At These 5 Companies, Interns Never Fetch Coffee

Internships are formative work experiences that can lead to full-time roles. Here’s how Chicago companies offer experiences with impact.

Written by Cathleen Draper
Published on Mar. 15, 2023
At These 5 Companies, Interns Never Fetch Coffee
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Making copies. Running personal errands for the CEO. Working all hours of the day and night.

That’s how internships have been portrayed for years in movies and TV shows. But that’s not the reality for interns at five Chicago companies.

At tmsa technology, marketing and sourcing company, the internship program offers hands-on experience working with clients and cross-functional teams. Interns network and build relationships with industry leaders, mentors and peers. 

“Interns have the opportunity to fully integrate across the various departments at tms and focus on team-building and strength-building opportunities,” Jaime Sklar, senior talent acquisition specialist, said.

tms interns aren’t alone in their robust internship experience. At Caterpillar, Northern Trust, The Heico Companies and PerkSpot, interns sharpen their skills, discover their interests, receive mentorship opportunities and gain perspective on work and life. 

Our goal is to create an internship program that mirrors what it would be like to work here full-time,” Lexi Vassallo, HR specialist at PerkSpot, said. “Our interns work on projects that directly impact their department.”

The impact of experiences like these can be profound. According to a compilation of statistics by Zippia, former interns are 15 percent less likely to be unemployed in the first few years following graduation. And 70 percent of interns are offered a full-time position at the company where they interned.

Built In Chicago — which has more than 2,000 internship listings right now — sat down with former interns and full-time employees who oversee the programs to learn more about what their internships entail.

 

Two young men stand outside the Caterpillar office
Caterpillar

 

Dawson Ren
Analytics Intern • Caterpillar

Caterpillar’s digital and technology arm, Cat Digital, brings digital capabilities to Caterpillar’s famous yellow machines. Cat Digital’s teams use data, technology, analytics and AI to help customers build a better world.

 

Tell us a bit about the internship program you participated in. What made you decide Caterpillar was the right place to do your internship? 

I had an amazing experience interning with Cat Digital last year. I joined the applications team as a front-end development intern, and I supported VisionLink®, Caterpillar’s equipment management solution. I love to code to make the world a more efficient and organized place, so it was a perfect fit.

I knew I made the right decision when every single person I reached out to said “yes” to a meetup or call, even when they weren’t part of my immediate working group. During my internship, I had the opportunity to work from the Chicago office once a week and visit our extended team in Peoria, Illinois. I spoke to data scientists, product owners, business analysts and managers, and I learned a lot. I’m excited to apply this knowledge when I return this summer to intern with the analytics team.

 

What’s the coolest project you worked on as an intern, and what skills did that project help you develop?

Interns participated in a hackathon, and we were challenged to solve real-world challenges Caterpillar faces. Cyber and data security is a top priority for Caterpillar, and we needed to think creatively about how to increase the security of our online authentication system while ensuring the process remains streamlined and simple for our dealers and customers. My team and I iterated on a few ideas, and then we shared them with experts across Caterpillar and received feedback. 

We developed a solution that addressed the real needs of the business. Our solution used machine learning — specifically a decision tree model — to screen potential bad actors trying to sign into our online solutions. Our team won the hackathon, and the coolest part of the experience was presenting to Caterpillar’s chief digital officer. It gave me an opportunity to interact with senior management that I’ll never forget.

 

How did your internship help you grow professionally, and how will you carry the lessons you’ve learned forward into your career?

My internship sharpened both my technical and personal skills. Working on a product like VisionLink®, which connects more than one million assets, taught me about writing maintainable and performant code. Additionally, I had the opportunity to work on a solo project adding error states across the app, and my team was always ready with advice and support throughout that project.

At the end of my internship, I presented my work to more than 100 Caterpillar employees, which was a great public speaking experience. I learned that the best technical solution in the world isn’t useful if you can’t convey its value to the right stakeholders.

Most of all, I learned the impact of mentorship and the power of “passing it on” from my managers and coworkers. The people at Caterpillar have been nothing but generous to me, and the experience inspired me to continue pursuing new mentorship opportunities for myself while also looking for opportunities to mentor others.

