Q. What can we do when our students complain about unpaid, no-credit internships?

July 29, 2010 at 11:19 am | Posted in Intern Compensation | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Remind your students that internships—even ones that don’t offer pay or credit—are still solid investments in their career futures. Suggest that your students maximize their internship experiences in the following ways: 

  • Networking:  The most effective way to find other opportunities for themselves is networking, which is acknowledged as the primary method to get a job or an internship. A July 19 article in The New York Times says that dozens of young people with connections to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s friends, business associates and government appointees have been awarded internships at City Hall. Your students have probably started a good network for themselves at their internships. Ask each intern to make a list of everyone at the internship and find out if he/she can suggest any other internship possibilities. Your students could use social media to stay in touch with their networking list when the internship is over.
  • Next internship:  Experience at a summer internship is a great building block for the next internship. Now that your students have mastered the art of being a professional in a work setting they’re ready to advance up the ladder. With excellent recommendations in hand, they can apply for more advanced assignments at more prestigious firms. A potential internship supervisor knows that your students are a proven quantity and will “fit in” nicely to other internship programs. Students should also consider that their summer internships may have helped them realize that they don’t really like that industry and would not want to focus their careers on that field. Now they have time to change majors and explore other fields before it’s too late in their academic careers.
  • Course papers or class projects:  Every summer internship provides endless resources for a course paper or class project. And your students have already done the research if they use material from one of their internship assignments. They can incorporate case studies or company reports (unless they’re confidential) to support their papers. Or if they are members of a class team that is instructed to collaborate with a company on a project, they could ask their former internship company to fill that requirement. Another way in which your students can tap back into their internships is to ask someone from the internship site to be a speaker for a campus event. Your students will soon see that unpaid, no-credit internships are a priceless experience.

Q. We keep getting calls from internship supervisors that our students are under dressing in this record hot weather. What should we do?

July 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Advising interns | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. You’re not alone.  A recent article in The Baltimore Sun pointed out that many other career centers are experiencing the same problem. “It’s something we deal with all the time,” says the director of the University of Baltimore’s Career Center. “One staff member received a call from an employer who had to speak to an intern about wearing booty shorts to the office.”  Here are a few tips from The Sun article on how to deal with these issues:

  • The University of Baltimore has just launched a one-credit elective called Personal and Professional Skills for Business. Anyone can take it, but it’s required for business majors. The content includes how to network, write a resume, manage an interview—and what to wear. The basic course includes “all the things that you’d think you wouldn’t have to say, but we say them anyway.” You might consider initiating such a course in your school if you don’t already have one.
  • At Towson University, the College of Business and Economics invites students to an event called Dress Smart. Part fashion show, part networking opportunity, the event is designed to show students in a visual way what isn’t right for the office. Students wear outfits that range from professional to a bit wrong to wildly inappropriate. Students model and mingle while real company recruiters talk to them and tell them why their outfits work or don’t.
  • To prevent students from wearing scanty clothing to work during the heat wave, send out an email to all your interns, reminding them that they should dress conservatively in business professional mode regardless of the weather. If they want outstanding recommendations, they’ll have to keep the booty shorts, thigh-grazing dresses, flip-flops, ripped jeans, see-through skirts, and cleavage-baring tops in the closet.
  • Rather than wait to hear from intern supervisors, you may want to contact them about the state of dress of your interns in case any supervisors are experiencing issues. If there are any concerns, you can offer to run interference and solve the problem, relieving the intern supervisor from facing a potentially awkward situation.

Q. How will I ever find enough internships for all our college students who realize the value of the experience and want more than one?

