Where Do We Go From Here? Let's Ask Organizations to Help


Byrne et al. (2014) ask “Where do we go from here?” We suggest that we ask the people who hire industrial–organizational (I–O) students as interns and full-time employees. In response to Byrne et al.'s recommendation that we certify internships, we propose that leaders in organizations who hire I–O interns have a point of view, and we will provide one such point of view here. Byrne and colleagues assert that there are at least three functions of oversight to the certification of internships: (a) ensuring the quality of the supervisor, (b) adequate pay and health benefits, and (c) ensure that experiences map to their suggested competency framework. These three elements make sense in light of the trends in I–O psychology and the need to push the field forward. However, taking the perspective of a large, multinational organization such as The Kellogg Company, we caution against creating such stringent guidelines for I–O internships because this could ultimately reduce the number of good training experiences available to students.

As two I–O professionals who are passionate about giving back to the field by providing meaningful learning experiences to I–O interns, we have had to position the benefit of hiring I–O students to several senior executives. On the basis of our experiences, the main benefits of having I–O interns in organizations include (a) gaining a fresh, research-based perspective on our current business challenges and (b) delivering more projects/work than our base team can deliver for relatively little cost, but at the expense of a lot of management time to train the intern on the business, culture, and organizational practices. In order to continue to hire I–O students into internships, the benefits would need to continue to outweigh the costs, which may not be in the case if I–O programs begin to require internship certification, as proposed by Byrne et al. Our arguments against certification fall into three categories: (a) lack of flexibility in the internship, (b) the burden on the organization to become certified, and (c) the lack of focus on interns developing organization-specific competencies.

Lack of Flexibility in the Internship

As practitioners who have hired and managed I–O psychology interns at two different multinational companies, we can say with certainty that the internship experience varies by the organization. For example, in one company, the internship focused heavily on selection assessment validation whereas the other internship focused heavily on employee engagement and work–life balance interventions. The managers in both of these internships required strong I–O trained students with business acumen; however, they would not have both met the same competency framework as prescribed by Byrne et al. In fact, if a certain competency framework were enacted, both internships would have to create work to ensure that lacking competencies were accounted for, which would create an undue burden on the internship manager and organization. Similarly, although many multinational I–O psychology internships are 6 months long, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to know all the projects that the intern can and will work on for all 6 months. Given the fast pace of change in which organizations currently thrive, new work streams can enter the intern's team, and thus, the nature of the work may change. In fact, if the organization is following our recommendations of keeping up to date on talent trends, the external environment, and employee opinions, new work will certainly emerge in a 6-month period.

Burden to the Organization

Within large organizations, the process of recruiting, assessing, and hiring an intern—regardless of educational background—can be a very arduous process. Ensuring that key stakeholders are aligned to budget requests, the selection criteria and the congruence with organizational priorities takes a substantial amount of work for the hiring manager. These processes are important, however, to ensure that an intern is set up for success once a member of the organization. If the hiring manager had to submit a request to a committee for certification, this would further complicate the process. Given that internships are not static as we mentioned before, the certification most likely would have to be reviewed annually to align with the new internship work plan. This work would not be welcomed by our team internally—and most likely unwelcome by many hiring managers. Given that there are other students who are qualified to do our work (e.g., PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis or Master's in Organization Development), any additional effort or time required to hire an I–O psychology intern would deter us from selecting from this pool.

Lack of the Intern to Focus on Organizational Specific Competencies

At Kellogg, we want our employees to GROW WITH US. That applies to our interns as well. This means we offer our interns unique experiences that are not specific to I–O psychology practices. For example, in order to help interns understand how important the sales organization is to a consumer products good company, we may ask the intern to attend a “sales ride along”—an activity where the intern accompanies one of our sales managers on a visit to a key customer such as Target to learn more about our relationships with our customers. Although this is not an I–O or human resources activity, it enables our interns to better understand our business and thus create better solutions. Our interns' ability to not only show strong technical mastery in the I–O sciences but also with our company-specific key competencies allows us to then offer a full-time job, should headcount be available for this. More importantly, these critical competency-related behaviors give the intern a deeper understanding of what it's actually like for an I–O professional to be an in-house (versus external consulting) type of role, which is an important career decision for a graduate student.

With these three concerns, there is a chance the “cost” of hiring an I–O intern will outweigh the benefits; therefore, we strongly caution against taking action on the recommendation to certify internships. These concerns do not even take into account how increasingly complex it would be to have a “set criteria” for wages and health insurance benefits—as this is typically dictated by a separate group within the organization that the hiring manager has little influence or power over.

Perhaps the solution lies in strengthening the student–advisor relationship. That is, having the student work with the advisor in creating a record of competencies that the student can show they demonstrated while away. For example, if an intern was asked to validate an employee selection test, the student can record “selection & assessment” as a key competency developed and document what the organization had the employee do. This type of interaction would put more of the burden on the student or advisor—versus the organization.

Although we cannot speak for all organizations, we know firsthand from our interns, who are now full-time employees at Kellogg, that they are very pleased with their internship experience and report that they increased their business acumen as well as honed their I–O skills. For example, one of our recent graduate interns from the University of South Florida stated, “I have been able to work on a variety of projects which have enabled me to apply diverse skills and learn many new ones . . . The team is also committed to developing interns—structuring my internship to fit my career goals.” This highlights that maybe organizations are better at developing intern skills than Byrne et al. might give credit and might help shape a better, more effective emergence of I–O talent in the years to come.