I’ve recently seen the movie, The Internship. Billy and Nick, the two 40ish, out-of-work salesmen are doubtful to land an in demand summer spot at Google. But nothing is impossible, right? Especially if it is in Hollywood, the place where Cameron Diaz can be an orthopedic surgeon (inThere’s Something About Mary), anything is possible.
Age can be a concern along the entire spectrum; is someone too young or too old to do a job? It also creates the potential for communication problems based on different levels of experience, and for prejudicial treatment based on age.
After seeing The Internship my primary feedback was how out of reach it was. The idea that two watch salesmen who had recently enrolled at the University of Phoenix would even make it as far as the Skype interview for the Google internship is pretty implausible and fanciful. And how convenient that Billy and Nick are both single with no other commitments and could shuffle at a moment’s notice. Yet, keeping all that aside, the movie offers a number of lessons.
So let’s hang up disbelief, and put aside whether or not it’s funny and consider what the movie gets correct about midcareer internships.
College internships are well established across corporate around the globe. However, the strategy of opening up internship programs to non-traditional candidates is gaining importance.
It provides a cost effective and low-risk way to engage with mid-career professionals seeking to return to work. Sometimes the non-traditional candidate turns out to be the best choice.
No matter the age of the intern, internship programs give both employer and intern an opportunity to try each other out before committing.
The differing perspectives and skills of older interns help form an effective team, with each age group relying on the other to provide what it lacks. A team leader must think about diversity as diversity of ideas and experience, not just race and gender. A leader needs to recognize the diversity of each team member and achieve unity of common goals without destroying the uniqueness of any person. The team leader must do this within the scope of the organization’s resources relative to the growth of the team member. Leaders have the task of using the other team members’ diverse gifts, abilities, and skills to achieve the common goal without the unintended consequence of conforming to the characteristics the others on the team. This requires active management by the leader to insure that diverse followers show respect and acceptance of the followers that are different in one way or another.
Mid-career professionals transitioning, whether as interns or not, will have a better chance to succeed if they are “coachable.”
Mid-career professionals should not make assumptions about who may be “on their side.” In The Internship, the manager supervising the internship program appears unfriendly to Billy and Nick until the very end, when he discloses that he cast the deciding vote to admit them. Lacking the fancy education of so many Googlers, he had prevailed through hard work and saw the same tenacity in Nick and Billy.
The movie comic strips middle-aged technophobes and Billy’s repeated references to being “on the line” rather than online are hilarious. But in fact, technological ignorance among mid-career professionals is rare today.
However, mid-career professionals can achieve a level of technological proficiency necessary to survive even at Google (or at least the Hollywood version). But, if some team members are young enough to have been around computers most of their lives, it’s reasonable to expect they will be comfortable with the idea of virtual working. Individuals never conform to an exact stereotype, given that individual differences outweigh similarities with others in a group, and subsequently, people on a team may use limited personal experience or perceptions of others to guide their interactions. These stereotypes are harmful in groups for several reasons. A person may be misunderstood early in an interaction. Contributions may be limited and specific strengths or talents may be overlooked because they do not seem prominent in the given stereotypical category. On the other hand, poor performance can be overlooked in an individual because they belong to a stereotypically desirable group.
One skill that is sometimes underestimated among younger professionals is sales. However, in The Internship, extraordinary sales dexterity saves the day for his team.
Will the movie influence companies to hire more mid-career professionals? It’s tough to say. But just maybe some big bosses will get the message. Maybe even Google.
This article is written by Debalina Haldar, class of 2015 student at IIM Lucknow. Her novel, The Female Ward, was published in May, 2013. She is the Creative Head and Core Coordinator of the Media and Communication Cell at IIM Lucknow.
Follow Debalina at debalina.insideiim.com