 

I learned that the best technical solution in the world isn’t useful if you can’t convey its value to the right stakeholders.”

 

 

John Blackburn
Chief Productivity Officer • Northern Trust

Northern Trust is a leader in innovative wealth management, asset servicing and investment solutions. Though the company has gone global since its trust bank roots, it remains true to its principles of service, expertise and integrity.

 

Tell us a little bit about the internship program at Northern Trust. What opportunities exist and what kind of experience can interns expect? 

Our team develops innovative artificial intelligence and machine-learning-based solutions that are in use across Northern Trust. Interns work on the same types of projects as our full-time employees in their first and second year with the company. It’s intended to be a realistic and meaningful experience to help the intern decide if NT is the right fit. Also, demand is high, so we need our interns to help deliver our growing book of work. This type of work is interesting by nature, so the collaboration and teamwork tends to be fun.

 

What are some of the coolest projects your interns have gotten to participate in? 

We strive to be data-driven in most aspects of our work and to be more productive in how we operate, and these priorities translate well into the type of work we do. Much of our work makes it easier to analyze and make decisions based on large, complex data sets, and we make it easier for many of our colleagues to do their jobs by automating processes and data. 

One of the coolest projects started last summer and uses natural language processing technology, similar to what drives ChatGPT, which is generating a lot of excitement. We were looking for a faster, more effective way to respond to written requests for information about NT. For example, we receive many requests from firms doing due diligence on NT, and often they have dozens, sometimes more than 100 questions. Our intern was part of a small team that created a tool to ingest requests with many questions, analyze a dataset of previous questions and answers, then suggest multiple answers that best fit the current request. The tool also returns helpful data points, like how often it has been used, how recently it has been used and a confidence score. The tool also publishes the answers in a formatted document in seconds, and that serves as the first draft. This saves the team hours, which they can now spend on higher-value tasks like thoughtfully tailoring responses to specific requests. This project has been a launching pad for additional NLP and chat-type projects.

 

How have your internship programs helped your interns grow professionally and kickstart successful careers?

Our business allows interns to keep working with us on a part-time basis through their senior year. Our 2022 intern chose this option, and it’s been great to have her continue as a valuable teammate while also continuing to build her skills and network. She has delivered important projects while balancing her school work. We are very excited that she will soon be with us on a full-time permanent basis upon graduation.

 

 

Jaime Sklar
Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist • tms

tms unites technology, marketing and sourcing to drive change for brands. Operating as a creative agency, a strategic consultancy, a sourcing business and a technology provider, they engage with clients including McDonald’s, Starbucks, adidas, T-Mobile and O2 daily.

 

Tell us a little bit about the internship program at TMS. What opportunities exist and what kind of experience can interns expect?

The internship program has three sections. The first and largest section, which accounts for about 80 percent of our interns’ time, is spent with their team doing hands-on work. The second section, equal to about five percent of their time, is spent attending weekly lunch and learns, which include panel discussions and group activities centered on career tips, guidance and best practices.

The last section, which accounts for about 15 percent of their time, is the Intern Capstone Project. Interns are divided into teams and tasked with building out a full client program, from ideation through creative conception and production. 

 

Our interns take part in client projects, work alongside cross-functional teams and learn first-hand the inner-workings of a global organization.”

 

What are some of the coolest projects your interns have gotten to participate in?

The Capstone Project includes a real client brief, and interns must complete initial research and concept development, develop a strategy, form a budget, manage vendors, maintain compliance and develop creative assets. The project also includes identifying key business and marketing goals, communication and desired consumer actions. Leaning on various internal subject matter experts, interns gain insight into all aspects of creating a full consumer engagement program. At the end, they present to the wider organization, which gives them a realistic client pitch experience.

Outside of the Capstone Project, our interns truly get to be in the thick of it all and take part in client projects, work alongside cross-functional teams and learn first-hand the inner-workings of a global organization. They work on brands like McDonald’s, T-Mobile and Samsung.

 

How have your internship programs helped your interns grow professionally and kickstart successful careers? 

