Notes from the Field: Pomona College’s Internship Orientation

September 15, 2010 at 10:02 am | Posted in Educator Updates Newsletter, Notes from the Field, Notes from the Field, Pomona College's Internship Orientation | Leave a comment
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One of the exciting aspects about the start of fall semester is the launch of our internship program. About 80 students per semester commit to a semester-long internship in the industry and employer of their choice across the Greater Los Angeles area. The program kicks-offs with a ‘New Hire Orientation’ required for all students in the program to attend prior to beginning their internships. The one-hour long workshop offers helpful tips on how students can make the most of their internship.

The workshop covers general housekeeping items such as:

  • reporting their internship hours
  • transportation resources
  • important program dates

As necessary as these logistic components are, we place emphasis on helping interns maximize their experience in a professional workplace setting. Specifically:

  • how to prepare for and anticipate the first day
  • the first few weeks
  • some overall tips

In detail, I discuss what interns can do to prepare and anticipate their first day such as planning for their commute, proper attire, and bringing a notebook and pen.  In the first few weeks, I emphasize the importance of gaining familiarity of the internship site by meeting the staff, attending orientation, and receiving direction on projects and assignments. Some overall tips include how interns can show initiative and enthusiasm, two of the most desired qualities by internship supervisors. I had led a game of Family Feud with our interns to have them guess various ways that interns can show initiative and this made them proactive in the learning process. Other tips shared are how to effectively network by using conducting informational interviews and displaying strong communication skills. In the presentation, I make sure to acknowledge that interns may have varying levels of experience in the workplace but that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of these tips.

Two changes that I’m planning for this year are around more actively engaging students in the class and tapping into the expertise of past interns. 

In previous semesters, the workshops were more of a lecture-style format and I realized that interns need to be engaged rather than talked to. For this reason, I will incorporate some role playing in the workshop, an idea that came from a book, Learning From Experience: A Resource Book By and For Co-Op/Internship Professionals (http://www.mosaiceyepublishing.com/lfe.htm) by Scott Weighart. One exercise that I am planning is around how to help interns recognize where and how to take initiative. For this, they will get into pairs and role play various scenarios where they need to take initiative. The goal is for interns to practice their ability to communicate, problem-solve, and think on their feet using real situations.

As another way to both engage students and convey information to them in different ways, I also plan to bring in past interns to discuss common pitfalls and struggles as well as to share their experiences. I find that students respond well to what their peers have to share, as it is more relatable.

If you are considering offering this type of course, my advice is to make sure this workshop is engaging, interactive, and meaningful. The content also needs to be relevant to the unique needs and experiences of your students. I hope these tips are helpful for your career center in orienting students to the workplace.

Have you offered a similar program at your school?  If so, what have you learned?  What are you planning for this year?  Send your stories, plans, and take-aways to mbusse@internships.com.

By Sarah Yoo

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 in 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. 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.

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