She called before applying and had been told it would be impossible for her to beat out 600 other applicants. So she wrote a cover letter that included visuals and opened with: “I know you said you wouldn’t look at this, but…”
It worked, and she scored the internship, which turned out to be extremely successful. That experience coupled with a later internship, which was less than inspiring, sparked an idea for a way to improve the intern application and hiring process. “I wrote my business plan for Intern Sushi at a bad internship,” Senderoff, 28, says. “All they asked me to do was build Ikea filing cabinets.”
After graduation, she spent several years climbing the ladder in TV and film production, but never let go of her theory that college students with sparse resumes can shine brighter when they use multimedia to showcase their drive and talent.
“No one hands out a resume other than to get a job, but when you break down a resume it’s a vague and not necessarily honest story of your career path and experience,” Senderoff says. “So if there were a way for you to tell a more visual and detailed version of your professional story, then why not?”
Finally, in 2011, she succeeded in convincing her boss, television and film producer Mark Gordon, to back her startup.
“I had raised $80,000 while I was in college and had my business plan, but had never started the company because I couldn’t compete in that market without some big money behind me,” she says. “I had proven my concept by creating an internship program at [Gordon’s] company, so he said, ‘Let me be your first investor.'”
Gordon became one of the company’s cofounders along with Richard Gelb, a former advertising account executive at Dunkin Donuts, Calvin Klein, and FedEx.
Intern Sushi now features profiles from 80,000 interns and 10,000 companies, and has placed 4,000 interns since it launched two years ago (one of their greatest accomplishments, according to Senderoff, has been helping students in the Midwest get hiring managers in New York and Los Angeles to take them seriously). Students on the platform create profiles highlighting their personalities and passion for an industry, often using photos and videos to make their introduction to companies they hope will hire them as interns. And next week, Intern Sushi rolls out a program to add profiles for industry thought leaders and innovators to its website. Students who have profiles can take a look at how big names in their industry got started and vie for one-on-one informational interviews with them.
At the moment, Intern Sushi makes money by selling premium accounts to prospective interns (a more stripped-down, free version of the site is also available). The paid accounts, which cost $5 per month or $50 for the year, allow students to create separate videos for different applications and design their profile to look like a personal website. A similar paid feature rolls out for companies that use the service next year.
Some companies, like Billboard, won’t look at internship applications unless they arrive via Intern Sushi. But it hasn’t always been easy convincing big companies to abandon a system that relies on application keywords and awarding merit based on who a potential intern knows.
“I spoke on a panel that with a bunch of heads of HR from big companies, like 20th Century Fox and Sony PlayStation,” Senderoff says. “They sat there and nicely argued that using keywords to filter cover letters and resumes is the right way to hire people.” But her passion for this platform and her powers of persuasion had an impact. A few weeks later she got a call from the HR team at 20th Century Fox–they wanted to start using Intern Sushi.