How to Land a Rockstar Intern…and Do Some Good in the Process

Product and Industry


If you’ve ever struggled to find a bright, motivated intern, or to fill a mid-level position with a highly-skilled candidate, you won’t be surprised by this fact: in the next decade, 14 million American jobs will go unfilled. And in the US today, 6.7 million young people are what is called “disconnected” – they’ve either dropped out or graduated from high school, they are not in college, and they’re unemployed.

As Chief Information Officer at Marketo, I’ve watched youth unemployment rates soar with growing concern. I’ve also seen my IT team struggle to find bright, motivated, educated people to fill our IT positions. So I’ve often wondered: how can we help close this gap?

That’s why, when I first heard about Year Up, I knew that Marketo had to get involved. Year Up is a non-profit with sites across the US, working to correct that imbalance between open jobs and qualified candidates. Since 2000, Year Up has helped more than 4,000 disadvantaged youth (some with high school diplomas, some with only GEDs) receive training, qualify for internships, and bridge the gap between two major problems: young people struggling with unemployment, and companies struggling to find qualified candidates for their teams.

The Year Up Method

Here’s how it works: Year Up gives low-income young adults (ages 18-24) six months of intensive, interpersonal, professional training in a classroom setting. These students learn skills that most people don’t learn until after college – tangible technical skills such as desktop support, customer service and investment operations, along with professional skills, like presenting to a room full of co-workers, time management and working in teams.

The classrooms use a “high expectation, high support” model – standards are extremely high, but if the students are motivated and committed, the program gives them every possible kind of support. Students meet with their Year Up advisors every week, connect with mentors from their local business community, and have access to one-on-one tutoring at all times.

For the second half of the year, these young men and women put their new knowledge to work. Each one is placed in an internship at a participating company, like Marketo, where they get the kind of on-site experience many young candidates lack. The numbers speak for themselves: within four months of graduation, 84% of Year Up graduates either have full-time jobs (making an average of $30,000 a year) or are attending college.

Year Up and Marketo

There are a couple of reasons that Year Up’s mission affects me so deeply. On a professional level, Year Up helps solve a huge staffing problem for technology leaders like Marketo. But on a more personal level, I’m moved by Year Up’s desire to help young people who are bright, motivated, and at a disadvantage for reasons beyond their control.

This video says it best, but fair warning – have a box of tissues nearby.

To watch Year Up’s video, “What is the Opportunity Divide?” follow this link

Marketo got involved with Year Up back in 2012. Our first intern worked in IT desktop support, setting up computers and troubleshooting technical problems for our employees. He was a “tinkerer” by nature – he loved fixing and building things – and because of Year Up’s intensive training, he knew how to conduct himself professionally. Most importantly, he was naturally customer-focused – and Marketo’s IT people need to be personable and patient, not just good with computers.

Each week, I met with him for one-on-one coaching, making sure he was getting the necessary support from myself and from the program. After six months of interning with us, I hired him on as a temporary contractor. I would’ve liked to hire him permanently, but as much as we wanted him to stay, I wanted him back in school even more. We wrote him a glowing college recommendation, and supported him through the application process. I’m pleased to report that he’s now well on his way to earning a college degree.

Marketo accepted our second intern soon after the first, and we’ve just started our third intern. Year Up helps us honor our commitment to corporate social responsibility, which we take very seriously, but it gives us back a lot in return.

How Can My Organization Get Involved with Year Up?

There are plenty of opportunities to donate to the program, or to volunteer your time as a tutor, mentor, or classroom speaker – all of which I highly recommend, as the effort is extremely gratifying. But if your company is looking to truly be a part of the Year Up solution, why not become a corporate partner? Over 250+ companies like Marketo have joined forces with Year Up, offering internships to these highly-trained interns. Remember, interns undergo six months of intensive training before they’re placed with corporate partners, so you’ll be providing a leg-up to students who have already demonstrated their determination, commitment, and character.

At Marketo, we’ve loved every Year Up intern who walked through our door, and I’d like to personally encourage you to learn more about the program. For everyone involved, Year Up is a win-win.

To learn more about Year Up, listen to Marketo CIO Greg Higham’s interview with Year Up’s Jay Banfield and Year Up graduate Alex Maiden on “Today’s World.”