By now, Shara Senderoff knows the business of storytelling. After working in film and TV production in New York and Los Angeles for several years, though, Senderoff began to wonder why a medium that prized storytelling still relied on that least vivid and anonymous of documents: the resume. (That is, when it didn’t rely on that other outdated but persistent hiring technique: nepotism.) With memories of her struggling intern years all too recent, Senderoff pitched her boss, producer Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan, Grey’s Anatomy), on Intern Sushi. The site launched last fall and is growing swiftly, with over 1,500 companies offering 2,000 internship positions, and some 10,000 interns showcasing themselves in ways that highlight their creativity.
The site completely reinvents and reconstructs internship applications and hiring, and it does so in a way that trashes the paper resume. The digital profile lets you tell a story, include samples of your work, and you can apply right through the site. Same for companies: Instead of just putting a listing online, Intern Sushi allows them to present themselves in the same way the intern would to them.
Your own slogging in the internship trenches gave you the idea.
I was an intern for Scott Rudin in New York. Then I was an intern at a small television production company in which I built Ikea filing cabinets and was asked to clean the walls with 409. I was unable to showcase what I could do for the company, other than building Ikea filing cabinets. I moved to L.A. and ended up getting a job as Mark Gordon’s assistant, and from there grew to be a film executive. A year and a half ago I pitched him this idea.
The idea of the video resume became infamous a few years ago, when a young man sent a video of himself ballroom dancing and bench pressing, to apply for a banking gig. Why are you embracing it?
I think we’re embracing that because we believe personality is a large part of what makes someone successful. You have to be able to move somebody, to instantly say, “Here’s why I’m different. You should stop what you’re doing and pay attention to me.” Resumes don’t do that at all. And the video doesn’t have to be of the person: It can be a compilation of their work.
Why limit yourself to internships?
What we saw was a massive hole in the ability for young people to break into the full-time working world. Internships are the new entry-level job: You can’t get a job without having an internship.
Why “Intern Sushi”?
The name says a lot about our attitude. It came from the idea that the attributes of a great intern match those of great sushi: presentation, sophistication, and innovation. Also, with sushi, everyone seems to be really picky about what they eat. “I don’t like eel, I don’t really like raw fish, I don’t want this…” Similarly, people should be picky about where they intern, and companies should be picky about who they hire.
This interview has been condensed and edited.