I recently bought a used car, and the buying experience got me thinking about how it compares to the decision a hiring manager makes to employ a new MBA or masters graduate. Both decisions involve purchases of expensive items where the up-front cost represents just a small portion of the lifetime cost of the decision. Yet despite the similarities, the decision-making process is typically very different.
When you go to a dealership to look at a used car, you typically get a fair amount of documentation on the car including performance statistics and gas mileage, a Carfax report, and maybe an owners' or maintenance history. Yet few people would make a decision based on this information alone. In order to find out how the car really runs and whether it's a good fit for you, you need to get in and take it out for a test drive. You might be impressed by how quickly it accelerates or how quiet the interior is, or you might find that there's not enough headroom or the seats are uncomfortable. Whatever the outcome, after the test drive you have a great deal more information to feed into your decision than you had before.
The way hiring managers and recruiters approach hiring decisions for graduate students, however, is very different. Managers have a hefty amount of documentation available to assist them in this decision as well, from resumes to transcripts to letters of recommendation. Yet as for a car, these documents do not present a complete and accurate picture of the candidate. To round out the picture, interviews are typically used. But an interview should not be equated with a test drive- it is more like asking the used car salesman how the car ran three years ago and what its features and problems are. The real test drive of a potential candidate is to observe him/her while they are doing real-world work in a role similar to what they would be doing in the actual position. Internships provide this valuable transparency and are thus a highly effective way of hiring graduates.
But unfortunately it's impossible for most organizations to hire exclusively from their pools of interns: hiring needs change mid-year, interns receive other offers, and internships can typically only be done in the summer. Enter 31Projects. 31Projects is an online project marketplace which allows managers and recruiters to test drive students through real-world projects (think remote mini-internships). Projects can be conducted as either individual or team consulting arrangements ("Consult" projects) or as open brainstorming competitions ("Challenge" projects). But projects are not just for trying out students- they also provide managers with high-quality, cost-effective assistance on their real business needs. It's like test driving a car by taking it out for the day on a business trip.