We are in the middle of my second favorite season at work-college recruiting! A successful college recruiting season is vital to my most favorite season at work-summer, for our summer intern program. We have a stellar intern program for technical talent and it’s insanely tough to get into. One of the selling points that we beat to death comes down to “you don’t have to get coffee.” What we really mean is our interns don’t get handed petty tasks to keep them busy for 10-12 weeks and shadow technical subject matter experts. Instead they get handed real work to perform right along side our SMEs. There is obviously economical value in our interns applying the skills they have acquired to our backlog, but is there economical value in having them get coffee?
I don’t mean that our technical interns should run out every morning to pick up the gangs coffee order for morning SCRUM, but maybe other lower level tasks. I recently read what Daniela Pierre Bravo had to say about being an intern for Mika Brzezinski on Morning Joe and she starts off with the first time she met Mika. Her first question and first order had to do with fetching coffee. I laughed this off as soon as I read it, because again I sell “You don’t have to get coffee.” The story focused on why getting her coffee right was so important and why it helped Daniela be successful in other things. It basically boiled down to this (which I think is brilliant):
“Whatever industry you enter, your first few roles will be to support others. In order to do that, it is imperative to take cues about the needs and preferences of others, because at the end of the day, if you are there in an entry level position, whatever the industry is, you are there to make the jobs of those above you easier. That is what gives you added value and helps you excel at your role.”
I realize we are still talking about coffee, but she uses this example to illustrate how she recognized the importance of each task assigned. Nothing was assigned for fun, everything had a purpose. I think this is difficult for educated entry level folks to grasp. We think when we go from high school to college we are working hard in a different way to skip some of these entry level tasks that aren’t as fun or are harder to attach to the bigger picture. A lot of times when a task doesn’t make us feel good we tend to devalue that task and find a way to not do it. Daniela flips us a nice reminder that we all have to make our way and that understanding the little tasks will lead to us being entrusted with bigger tasks.
Now I’m going to switch to more general terms. What expectations are you allowing your entry level people to set for your organization? College isn’t replacing entry-level experience, it’s preparing students for entry-level positions in a more competitive hiring market. It’s bringing new hires in your door that have a foundation of knowledge. That’s a good thing, but they have to do some lower level work to appreciate the bigger picture. I’ve never seen an employee that didn’t work hard at the smaller lower level tasks excel in a higher level position. I’m sure it’s happened, but I’m also sure it’s not the norm. Do your employees a favor, develop them. If you don’t expect them to do tasks that need to be done just because they don’t want to do them, you are not setting them up for success anywhere else. And those employees, like Daniela, who just get it- duplicate them. Whatever you do, don’t punish those employees by giving them work that their peers don’t want to do and then rate them the same come performance review time.
Get your own coffee?
Before I close this one out I want to clarify a very important reason our interns don’t have to get coffee is because we all get our own coffee. One of my favorite stories I heard an engineer tell (with lots of enthusiasm) on a college recruiting trip to a student was how he gets his coffee from the same coffee pot that one of the co-founders of our company gets his from and how much he appreciates that kind of access to the top technical talent we have on staff!