What You Can Learn from “The Internship” to Recruit for Your Team

Bikes at the Google Campus. Photo by Twenty20.

You’re in charge of finding and bringing on new talent for your company and nothing seems to be giving you that edge above and beyond everybody else. You’ve tapped out your traditional channels — college recruiting, job postings online, even fun videos about how great it is to work at your company — and you get good applicants, but in order to really dominate your field, you need to attract the best people from all over the world. Right now, you just pull people from a handful of schools and geographic regions and everybody else — if they know about you — thinks, “they don’t want people like me.”

This is a real pain point for real companies. Every company knows the danger in not having a robust recruiting funnel but this is even more problematic when your existing recruiting channel is all the same people from the same places with the same experience working the same jobs. High quality teams building products that reach people from Indianapolis to Miami to Tulsa to San Francisco need to avoid groupthink the best they can and build high quality diversity into their recruiting tactics.

But this is easier said than done. Once you have a handful of favored recruitment channels, you get more and more applicants from those channels. People refer their friends, go back to their alma maters, post about it on Facebook and the circle gets tighter and tighter.

Image Credit: YouTube

This was Google around 2012. The tech giant — certainly well-known for being a great place to work — recruits heavily from Stanford, Michigan, and a handful of Ivy League universities. Although an effective recruiting tool, this quickly undermines Google’s self-pronounced commitment to diversity (which itself makes an appearance in The Internship) and seals the company off from the world and countries that make up its customers.

So when Vince Vaughn approached Google with an offer to make the company a core player in his movie The Internship in exchange for use of the campus, lots of extras, and consultations on what work life was like there, this was an offer they couldn’t refuse. The movie follows two watch salesmen (Vaughn and Owen Wilson) who apply to Google on a whim after their company closes down. They get in under one person’s appeal to diversity and “the layover test” (i.e., who would you like to be stuck with in an airport for a long layover?) after others dismiss them outright. What follows is essentially a comedified documentary about what it is like to work at Google.

Reviews of the movie were ultimately mixed but its message to people young and old across the country was clear, “why not apply to work at Google? It could be the promised land you are looking for.” The movie succeeded as a recruitment tool. Whether or not you have the massive brand recognition and campus that Google has, you can still learn from The Internship about how to use branded content for recruiting.

1. Recruiting is a complex sale…sell all of your stakeholders!

Most recruiters and markets get recruiting entirely wrong. Unless you are selling to an entirely atomistic individual living in their own bubble, recruiting is decidedly not just about selling perks, experiences, and pay to one person. Deciding where to work is much more like a complex sale than a simple one and involves stakeholders as fickle and varied as friends, families, neighbors, children, and potential spouses. Even more, like products, people trust referrals from family members about where to work and why.

To be entirely clear, this is not about family benefits. Those matter but are a simple and high-competition way of trying to attract new talent. This is about the discussions that people have with their parents, their in-laws, and with their spouses over dinner about job opportunities. This is about the decisions people mull over for a few days while considering different opportunities. The approval of the parents or the spouse might be the thing that puts a candidate over the edge between two otherwise-very-comparable job opportunities. The worst part about this is that it’s rarely tracked as a deciding metric in making job decisions.

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson just came off their zenith as a comedic duo with Wedding Crashers and the team of writers (Vaughn & Jared Stern), director (Shawn Levy), and Wilson had worked together on a number of family films like both Night at the Museum movies and young adult films like The Watch. This let the team set the stage for The Internship as a movie that a young adult and their parents could easily go enjoy. Through early advertising and heavy promotion of the Vaughn/Wilson duo, audiences already bought into the fact that this is not a movie for children and is a comfortable, enjoyable comedy that one goes to leisurely see on the weekend, whether that’s true for young adults or for retired parents of young adults is irrelevant here.

2. Leverage humor to avoid conflict and downplay stress

Applying for jobs is stressful. For many young adults, applying to work at a company like Google is a reach goal and something that they may worry about for several years before actually taking the leap. Comedy defuses stress and allows viewers to move into a more open and accepting state where they are more likely to entertain ideas they otherwise would not.

The Internship leverages this during the Google interview scene. What would otherwise be the most stressful part of the movie in a non-comedy with viewers asking themselves, “how are they going to pull it off?” it is flipped into a cringe worthy and comedic scene (based in a children’s library) of Vaughn and Wilson working their way around infamous esoteric questions from the Googlers. When asked what they would do if shrunken to the size of a nickel and dropped into a blender, Vaughn and Wilson develop a convoluted and inspirational workaround in which they see themselves as saving people’s lives instead of giving the answer that they should be able to jump out of the blender based on the physics.

The rest of the movie takes comedic approaches to inter-intern competitions, workplace strife, and romantic attraction (as both Vaughn and Wilson are depicted as single once they arrive at Google).

The lesson for a marketer with recruiting in mind is clear: do not let potential recruits associate you, your process, or the job with stress, anxiety, or any other negative emotion that would dissuade them from applying in the first place. Comedy is the unexpected intersection of two known planes of reference. For The Internship, the two planes are losing your job as an unskilled worker in Middle America and the much-spoken-of world of working at a major Bay Area tech company like Google. The intersection of these two points, including throwing people from the first plane into the second plane, is what makes The Internship funny.

