Notes from the Field: 5 Tips for Conducting Site Visits

November 2, 2010 at 7:45 am | Posted in Educator Updates Newsletter, Notes from the Field | Leave a comment
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Maintaining a strong internship program involves several components including employer partnerships, committed interns, and meticulous organization. Having great employers often creates great quality internships. One of the best ways we maintain and strengthen employer relationships is by conducting site visits. These visits demonstrate that your career service office values and invests in the employers, as well as ensures that certain criteria are met. Here are five things to consider when conducting site visits:

1.       Timing and scheduling
Depending on the distance from the campus, site visits can be time intensive. Consider down times in your academic calendar to conduct these visits. Also consider scheduling multiple site visits with employers in close proximity. This is often my strategy as I conduct site visits in the summer and cluster my visits within a certain geographic area on each day.

2.       Selecting sites to visit
Visiting all sites within one academic year may be an unattainable goal, but consider sites with areas of student-interest as well as those with potential for improvement. Review past interns’ evaluations for red flags where interns have voiced specific concerns. For example, my colleague visited a site where a past intern had expressed discontent with her experience. She brought up that conversation tactfully and allowed an opportunity to discuss how interns can take initiative and get outside their comfort zones. This feedback was invaluable in communicating to future interns how to troubleshoot and tackle common challenges.

3.       Thinking creatively about site visits
My visits are often individual meetings with site supervisors. However one particular site visit occurred because I needed to take some marketing photos, so I visited on a day a particular company was holding a special event. I took advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the site through the event and met the site supervisor afterwards, which led to a lively discussion about internships.

4.       Reminding sites of important program dates
Being there in person reinforces the importance of deadlines such as a mid-semester meetings between supervisors and interns. Discussion about participation in future program cycles and updating position descriptions is also relevant. On my visits, I bring a one-page handout with important program dates to leave with them.

5.       Being a valuable resource
I am always surprised when site supervisors with years of experience in their field will ask for advice about internships. Sites often look to the internship coordinator as an expert and resource in understanding how to best work with interns. I have been asked about how to better recruit interns, how to communicate appropriate workplace behavior, and other best practices. In my experience, good site supervisors will want to work with you in order to maintain the quality of the internship experience for both the interns and the employer.

Final tip: I have four things I always bring when I go on the road:

  • Camera for taking photos of events and sites
  • One-page handout with important school program dates to leave with them
  • A list of site-specific concerns, questions, and stories from campus students and colleagues
  • Resources for employers from our career office on internships and intern programs

 Sarah Yoo is the Internship Coordinator at Pomona College, a selective liberal arts college located in the greater Los Angeles area. She obtained her graduate degree at California State University, Long Beach in Counseling with an emphasis on Student Development in Higher Education and obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego in Sociology. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, spending time with friends and family, and cooking.

Q. Our career center is overwhelmed with students wanting internships. Any suggestions on how to streamline the process?

August 5, 2010 at 10:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Many career centers around the country are experiencing the same overload as more and more students want multiple internship experiences. Historically, career centers have been able to spend individual time with each student, but many centers are now developing more efficient ways to deal with their larger numbers and still maintain quality service. Here are a few tips that might work for you: 

  • Group orientation sessions:  Utilizing the same format for freshmen orientation sessions, invite all students who intend to apply for internships to attend an orientation meeting early in the semester. Supply each student with an internship handbook, outlining the procedure. Introduce your staff and ask a former intern or two to discuss his/her experience. Also, provide a timetable with deadlines, so your office isn’t swamped at the last minute with students who want internships.

You may even want to distribute a list of companies with whom you work and the individual requirements, so students can evaluate their own readiness for each internship. If you’re planning an Internship Fair on campus, you could alert  students to be aware of the date, so they can put it on their calendars. 

  • Online applications:  Develop an online application with all the details that you need in order to enroll a student as a potential intern. Use your career center Web site to structure the internship process. You might want to include a sample resume, and then ask the student to customize the resume for himself/herself. You could also suggest that the student access the QuickBuild Resume on internships.com. for more help. Consider adding a Q & A section about internships on your Web site or start an Intern Coach blog.
  • Mentoring programs:  Students really appreciate connecting with other students who have had internship experiences already. Using the list of former and current interns, set up a mentoring system, matching potential interns with experienced ones. You might also find that current interns could benefit from linking up with former interns, especially if both share internship experience at the same company.
  • Career Center interns:  Increase the number of interns that you use in your own career center to help reduce your own workload. Many students are more comfortable taking their first internships on campus than in a strange environment, which means you should have an excellent pool of candidates. They also value the opportunity to have an “insider’s view” of available internships for future opportunities.  A well-trained intern can serve as the initial point of contact for students who are applying for internships.

