Q. How can I help my students understand the individual corporate cultures at their internships?

May 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Posted in corporate culture | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Corporate cultures can be confusing—even for long-term company employees, much less new interns. These shared values, standards, and behaviors reflect the leadership style and ultimately the success of a business. To help your interns understand and “fit in” to the corporate culture, suggest that they research the following elements in their individual companies:  

  1. Values: Prospective interns can read up on the company history to understand the initial values and goals. Annual reports are also an excellent source of information on the company’s achievements, problems or changing values. Other documents that illustrate a company’s value system are the corporate mission statement and  slogan, such as Pfizer’s “Working together for a healthier world.” Google and other search engines reveal information about the corporate leaders, reflecting the company values.
  2. Standards: Is the company a corporate citizen, sponsoring community events, including educational initiatives or fundraising? What kinds of events does it hold for employees? Is the holiday party a dinner at a fine dining restaurant or is it a buffet in the company lunchroom? Does the company award employees for reaching goals? Interns can find out this information from company newsletters or by asking employees. If interns listen to the lunchroom chatter and ask questions, they’ll hear lots of stories that will identify company standards.
  3. Behaviors: Behaviors, ranging from dress to language, can change from department to department. The executives may exhibit one behavior in the boardroom, but the employees may practice other behaviors, depending on department. Age also makes a difference in behavior. Social media may be more accepted in some departments.  
  4. Different Cultures:  Is it a bureaucratic culture, often found in government, banks, universities, hospitals, and insurance agencies? If so, the intern will probably work with forms, formal reports, and policy statements. Performance may be judged by adherence to compliance and procedures. Or is the company a work hard/play hard organization, usually true of startups, with short-term deadlines?  If so, the student should have high energy and a can-do attitude. Some companies, such as Apple, believe in management by objective and offer stock options, innovative work rules, and profit-sharing. Teamwork drives that type of culture.
  5. Interns may want to share with each other their observations on corporate cultures in their individual companies, helping each other gain new understanding.

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