In using branded content to promote working at your company, bring together two things that most people wouldn’t imagine coming together. Your company and another facet of life entirely outside your world is a good start, as are variations on your products, your employees’ stories, and your company history.

3. Leverage humor for easily-shared clips online

Another perk of humor is that it is easily turned into short clips that can be shared online for promotional purposes. If the focal point of your content is skilled, you can promote widely with humor on other channels alongside leaking bits and pieces of your content. Whether you choose to do a video series, a podcast, or a fanfiction of working at your company, comedy evokes good feels in readers and people like sharing those good feelings with others.

While most reviews of The Internship pointed out that the movie padded the actual plot with comedic interactions between Vaughn and Wilson, this worked well for promotion of the movie. Before hitting theaters, The Internship “won the internet” by taking a comedic approach to the already-overdone model of movies focusing on tech companies (see: The Social Network, and both Steve Jobs biopics).

The trailer alone carried 5,000,000+ views at the time of this writing and an overwhelmingly positive like:dislike ratio on YouTube, even after the movie was considered to flop by reviewers.

Vaughn and Wilson took to YouTube to promote the movie heavily, with clips of the movie posted to the YouTube channel early by the duo (see the interview scene above) and by joining non-traditional promoters online. Vaughn’s back-and-forth with German vlogger Flula Borg racked up over 250,000 views itself and focused entirely on the comedic prowess that Vaughn brings in interacting with people.

You don’t have to have Vince Vaughn promoting your company to use comedy as a sharing point for promotional materials. Keep comedy short and to the point and make comedic references something that people can easily share on social media. Too many attempts at smart humor drag on and require reading or viewing extensive content to get the joke. This is not easily shared and drives down your viral coefficient for content. Focus on short, punchy humor that can be broken into clips and shared easily on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.

4. Paint yourself as “against the system”

Photo credit: The Verge

All compelling stories follow some kind of conflict narrative. These conflict narratives are deeply woven into human experience and work their way into literature and cinema through a process of imitation of the successful content and disregard ofunsuccessful content. For The Internship, the conflict narrative structure appears quickly in the movie: this is a man versus the system story.

This is an excellent conflict narrative archetype to use for content designed to help with recruitment. The average college graduate sees the world as a place where the majority of jobs are going to be part of a system of drudgery and cubicle work. Workers today, especially millennials and younger, value workplace fit and the experience of being on the job more than prior generations did. This is a valuable opportunity to set yourself apart from the pack. If Office Space was a lamentation of late-90s workplace drudgery, The Internship is an exhortation to live up to the high standards and bar set by Google and other major tech companies. In The Internship, this system is no better juxtaposed against a better alternative than when Vaughn and Wilson lose their jobs. Their (now former) boss tells them that they’ll never make anything of themselves, that computers are replacing salespeople, and that they should just accept their lot and get on with life. The quirky salesmen somehow land a job at Google after entertaining somebody on the internship review team enough to give them a chance.

Once you have the man versus the system narrative set up, you can juxtapose your company as a sort of “promised land” that offers reprieve from this system. For The Internship, this means going from strip mall mattress stores to the Google campus with self-driving cars and slides inside the offices, greeted by soaring views of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Invoke this narrative for your readers or listeners and paint yourself as the way of breaking this conflict and creating something better. The narrative exists through time because it works and resonates with people.

5. Be honest, be real

Meet the Nooglers (New Googlers) Photo Credit: Sky.com

Vaughn could have made The Internship about a fictional company that was supposed to be like Google in every way except name (see: Hooli in Silicon Valley) but chose to approach Google about the opportunity to use their campus and brand prominently in the movie. Reviews from former and current Googlers expressed shock at how accurate it was. Vaughn made a point to do consultations with Google staff through the movie to ensure accuracy of the internship experience for a Hollywood film.

For a company outsourcing any of its promotional work to an agency or creative studio, making sure the studio has a pulse on what it is like to work with your company is of vital importance. You probably don’t have Google’s workplace experience in the public consciousness to pull on and will have to make a heavier point to emphasize how great it is to work at your company with accurate depictions throughout the work. Haphazardly outsourcing to a major agency with little skin in the game to guarantee accuracy could not only mean you get an inaccurate depiction of your workplace but could cost you hires that are shocked to see that working with you is nothing like how it was depicted in the material that got them to sign up in the first place.

Involving real employees and your real workplace are excellent first steps. Taking the time to hire a creative studio that cares about consulting with you on workplace experience is the key to guaranteeing that the general vibe of the workplace and small details are kept during the editing process.

Successfully depicting your workplace as it is also provides extra opportunities for your own employees to promote your workplace. This gives them something they can share far and wide and take pride in the work they are doing, opening up an extra channel for promotion as you push your content out for potential recruits.


You don’t have to use comedic heavyweights like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson to use branded content to supercharge your recruitment. You don’t have to come to the table with the brand power of Google. You just have to pay attention to what works and sell to the right stakeholders in the recruiting process. You have to depict your workplace accurately and as something for which to strive. And you need a creative studio who cares about depicting your company in an accurate and exciting way. You need The Mission Creative Studio.


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