Finding an eLearning Internship in the Blue Ocean

This article was originally published by eLearning Industry.

A friend of a friend reached out to me recently on LinkedIn. She’s nearing the end of her graduate program in Instructional Design and looking to land a summer internship here in Pittsburgh. In a small-to-medium sized city, though, this will be one hell of a battle. Dozens of qualified students will be fighting over a handful of eLearning internships. This is what W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne call a “red ocean strategy”. The water is filled with sharks turning the water bloody as they compete for an ever-shrinking supply of fish. If you don’t want to be another body churning up these waters, you’ll have to do something even more bold and daring than fighting the other sharks. You’ll have to swim away toward…

The Blue Ocean

The blue ocean is the new, unexplored market, completely untouched by competition. There’s plenty of room in these waters for growth, and no other sharks to fight. Of course, there is a reason those other sharks aren’t swimming here. The fighting may be ferocious back in the red ocean, but at least there are rules, boundaries, and a conventional path to success. Out here in the blue, though, you’re on your own.

Rather than fighting with other sharks over a limited supply of advertised jobs, you’ll have to create demand for your services. You’ll do this by reaching out to people and organizations that are not advertising for eLearning internships and convincing them that you’re worth talking to. Once you have your foot in the door, you’ll have to demonstrate so much value that they’ll create a position just for you.

Feeding Grounds

  • Linda is a successful executive coach who just finished writing her first book. She wants to share her ideas with a larger audience to drum up business for her coaching practice and to create interest in her book, but she’s not sure how.
  • Jordan’s been working with his pastor to develop a parenting skills training program for low-income workers in his neighborhood. Due to the unpredictable work schedules of the parents, though, he’s found it impossible to schedule live classes at a time when everyone can attend.
  • After a few years of struggling, Justin and Kyle’s startup is growing faster than they could imagine. In a matter of months, they’ve gone from having three employees working at their office downtown to having twenty three employees working from home offices in different parts of the country. They know they need to get their new hires up to speed on company policies, but the teleconferences they’ve been hosting haven’t been effective.
  • Alyssa is the sole full-time employee at a tiny community library. Lately she’s been spending most of her time showing borrowers how to use a new website to request books from other libraries. Repeating this one-on-one tutorial for everyone who comes in is eating into the time she needs for other work.
  • Nathan inherited a small chain of diners from his father last year and he’s struggling to keep the family businesses afloat. Due to the high staff turnover, Nathan is spending most of his time travelling from location to location training new employees on basic sanitation, food preparation, and customer service skills.

All of these people have two things in common:

  1. None of them are even thinking about eLearning, much less about hiring an eLearning intern.
  2. They could all benefit tremendously if they did.

The blue ocean strategy involves finding these people and helping them solve their problems. Here’s how.

  1. First, Cast Your Net.
    Instructional Design firms, universities, and large corporations are the red ocean of eLearning. Everything else is blue ocean. Small businesses, family firms, non-profit organizations, consultants, religious ministries, dentist’s offices, artist co-ops, local government agencies, organic farms… you get the idea. Don’t just send your resume out scatter-shot, though. Do some research first. Read websites and learn what these organizations do. If you see an opening where you might be able to add value, then send a resume and a personalized letter explaining how you can help them. An even more effective approach is to ask around among friends and family to see who they know or work with who might be in need of your help. People are much more likely to take a chance on someone they know -even just a friend of a friend- than someone they have no connection with.
  2. Now, Offer The Bait.
    Let’s say you get a call-back and someone from the organization wants to meet with you. Get busy and create a work sample before you even walk in the door. Go to the organization’s website and pull down their logo, colors, and other branding elements. Use this information to create a short, simple eLearning on a topic that might be important for them. Bring along a laptop to demonstrate the course at the end of the interview. (Even if you don’t get the job, you’ll have another asset that you can re-brand and place in your portfolio. You do have a portfolio, right?)
  3. Finally, Set The Hook.
    Assuming you’ve impressed them with your interview and work sample, make it easy for them to hire you. Remember, many of these folks have never hired interns before. (That’s why they’re in blue water!) The more hoops they have to jump through and the more intimidated they feel, the less likely they are to do it. Offer to do some of the legal or regulatory legwork, if you can. Keep your expectations reasonable. No one gets rich at an internship – the point is to gain experience. Your experiences in blue water will probably be more valuable than your friends’ experience churning things up in the red ocean.

Sailor, Be Warned

If you think the blue ocean strategy sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. If you think it’s going to involve chasing down a bunch of leads that go nowhere before finding the right one, you’re probably right about that, too. You’ll also have to face puzzled looks, being blown off and ignored, and a good deal of flat-out rejection.

If you have the guts, however, you may find treasure in these blue waters.