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The Privacy Advisor | Looking to start an internship program at your org? You might follow Promontory's example Related reading: How To Deliver Your Company’s First Privacy Internship Program

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Promontory Financial Group’s internship program started simply: as a partnership.

Christopher Millard, Professor of Privacy and Information Law at Queen Mary University of London, asked Promontory Managing Director Simon McDougall to come speak at a LLM class the law school was hosting. The talk was on the operational side of privacy from a consultant's perspective. Promontory now also runs an interactive breach role play scenario evening, where the students play different senior roles at the company manages a data breach. 

The experience was an inspiration, McDougall said. The “quite natural thing then to move from lecturing those students [was] to setting up an internship program,” he added. “And that’s been going on for the last four years.”

The program has been a success, according to McDougall. Organized in part by Promontory Data Protection and Privacy Analyst Peter Slezak, it commonly attracts students from the QMUL program, although that’s not always the case, McDougall said.

What started small, three or four students per summer, has grown to seven students this past year. The most current application window for the upcoming internship cycle, which has since closed, has indicates more growth. The quality of applicants is strong enough that Promontory adjusts the number of interns they take on as they come.

“We don’t have a fixed slot,” McDougall said. “We’re not going to sit there and throw away one or two CVs if we think they’re great.”

The high caliber of interns contributes to the program’s success in a way that has been mutually beneficial for both mentors and mentees. Coupled with the interactive aspect of the internships, those coming to study leave having made an impact, having worked on teams that best suited their strengths and simultaneously learning from some of the best minds in the industry.

“It’s great that we have a mix [of people],” McDougall said. “We have people like [Senior Principal] John Bowman, CIPP/E, [who] understands the GDPR more than anyone else in the world.” When those with greater experience mixed with the fresh-faced, it produces “really great dialogues,” he added. It “keeps us on our toes, keeps us challenged.”

These long-time industry powerhouses enjoy investing in the interns, too, which hugely elevates the program, Slezak said, Interns are  able to access those in the company who might be helpful to them in their research. “The interns really appreciate the senior staff support.”

It’s not just talk, either, according to former intern Francisco Vieira, CIPP/E, who now works as an analyst at Promontory. He said interns really do roll up their sleeves and get to work.

 “I think the kind of work we were assigned to was very hands on,” said Vieira. “I feel like it was sort of a [fine] line between an intern and analyst.”  

Part of this immersion – and an additional benefit for Promontory – comes from the linguistic and cultural diversity of the interns who populate the program, according to Slezak.

“So many of our interns speak foreign languages,” said Slezak. They “can translate many of the local laws we can’t find in English. … That’s really helpful for us when we’re working with clients all over the world.”

The interns saw diversity as a strength themselves. “We all come from different countries, different jurisdictions,” said former intern and current Promontory analyst Maura Migliore, CIPM, CIPP/E. “We have different cultural, legal, linguistic backgrounds.”

The program has also provided Promontory with permanent talent after the completion of the internship. From last year’s program, “we kept all eight on as analysts,” Slezak added.

For those companies looking to implement their own internship program, McDougall boiled it down to three things to keep in mind.

“You’ve got to think about where your people are coming from,” he said. "Think about your supply chain, think about the relationships you want to have with universities and other organisations.”

Second, flexibility is paramount. 

“When we interview people, we realize that an analyst position wouldn’t be suitable, but [we] might take a chance on internship,” he said.

Finally, there’s realizing that the more multifaceted the team, the stronger it becomes.

“Recognize that you are bringing a number of interns, and [it’s] a wonderful way to bring more diversity into your working group,” he said. “Nationalities, gender, age, background. It’s a wonderful way to do that. And in our case, it’s a wonderful way to bring more energy into the team.”

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