July 22, 2010 at 11:31 am | Posted in Creating Internships | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. You’ve asked a very legitimate question. Your career center is probably receiving more and more requests for internships. And the competition is fierce as high school students, unemployed or underemployed graduates, undergraduate and graduate students all battle over the same internships. Here are a few ideas on how to stay ahead of the requests:

  • Use interns in your own office to handle some of the basic work, freeing you up to go out and actively pursue new internships. Carefully research all the offices on campus for new internship placements.
  • Develop a marketing plan with career center staff to advertise your internship program, targeting specific markets to cultivate new internships and strengthen existing ones. Be sure to include your alumni as an excellent resource for internships.
  • Utilize your school website to stimulate new internship sites, network with current internship sites, and encourage companies to contact you for interns. You may want to join new professional groups that interact with companies, searching for new internship opportunities.
  • Organize an Internship Fair at least twice a year, inviting lots of companies to attend and meet your students—their potential interns. Offer incentives to companies, such as pre-trained interns to fit specific needs or on-site counseling if necessary.
  • Create virtual internships for your students, permitting them to sample different fields while still going to classes or working. The most common ones are in IT, software development, research, sales, marketing, and social media.
  • Explore international internships, coordinating with your overseas campus or partnering with another college to set up internships that introduce your students to the global market.  

Q. Is it acceptable etiquette for my students to buy gifts for their internship supervisors?

July 20, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Posted in career center | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Your question is controversial, and the answer is debatable. Some schools may have strict rules forbidding students to give supervisors any gifts that cost money. Other schools may help students select and pay for an appropriate gift. A few career centers may waver on the question, depending on the circumstances in each internship. Here are a few points to ponder: 

  • Make sure that your school has a clearly defined policy that applies equally to all internship supervisors and companies. Inform all internship supervisors of the policy, so they know what is acceptable and what is not. You and the internship supervisors need to act as partners on this policy and refrain from making any exceptions to the rule—whatever that may be. Emphasize the career center policy in the student internship materials, so no student can say that he/she didn’t know the rule.
  • Suggest alternate ways for your students to express thanks to internship supervisors. Hand-made crafts or home-made food items are appropriate gifts. Even a hand-written thank-note on good paper is an acceptable way to show appreciation. Another effective technique for your students to thank their internship supervisors is to write the internship supervisor’s boss a glowing thank-you, enumerating the ways that the supervisor helped the intern.
  • Take the burden of gift-giving away from the student intern and shoulder it yourself through the career center. Your staff may have a policy of giving each internship supervisor a framed certificate of appreciation or a coffee mug engraved with the school’s name. Such gifts will reflect well on the student and the school, leading to more internships with the company. The internship supervisor will be grateful to the school and be relieved that the intern is not spending his/her limited money on the supervisor.
  • Consider creating a policy of no gifts in order to save any interns from embarrassment, especially if your student body is suffering in the weak economy. Many interns do not have the money and will be upset or humiliated if other interns are handing out expensive gifts. Remind your students that such gifts reek of a form of bribery in hopes of getting hired by the company. Try to keep an even playing field in the very competitive field of internships. A student should be evaluated solely on performance, not gift-giving.

Q. Do I really have to remind my students to thank everyone who helped them during their internships?

July 15, 2010 at 10:23 am | Posted in Advising interns | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Yes, please do remind all of your students to thank everyone who helped them during their internships. It’s to your benefit, too, if you want to keep all the company doors open when it’s time to place new interns. The competition for those coveted spaces has really grown. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2008 found that 50% of graduating students had held internships compared to 17% in 1992. So those thank-you letters are important for both your students and your career center. Here’s how to make sure the students follow through:

  • Remember that students are very busy, especially at the end of the summer and may forget about thank-you notes as they prepare for the coming semester. To help them complete their thank-you messages on time, set a deadline a week or two before the internship ends. And remind your students that you’ll be sending your own thank-you letters to the appropriate intern supervisors, too.
  • Enclose sample thank-you letters in each student intern’s package of informative materials. Include various versions, ranging from formal letters for internship supervisors to informal notes or even verbal thank-you scripts for other employees who have been helpful during the internship. Encourage your students to customize their messages based on the samples.
  • Consider providing your student interns with note cards or letterhead engraved with the school’s name. Then, you can be assured that the student is using appropriate stationery for the thank-you messages. Having the school name in front of the company personnel is also a tangible reminder of the professional relationship that exists between your career center and the company.
  • Collaborate with your student interns on the list of people who deserve thank-you messages. Prepare a form for them with three columns—one for names, a second for type of thank-you, and third for dates. Review the list with each student, dividing the names into formal letters, informal notes, and verbal thanks. Then, add due dates beside each name and ask your student to check off each date upon completion.
  • Impress upon your students that these seemingly simple courtesies are an important way of networking. For example, the secretary who has been helpful and deserves a thank-you note may have a brother who works in a company where your student intern may want to apply for a job and needs an employee to put in a good word for him/her. If the student perceives a thank-you as a way to continue a relationship that could lead to new opportunities rather than a closure to a former experience, he/she will need few reminders about thanking everyone.