Our goal is to help foster the minds of our future — the talent that will ultimately develop and bring the freshest and most innovative ideas to life. With this in mind, we’ve crafted our program to give them hands-on experience with live client projects and work, as well as opportunities to hone in on key skills such as relationship building and management, strategic thinking, data-driven decision-making, and innovative problem-solving.

Throughout the summer, interns will take part in various workshops and panels, which provide them with even more tools, like interview tips and tricks, resume advice and how to make their LinkedIn pages stand out, and guidance on building a diverse network with advice on how to tap into those relationships throughout their careers.

Our interns gain 10 weeks of experience working at a global organization that supports some of the most renowned brands in the world. As you can imagine, they often want to stay! There are no arguments on our end though. We have a strong track record of hiring our interns into full-time positions — sometimes even years later.

 

 

Kaitlin Klasen

The Heico Companies is the parent holding company for a portfolio of manufacturing, construction and industrial services businesses. As a buy, hold and build investor, the company credits its growth to a commitment to reinvest earnings in organic growth and new acquisitions.

 

Tell us a bit about the internship program you participated in. What made you decide The Heico Companies was the right place to do your internship? 

The internship program at Heico allowed me to gain real work experience and develop professionally. Even as an intern, I was truly integrated into my department’s team for the summer. I participated in meetings and had my own projects to complete. I knew I had chosen the right place for my summer internship when everyone from my internship mentor to the CEO took the time to get to know me and share career advice. Something that makes Heico special is how valued the interns feel. It felt like the work I was doing was important and the people around me cared about how my projects were going.

 

What’s the coolest project you worked on as an intern? What skills did that project help you develop?

I was the social media and communications intern in the HR department last summer. It’s hard to narrow down the coolest projects I worked on to just one, but one of my favorites was generating content for Heico’s LinkedIn. I had a lot of independence to reimagine the aesthetic of the page, which allowed me to expand my creative thinking and sharpen my design and writing skills. Additionally, to produce authentic content, I had to learn more about the company and reach out to various employees for information. I developed strong communication and research skills that will be invaluable no matter where I end up in the future.

 

It felt like the work I was doing was important and the people around me cared about how my projects were going.”

 

How did your internship help you grow professionally, and how will you carry the lessons you’ve learned forward into your career?

My internship helped me grow professionally in so many ways. I experienced how a professional workplace operates and I learned what positive office culture looks like. We also had designated times to put into our schedules for career development classes and lunch and learn sessions. During career development classes we learned and practiced important skills such as networking, interviewing, and business lunch etiquette. I enjoyed being exposed to all areas of the company. I know these experiences will help me refine my career goals and help me achieve them. 

 

 

Lexi Vassallo
HR Specialist • PerkSpot

PerkSpot delivers savings and recognition to employees at companies like Walgreens and McDonald’s. The company offers exclusive discounts on brands like Samsung, Target and AMC Theaters.

 

Tell us a little bit about the internship program at Perkspot. What opportunities exist and what kind of experience can interns expect?

During our 10-week program, interns can expect to work on a project specific to their interests that will directly impact the work of the department they are a part of. They can also expect to dedicate one day each week to learning soft skills, meeting with executives, team building, LinkedIn tips and working on their internship class project. Some of the soft skills they will learn include giving and receiving feedback, fundamentals of diversity, equity and inclusion, conflict resolution, creating SMART goals, interpersonal communication, workplace etiquette, and more.

 

Our program is designed to give our interns real-life working experience and tools that they can utilize in their future careers.”

 

What are some of the coolest projects your interns have gotten to participate in?

One of our previous business intelligence interns collaborated with the people team to create an easy-to-use dashboard to showcase recruiting metrics. This included tracking time to fill, offer acceptances, applicant source and more. An engineering intern worked alongside our QA intern to apply a prototype to a new feature page on our main discount site. They were able to participate in standups and collaborate throughout all stages of the development lifecycle.

 

How have your internship programs helped your interns grow professionally and kickstart successful careers? 

Our program is designed to give our interns real-life working experience and tools that they can utilize in their future careers. They have many of the same responsibilities as our full-time employees, which is how we help prepare them for their next steps after graduation. Most of our interns have received full-time employment after graduation. 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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