Q. Students are lining up for fall internships. Any hot industries to suggest?

August 3, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in Finding internships | 1 Comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Hot is the operative word after a summer of record-breaking heat in much of the country as well as the world.  Some fields of special interest are Global Warming, Sustainability, and on a lighter (and cooler) note, Scuba Diving. Internships.com has recently added thousands of new internships for your students, so please browse the new offerings after you check out the following: 

  • Global Warming:  Greenpeace, the leading independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful direct action and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions, is seeking unpaid interns for research, general administrative support, assistance with various projects, including organizational skills trainings, events or activities in the field, logistics, and other duties. Must be open to working with multiple campaigns and departments as needed: Global Warming, Forests, Oceans, Nukes, Research, Development, Communications, and Actions. Greenpeace has over 80 internships around the country listed on internships.com for positions ranging from Global Warming to Grassroots Organizing.
  • Sustainability:  Fairfood International is a non-profit campaign and lobby organization, which encourages the food and beverage industry to increase the level of sustainability of its products. Fairfood has divided the world into nine regions. Each of these has a small lobby office that actively approaches all food companies that have their international head office located in that region. The Lobby Department of Fairfood is currently recruiting interns for the position of Assistant Lobbyist Sustainability Food Companies. These interns help the lobbyist in stimulating food and beverage brand owners to increase the levels of sustainability and transparency associated with their companies. The deadline for these unpaid internships is Aug. 19. At least one internship is a virtual one, which may work well for a student during the fall term.
  • Scuba Diving:  The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the world leader in diver training education, is running a nationwide college Marketing internship program to promote scuba diving and the adventurous lifestyle of divers. Responsibilities include creating strategic marketing plans to attract college students to try scuba diving and become PADI Open Water Diver certified. Interns create their own marketing campaigns and test them in their local university markets. PADI provides resources and guidance. There are 26 locations in the country offering the internship, ranging from New York City to Denver, Colorado to Seattle, Washington. The application deadline for these unpaid with credit available internships is Aug. 18.

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. 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. 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.

Q. How can I prevent a student from leaving an internship when such an incident would reflect poorly on my school?

June 24, 2010 at 10:15 am | Posted in Intern Support | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. First, take a look at the scenario from various viewpoints before making a decision and taking action.

  • Talk to the intern. Find out why your intern wants to leave his/her internship. If it’s a personal problem that is affecting performance, suggest that the intern see a school counselor to resolve the issue. If it’s a conflict with a co-worker, you may be able to have the intern switched to another department. Evaluate the validity of the intern’s concerns and decide on the next step.
  • Talk to the supervisor. Ask the intern supervisor to weigh in on the situation and offer any insight that could help you understand why your intern is unhappy with the internship. You may find that the intern supervisor is dissatisfied with the intern and would appreciate your help in removing the intern from the position. Or the intern supervisor may suggest a more positive solution to the problem, resulting in keeping the intern.
  • Evaluate the problem. Review both conversations and organize the facts. If you feel that the best solution for all parties involved is to terminate the current intern’s position, then it’s your responsibility to take that action. Make sure to let the intern supervisor know you hope to place future interns with the company.
  • Make an informed decision. Remember that a student leaving an internship is not necessarily a poor reflection on your school. It’s better to terminate a bad situation than let it build into a major conflict area, which could then reflect poorly on your school. Your proactive response and effective solution to the problem will win praise from all parties and reflect well on your school and on you.

Q. How much responsibility should I take in ensuring the success of our college interns?

June 22, 2010 at 10:52 am | Posted in career center, Intern Support | 1 Comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. When making a decision about taking responsibility for individual students and their internship success  you should consider your school’s overall philosophy regarding how much responsibility students should take for their activities and how much responsibility the school should assume.

Consider these factors:

  • Individual professional style: Your own philosophy comes into play here, too, since you serve as a role model and mentor for your students. If you’re an independent person and take ownership of your decisions, then your students may model their behaviors after you. If you approach your work as a collaborative effort and your decisions are team-based, your interns may become more comfortable working within that style.
  • Individual intern style: Aside from the school philosophy and your own professional style, you need to evaluate each individual intern. An insecure student will want your help while a self-confident student may resent your advice. Unless you see a reason to change a student’s behavior, you may want to give your interns space to grow as individuals.
  • Parental involvement: Parents also come into the equation. They realize that an internship is very important to their child’s future, so if parents get involved they will bring their own set of expectations and possibly even issues.
  • Intern supervisor’s involvement: If the intern supervisor contacts you or you see something disquieting in your intern’s reports, then you have to sort out the problems. It may be easier to keep track of your intern through the intern supervisor who will probably appreciate your active interest in your intern’s success.
  • Balancing act: Please keep in mind that there is not a right or wrong way to measure how much responsibility you should take for your college interns. You have to balance the school, yourself, the intern, the parents, and the intern supervisor and come up with the right formula. If in doubt, it would be wise to take charge, especially if any problems would reflect badly on your school and consequently yourself.  
  • Written document defining roles: A written document, defining the roles and responsibility in an internship, could clarify the above issues. Then, make sure your student intern reads the document before starting an internship and also signs it as an acknowledgement of understanding who takes responsibility. You may want to sign it, too, as an affirmation of the agreement and as a protection against misplaced blame.
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