Q. Should I give permission to students who want to leave their internships early because they have to return to campus to participate in pre-term activities?

July 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Advising interns, career center | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. The answer to your question depends largely on what arrangements were agreed upon before the internships began. If students had told you ahead of time that they had to leave early, then you should not penalize them for following through with their plans. However, if you had no idea they would leave early, then you’re under no obligation to give permission. Here are a few points to consider when making your decision:

  • Discuss the nature of the pre-term activities with the students who unexpectedly ask to leave early. If it’s a great honor, such as being accepted to participate in an honors program or to study abroad, then you might want to congratulate the students and offer them your best wishes. In other cases, you might want to check with the director of the activities to find out how crucial it is that your student interns attend the pre-term activities.
  • Ensure that the request to leave early is a valid one. For example, students may have medical issues or family problems.  In the case of medical issues, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a copy of the medical report or the name and phone number of the doctor. The students’ advisors or professors may also be good resources if the reason to leave early is a personal one. You may be able to offer assistance in terms of counseling or financial aid to the student to help him/her in a difficult time.
  • Suggest alternate plans that could result in fulfilling the required amount of time for the internship without staying for the same length of time. For example, the student could put in longer days or work at home to complete the internship assignments. Talk with the internship supervisors at the companies to find out the company policies or alternate plans for interns that want to leave internships early. Some companies may be very understanding while others may take offense, which could harm your future relationships with that company. You may have taken years building up a strong internship program and are rightfully concerned about keeping it available for upcoming students.
  • Make sure that the students realize they might be hurting their own futures by leaving their internships early. They may have to balance pre-term activities, which seem important during the school years, with the long-term effects of a less than stellar internship record that could negatively impact their career goals. This is a tough decision for a student to make, and you might want to counsel him or her on how to proceed in order to protect his/her future and your career center’s reputation.

Q. Is there any way to guarantee that all my students get reference letters?

July 8, 2010 at 10:36 am | Posted in Reference letters | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Reference letters mean a lot to students, and you’re wise to follow up that they all receive them. Although most companies understand the importance of such documents and readily provide them, sometimes you might need to nudge the internship supervisors along, so your students receive appropriate letters in a timely manner. Here are a few tips:

  • Create sample reference letters: Supply sample reference letters to internship supervisors, including positive statements. You could create a number of letters, depending on how many different types of internships your students have. For example, one for business majors, another for English majors, and a third for art majors etc. Then, you could give instructions on how to customize each letter for individual students. Be sure to say that the reference letters should be on company letterhead with the supervisor’s original signature.
  • Provide an internship calendar: Create a calendar for the internship supervisors before the internships begin. List the dates for starting and ending the internship, for weekly reports, for final evaluation, and for reference letters. During the course of the internships, email or call the internship supervisor, alerting him/her to each approaching due date. A busy internship supervisor will appreciate your helpful reminders.
  • Hand out self addressed stamped envelopes: Send a thank you to your students’ internship supervisors before the reference letter is due and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the reference letter. By thanking the internship supervisor in advance for the student reference letter, you improve your chances of getting it. Address the stamped, self-addressed envelope either to the student or to your Career Center, depending on your policy.
  • Suggest that students ask about letter early on: Ensure that the internship supervisors write the letter in a timely manner by suggesting to your students that they also ask for the reference letter before their internship ends. If your school has an internship contract with a company, make sure that the contract stipulates a reference letter. In some cases, such as a poorly performing intern or a personality conflict, the internship supervisor might need extra help in crafting the reference letter. Don’t hesitate to offer your assistance, so you can deliver a reference letter that’s a strong document to enhance the career future of your student interns.

