Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
Dear Mr. Intern,
We were very pleased to invite you to participate in our corporate internship program this summer. I am sure that you too were pleased and very proud to have been accepted. After all, you were chosen from over 100 applicants after a rigorous vetting process. Your resume was impressive enough to make the first cut and you were selected for an interview. What an interview it was – six seasoned lawyers grilling you for an hour. But it was worth it, you were invited to join a very exclusive club. You were invited to be an in-house summer intern at one of the premier corporations in America. You would be exposed to many excellent in-house lawyers and interesting and varied work. You would be mentored by the very best legal professionals in your area. There would be introductions to some powerful and influential people who could influence your career for years to come. Congratulations on such an accomplishment. We were positively thrilled when you accepted the invitation and we commenced planning for your arrival.
Of course, we did have to inform those who did not make the cut that unfortunately, they would not be participating this year. There are only so many spaces available and we had to make difficult choices. Those conversations are never easy, but every applicant understands when they apply that they are competing against others for the opportunity and that not everyone will make it.
You probably did not realize that the six attorneys who interviewed you had to spend at least 15 minutes on each of the other 100-plus applications. If you are good at math, you already figured out that each lawyer spent about 25 hours on this part of the process (multiplied by six that equals 150 hours of valuable professional time). But these professionals donated their time for this project because they are committed to the program and to the people that participate. Alums of the program are better lawyers, better professionals, and most importantly, better people because of their participation. This time does not even contemplate the hours that went into planning the program and working through logistics etc.
It is not likely that you thought about those six lawyers taking two full days away from their jobs and families to interview you and the other candidates. Of course, the prep time for the interviewing process was probably done late at night at home so as not to interfere with the other important aspects of their lives.
You might not have realized that the senior executive who recommended you for the program carried a lot of sway in the decision-making process because his judgment about past candidates has been proven true and he is highly respected among the selection committee. He has a reputation for identifying the good ones.
Once selected and paired with a corporation, you probably did not realize that your corporate sponsor had to budget for your ten week salary. In fact, it was pretty tough this year getting approval for an intern because of the state of the economy. Among many corporate layoffs it was a pretty hard row to hoe, convincing the boss that it made sense to bring in an intern to work “part time” for the summer. Wouldn’t it be better to keep a full-time employee on the payroll for that much longer?
Once the boss was persuaded, the company had to prepare for your arrival. There were computers to acquire, access to systems, security clearance and all the other administrative work that comes with bringing a new employee on board. They even had to build an office space for you in which to work (ok – a cubicle, but at least it was “yours”). Finally, the department had to plan the allocation of work assignments. But hey – this is all normal back office stuff that is routine and doesn’t take much effort, so you really never gave it much thought.
We figured that you had not given much thought to the effort that went into providing you with this opportunity – the time spent planning, reviewing applications, picking one candidate over another (perhaps equally deserving) one, budgeting, allocating work, preparing office space, spending personal capital getting an internship approved etc., because a few days before your start date you informed the company that you would not be available after all. Of course, you probably have a good reason for reneging on the deal, maybe another, better offer that was in the offing came through and you just had to take it. Or maybe there were other reasons that caused you to pull out at the last minute. I cannot judge the reason for your decision, only you will be able to determine if, on balance, it was a good decision.
You probably have not read the brief article that initiated this column. It is titled “An Honorable Calling” and can be found here: https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/an-honorable-calling/ . If you had read it before making your decision to drop out of the program, you might have decided differently, maybe not. I recommend that you read it very carefully now. After reading it, I urge you to personally reach out to the people mentioned above and apologize for letting each and every one of them down. Of course, you won’t be able to apologize to the person who did not get slotted for the position because you don’t even know their name.
I recently spoke with a good friend of mine at a large company who told me about the trials and tribulations that she faced when a summer intern backed out of a lucrative and sought after position he had firmly accepted. The internship was arranged by a local bar association. If I was mentoring the intern involved, the above letter is what I would say.
The mentoring process never stops, even after the program ends. It is my sincere hope that the intern and anyone else in a similar position take the advice in this letter under consideration and act on it. The last thing any one of us wish to see is even a speck of tarnish on that shiny new suit of armor before the student even graduates from law school.