For 3 years, I've had an internship program with Harlem's Fashion Row (HFR). Every month, I receive resumes from millennials wanting to intern with us. Now, I'm not foolish. I know that fashion is something that sounds quite attractive and lots of millennials fantasize about what they think is a glamorous industry. However, once they start the internship, they learn that it's about 5% glamorous, and 95% hard work. HFR's internship is only supposed to last for 6 months, but to my astonishment, I've consistently had interns ask to stay longer.
I get asked over and over, how we're able to attract and keep great interns that just happen to be millennials. Someone even asked if I would provide coaching on this topic. I have decided to lay out everything that's worked for me. Here are 5 ways you can attract millennials:
- Set the bar high. There is a misconception that millennials are lazy and unwilling to go the extra mile. What I've found, is that when I set the bar really high, I got super motivated millennials willing to go above and beyond for the internship opportunity. For starters, I have daily 8am calls with my interns. This is non-negotiable. If you have a class at 9am you will have to figure out how to take the call and be in class on time. I had one intern that had a job that started at 9am. She would get to work super early so that she could take the intern call before she started her job. When you set the bar high, you attract only those that are committed to exceeding it. Setting the bar high will weed out those that aren't willing to do the work. Also, when you have high expectations, the thought is that you're offering something very valuable. It's like charging 5 dollars versus 500 dollars for the same service. Most would assume that the $500 service is better based on the higher cost alone.
- Offer something better than money. I'm Gen X all day. Most of my friends are Gen X. When we graduated from college, there was only one thing that was important. MONEY. Who was paying the most. We (my friends and colleagues) were ready to purchase homes at 24 years old. We had nice cars and lived the "successful" life working jobs we only tolerated. If we think that money is the only way to attract millennials, we're nuts. Don't get me wrong, it's not that they don't want to get paid. Money is just not the main attraction for them. You have to offer something better than money, and yes, there is something better than money.
Here is what I offer: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday is all about work. On Thursdays, it's "Your Day." I start the call with something that I was inspired by or learned that week. This requires that I'm 100% vulnerable and honest. I'm constantly learning new things, so I keep my lessons fresh. My intern doesn't want to hear a 10-year-old lesson; they want to know what I'm doing now. After I share my personal lessons, I open the floor. They can share or ask anything they desire. I coach, I mentor, and guess what? It's not always work related. Sometimes it's about friendship and other times it's about dealing with a difficult decision that they have. I talk about anything they want to discuss. I've spent that time going over their resumes and perfecting them. This time belongs to them. I try not to take up more than 10% of that time--the rest is all them. Why is this important? Because they want to know that you care about their lives. "Your Day" offers them something that they can't get at many places. "Your Day" makes them feel good. We (the interns and I) usually have breakthroughs on that call. This call shows them that I care about more than just the work for Harlem's Fashion Row. I genuinely care about their development and lives. I want them all to win, and they feel that and they know that.
You must offer something that provides major personal value to millennials. It could be a networking event for them, where they have the opportunity to meet people they admire. It could be a meeting where you set up a mentorship with someone great. It could be open hours where they get an opportunity to ask you anything. Whatever you decide, it needs to provide personal value to their lives.
- Be authentic and transparent.If you want to attract millennials, you have to let the wall down. This can be the hardest thing to do. It's that wall we all put up in professional settings. The wall that separates our work life from our personal life. It has to come COMPLETELY down; they want to know you. The "you" that your friends know. They don't need to know everything, but they need to understand that you can relate to them and where they are in their lives right now. The more relatable you are, the more they care about helping you succeed. If you have children and your interns don't even know their names, that's a problem. They should feel like they understand certain parts of your life. They won't know everything, but they should be able to relate to you.
Honesty is also a necessity. Be honest about what you know and what you don't know. If you're not sure, say "I'm really not sure of the best way to manage this process. Can you guys get together and come up with a plan you think would work?" This approach empowers them to be strategic, and it shows them that you don't have all the answers all the time. It also shows you how well they can problem solve. When you are authentic and transparent, they can relate to that.
- Give honest feedback. Good or bad, millennials love feedback. The quicker the feedback, the better. I suggest making the feedback a weekly thing, or even more frequent. Waiting until the end of the year to provide feedback is a major fail. They want to know what they're doing wrong and how they can do it better. I can't promise this will work for you, but when my interns really mess up I tell them: "This sucks." "Did you think this through?" "This is unacceptable." These are all phrases I use. These all sting, except I follow them up with, "The right way to get it done is..." This goes against everything I've been taught. I was taught to figure it out for myself, and I did most of the time. However, millennials are different. They don't mind the bad feedback but show them how to make it right in the most detailed way possible. It seems time-consuming, but if you provide detailed instructions, the next time the issue comes up with another intern, you can make the previous one the expert. "Talk to Joy, she knows how to do it and can walk you through it." The worst thing you can do is give bad feedback without providing the way to make it right. Of course, good feedback is always amazing. Yes, it's their job to do a good job, but letting them know that the report was amazing or that they really did a thorough job on something is necessary as well. Remember, millennials are used to this feedback. They've had great feedback since they were babies. They were raised differently from other generations. So, we have to bring that same feedback into the workplace. It doesn't hurt you at all. It actually fosters an incredible work environment.