Q. How can I develop more internships for my students within one company when there’s so much competition among schools?

July 7, 2010 at 10:43 am | Posted in career center, Creating Internships | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Good question! You’re right—there’s lots of competition as more and more schools realize the importance of internships. And your students want more and more opportunities in a company, which also puts pressure on you to develop more internships. Here are some tips to help you satisfy everyone’s needs: 

  • Build stronger relationships with the company, so the internship supervisor contacts you first when there’s an internship position. You can develop this relationship in several ways. Visit the site during your student’s internship and spend time talking to the internship supervisor as well as the Human Resources department. Take the internship supervisor to lunch if it is convenient. Present the internship supervisor or appropriate employee with a framed certificate of appreciation or a plaque from your college, which can be hung in his/her office. Such a visible gift raises the status of the recipient with other employees.
  • Make sure the internship process goes smoothly, minimizing work for the internship supervisor. Provide him/her with all the appropriate forms, including assessments, reports, sample reference letters, and an internship calendar. Resolve any issues, such as the intern is experiencing conflict with another employee, as quickly as possible without involving the internship supervisor, who is probably already overwhelmed with work. Write a letter to the internship supervisor’s boss, expressing the school’s appreciation for the excellent mentorship provided by the supervisor.
  • Select the best qualified intern for the company in which you want to develop more internships. Compare the intern’s work ethic and personality style with the corporate culture, ensuring a good match. Research the skills that will be needed in each internship and determine if your intern is adequately prepared. Instruct your intern in professional behavior, so he/she performs to the appropriate standards. You may have to turn down an intern’s request to work in a certain company if you feel that such a placement might damage your relationship with the company.
  • Explore other internship venues. Although you may want to develop more internships in one company, it’s wise to look around for other options, too. You could be the first school to approach a company that has never used interns and would be grateful for your help in establishing an internship program. You would have the ability to set up internships that you know would work well for your school and your students. Creating new internships can open lots of new doors for your students and lead to more networking opportunities for them and for you.

Q. How can I make sure that the internship supervisor provides my students with proper documentation of their internships?

July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am | Posted in Internship portfolios | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Your interns are most fortunate to have a Career Center staff that wants to make sure they receive proper documentation for their hard work at their internships. Such tangible proof of performance will strengthen their resumes and provide additional material for their portfolios. Here’s how to ensure that internship supervisors provide your students with proper documentation:

  • Make sure that the intern supervisor fills out the final evaluation form. If you feel that the form is not detailed enough or structured properly to provide positive feedback, you might want to revise the form. Each student intern should receive a copy of that final evaluation form. If the intern supervisor has written weekly evaluations that are positive, you could also make copies of those evaluations and present them to your student intern as tools to get future internships or jobs.
  • If the intern has performed well, the intern supervisor should also write a letter of recommendation on company letterhead, complimenting the student on his/her work. You might consider writing a letter of recommendation on Career Center letterhead, too, stating that he/she brought honor to the school etc. Some schools present Certificates of Achievement to students after they finish internships.
  • Find out if your intern has been part of a team and explore the option of having the team leader (unless he/she is also the intern supervisor) write a recommendation for your student intern. There may be other company employees that could also write a recommendation. For example, if your student intern volunteered to work on a company-sponsored community project, the coordinator might write a letter of recommendation for outstanding service.
  • Ask your interns if they have copies of everything on which they have worked. In some cases, they might have contributed to reports or documents that won’t appear until after the internship, so advise them to request that finished samples be forwarded to them. Your student interns might want to collect copies of the company annual report or official documents that demonstrate the status of the company if it is not well known.   
  • Offer to help your student interns collate their internship materials into a professional presentation. You might provide a handsome school binder and have someone in the Career Center help organize the binder for your student intern. Then, your student interns will be well prepared to impress future internship supervisors or employers with proper documentation of past successes.

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