How to Lose an Internship

No matter what my speaking topic, the Q&A portion often turns into a discussion of Millennial behavior, either from the perspective of parents or employers.  Did our parents spend this much time at professional meetings talking about us?  Perhaps--but I also think that we're seeing not only traditional generational tut-tutting about the youngsters' strengths and shortcomings, but also a deeper kind of bewilderment about the impact of virtual communication and relationships.

Last week, at a major international consulting firm,  I heard a story from the head of internships that combines two dominant themes.

This particular company runs an extensive multi-year internship program that begins with undergraduates.  The selection process is so demanding that when a student lands an internship, she can be pretty sure that she's going to get a job after graduation.

In this case, the interns were invited to a weekend field trip in a large Eastern city, mixing with some of the company's higher-ranking officers.  At one point, the whole group went from one venue to another via bus.  One young woman found herself sitting next to the company's CFO on the bus.  And she proceeded to spend the entire ride texting on her mobile phone.

Afterwards, the CFO went to the internship coordinator and said he was sorry, but someone who can't make small talk on a short bus ride just isn't going to work out at the firm.

At the end of the day the internship coordinator took the young woman aside and said that, regretfully, they were going to have to remove her from the program.  And then the coordinator just had to ask: "What were you thinking?  Sitting next to a senior offficer of the company and spending all your time texting?"

"I was texting my father," the girl explained.  "To ask him what you should say to a CFO."