- Invest in their futures. Let's face it. Most millennials want to do something entrepreneurial. They don't want to work for your company for the next 10 years of their lives. Heck, most don't want to be at our companies for the next 5 years. So, why do we pretend this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives? Let's be honest, and celebrate what they want to do. If there is a millennial at your company that dreams of being a chef, let her teach a cooking class after work. It doesn't cost you much, but it definitely builds a raving fan from this future chef. If you know they want to sing for a living, why not have a lunch hour with a performance from them? If they want to work in fashion, but you're a tech company, have them integrate their love for fashion in the workplace. I try not to just throw out tasks for interns; I talk to each of them to learn what their goals are long term. And if they don't quite know, I give them the opportunity to take on different roles, to figure out what they are amazing at. My goal is to have them use this internship as a way to get experience in the thing they want to do long term. If I have a connection and they've proven themselves, I'll set up a meeting for them. I understand that this could take them away from me, but guess what? They won't be with me forever anyway. While they're with me, I want them to feel absolutely in love with the experience. After all, people who love what they do create an environment we all want to work in.
In Their Own Words:
Clark Atlanta University Graduate
Interning for HFR was a life changing experience. I attended University for Fashion but wasn't sure what I really wanted to do with my degree. Unlike other internships, Brandice really focused the internship on helping us realize our strengths and challenging us to get outside of our comfort zones. She knew that I really loved interviewing, so during NYFW 2015, Brandice told me I would be conducting Red carpet interviews. Brandice is an intentional person. She knew this would be my first time doing interviews like this, but that never phased her; This is what I loved most HFR's internship, that Brandice didn't baby step us into anything; She threw us in fire and had confidence that we would figure our way out. And this trust, put the power in my hands to choose to succeed. I've never experienced such trust from someone, I interned for.
While interning, I felt like HFR was mine, that it was my responsibility to make sure that every detail was met. Although I was just an intern, I know my hands had a touch on HFR's amazing legacy. Being a part of the HFR internship helped me to realize the types of opportunities I can strive for in my career. Completing the internship was bittersweet; I knew that I had done my best and deep down that my work for HFR is never done. HFR will always be family to me. And I will always be willing to help in any way I can.
Columbia University Graduate
The most enjoyable thing to me, in working with HFR, was the ability to work directly with someone I deeply admired, the CEO herself. I got a front row seat and witnessed the dreams, hard work, and integrity that went into growing a business. I was an intern, but I was also treated as a serious contributor, with real responsibilities. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to be part of something so wonderful. I got to wake up every day with responsibilities. I developed alongside my fellow interns, who also became my friends and my network. The difference between an HFR internship and any other internship, is the hands-on mentorship. Brandice gave us an entire day each week to discuss our progress and well-being. Then she coached us or, rather, pushed us if we were particularly hard-headed. She carried us to the next step and helped us to develop our dreams into actionable plans. The internship wasn't just about growing HFR; it was about supporting me in my personal progression. I stayed for so long because I love the company's mission and all that it gave me in mentorship, friendship, and experience from being part of its growth. I would still be an intern if I didn't have to commit so much time to a full-time job. By ending my internship, I felt as though I was leaving the nest and making space for other young people to give to HFR and soak up all that it has to offer. Though that time has ended, I still have the same support from Brandice if I'm ever looking for it.
Two years is a long time to any college student. There's a lot that goes on in that time, with classes, extracurricular, and a whole gamut of other activities. It was no different for me. I had A LOT going on while I was at Howard, but the one job I loved most was being an intern for Harlem's Fashion Row. I learned SO MUCH from Brandice, the company, and the fashion industry in just about 715 days. Her generosity, patience, insight, professionalism, MENTORSHIP, prayers, and motivation is the reason my heart will always remain with HFR.
Brandice introduced me to the idea of "living in my purpose" and "taking the leap"; things I wasn't so sure of until I met her. She allowed me to be vulnerable, to develop my skills under her wings, and watched me soar when it was my turn to fly. She was extremely transparent with us as well, about her own struggles and triumphs. Just being a part of the conversation was enough. HFR empowered me. HFR stretched me to dream bigger. To push past doubt. Take on new challenges. And work work work work work work.
I was inspired by the company culture to serve and uplift others through fashion and creativity and never to take "No" as the final answer. I'm forever humbled and grateful for the opportunity to experience the number one fashion platform on the planet, and to have done so next to an extraordinary human being!
Howard University Graduate
This was a life-shifting internship for me because it really pushed me to explore the different opportunities in the fashion industry. I appreciated how hands-on the internship was, and how much of our ideas and talents were utilized during the duration of the internship. The reason I stayed so long was because Brandice was such a supportive force during the internship. Getting to know her made me passionate about HFR, and made me driven to help it succeed the best way I knew how. I'm glad have gotten to experience HFR as an internship, and would recommend to anyone who wants to explore the fashion industry.