one of “my hustlers” who followed up than to someone who didn’t at all.
5. Students who seek us are far more successful. Our most successful cases of students who have matriculated into our internship programs are those who have actively sought us out. Students who actively scour the Internet or pillage their school’s career centers are apt to be more ambitious and treat the opportunity with more respect. Perhaps because getting to meet me eludes these other students into taking the opportunity less seriously. Students who seek us out, not only come equipped with the right attitude, but I know that they are also setting themselves up for success. That’s why when students approach us about our programs, it already tells me what kind of person they are. I know that these students will most likely succeed and it’s exciting for me to see this kind of new talent come into our business.
I should not generalize when I say “students.” In a broader sense, I really mean most of the students and not all of course. I do come across really ambitious, talented, smart, dedicated students as well. These students are champions and will do very well in life. That said, most will not, unfortunately.