Gen Z and the Death of the Coffee-and-Donuts Internship

By Lisa Marinelli on January 10, 2017
Business Discovery Generation Z

I don’t believe any member of Gen Z strives to be the coffee and donut intern. What we expect are internships full of practical skills-building, projects, conversations and lessons. Those experiences are highly valuable and will transfer into honest stories during future interview processes 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 lasts five minutes, nor would that skill demonstrate my potential as an employee at my next company.

Growing up in a school of stark reality hewn by the Recession and global upheaval, Gen Z itch for real world experience to get their hands dirty. We expect no handouts, and we feel discouraged if you give us trivial tasks. In fact, we typically come armed with valuable workplace skills we’ve already honed. A 2015 Cassandra report by Deep Focus Agency revealed that 89% of Gen Z born between 1998 and 2008 “say they spend part of their free time in activities they consider productive and creative instead of just ‘hanging out.’ As such, Gen Zs are more likely to have worked on a craft than Gen Ys at that age (42% vs. 25%). Gen Zs have shown interest in developing skills tied to how to start a business (58%), graphic design (51%), how to shoot/edit videos (50%) and how to build or create apps (50%).”

Furthermore, we love a good story. Gen Z is regarded as expert curators of our social media posts, and we want to show our followers how our work is making a meaningful impact. Gutfreund, CMO of the Cassandra Report and expert on Generation Z says, “They’re really fascinated with creators… if somebody can tell a great story, [Gen Z] can be a fan in a way that they never were before.” We want to be respected for our stories and experience, too. So I never envy anyone whose internship experience is spent fetching snacks for full-time employees so staff can do the real work. Capitalize on the strengths of Gen Z, because we are ready excel on your turf as valuable team players. Employers should expect the internship experience to be a mutually beneficial relationship instead of just a one-way street.

Companies who foster growth, learning 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, to name a few, not only take extra burdens off your staff, they can contribute to the growth of your company in ways you may not have imagined. Intern Bhagyasri Canumalla 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,” said Canumalla. “That was a huge confidence-booster because we weren’t so scared to do it alone—we learned how much we could accomplish in a short span of time.”

The internship experience can be similar to a team building activity. Working alongside productive interns, a company will come to know its next generation of employees better, and there is greater appreciation for the end product due to combined effort. Collaborative leaders listen to their interns, who come up with questions to which even you may not have the answer. Welcome collaboration to the internship experience, and watch the creative wheels turn in the minds of Gen Z.

As a college junior, I have had two internships, and I value my learning experiences holding meaningful roles in two very different workplaces. At my first internship, I was a promotions intern at an alternative rock radio station called 95.5 WBRU in Providence, Rhode Island. I learned sales promotion in representing clients and imaging promotion in representing the 95.5 WBRU brand. I gained insights into artist management by providing hospitality to artists and bands in a professional setting and developed some PR skills in 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 I can turn into honest stories to tell future employers.

Besides telling the story of solid work skills development, there are other stories that come out of internships. Taylor Noe, Junior at the University of Florida, said,

“For my internship, I worked at the Child Advocacy Center in Gainesville… a non-profit organization devoted to assisting children and families who have been subject to abuse. While I was there, 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. I’m really thankful for this internship because it was eye opening seeing all these local families in need, and it was rewarding to do my small part in helping them. This experience will help with future endeavors in a few different ways. It helped me gain a new perspective on what I do want from a job – I want to find a job that helps others. I also had a really great mentor, and I interacted with a lot of local agencies while I was there so I really learned about the real world and teamwork.” 

These experiences are valuable for shaping Gen Z’s worldviews and personal goals that they will carry to their future employer and beyond. In job interviews, candidates like Canumalla, Noe and mewill be able to relate personal experience stories that prove Gen Z are here to make a big impact.

Paid or non-paid, the internships Gen Z seeks are not just to add 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 was worth a 45-minute drive, unpaid. However, I knew I would walk away from my experience feeling like my time was spent wisely learning something valuable and helping the radio station build its brand.

Today’s interns expect to benefit by gaining new practical skills, knowledge and relationships that will help carry them to greater heights with confidence when it’s time to interview for future employers. A top-notch internship program should not only stimulate the excitement of learning in today’s Generation Z interns, it should empower them so they can truly become part of your company’s vision and success, and arm them with great stories for future opportunities.

About Lisa Marinelli

Lisa Marinelli is a third-year Advertising major at the University of Florida and is currently interning with the Pariseaf 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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