Tracking national trends in internships

April 12, 2012 at 8:00 am | Posted in Advising interns | Leave a comment
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Coach Susan Sandberg

Susan Sandberg

Internships are a hot topic. Articles about internships appear daily around the world in newspapers, online publications, and blogs. Campus chat and dinner table talk often revolve around internships—where they are, who has them, how to get one, etc. Whether a person is an undergraduate, graduate student, or unemployed, internships are the lifeline to full-time employment. As a busy career professional, you have little time to keep updated, but it might be helpful to evaluate the following trends for your program:

  • Post-internship positionsCompanies are developing new programs to stay in touch with their interns. NASA has selected 100 of their “high-performing interns” to be inducted into the 2012 NASA Student Ambassadors Virtual Community. The Student Ambassadors program is part of NASA’s effort to encourage learning and education in their related fields. Referring to these fields of study as STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), NASA also provides research, teaching, and training tools for educators on their website. The agency also provides internship opportunities and scholarships for interested students. Each group of selected interns to participate in this virtual community is called a “CPohort”. As this most recent group to be selected will be the fourth in the program’s history, they will be known as “Cohort IV” and will be comprised of students from 34 states and 73 universities in the United States.
  • Internship competitionThe competition is getting tougher, says an article in the Kansas City Star. According to recent news reports, some employers have gotten rid of unpaid internships this year or have converted them to paid programs and are hiring fewer summer employees because they fear lawsuits regarding compensation. You can interpret that as good news because you’re more likely to be paid this summer if you land an internship. It’s also good news that employers have been put on notice that they can’t take advantage of free labor. But it puts the summertime squeeze on many students who will find fewer training positions available. As a result, they’ll lose out on entry-level workplace experience that could lead to full-time advancement. The controversy stems in part from a handful of lawsuits that have been filed over the past year by unpaid interns who alleged they were taken advantage of and should have been paid for their work. Unpaid internships became much more prevalent during the recession as companies sought to control salary and benefit costs by hiring a ready, willing and able pool of unpaid students seeking to build resumes. There are about 1.5 million interns hired every year, and more than half are unpaid positions, according to a USA Today story.
  • Internship CoalitionsAn adjunct professor at Northeastern University notes how Boston groups are helping students find internships, co-ops, and jobs. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are hosting a gathering of business and academic leaders to discuss the benefits and best practices of student internships. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce also is offering Chamber Intern Connect to connect area employers with college students throughout the region. No matter the specific internship, industry, or paid vs. unpaid opportunity, Chamber members post summer internships to a high-traffic database as well as the Commonwealth’s statewide Mass Stay Here internship site. The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX), led by BWP Connector Debi Kleiman, offers student opportunities throughout the year. With a similar mission the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC)’s Education Foundation has launched the MassTLC Internship Network as the go-to source for tech sector internships in Massachusetts.
  • Internship-Partnership InnovationsBusiness Wire reports on a new trend of two companies joining together to offer one super-charged internship experience. Bayer MaterialScience LLC and the Pittsburgh Penguins today announced the first dual-internship program associated with the two iconic Pittsburgh names. Both Bayer and the Penguins currently have independent internship programs; however, the two Pittsburgh-based organizations have decided to team up and offer a dynamic internship experience to college students in the region. The six-month internship, focused on new media, will have the student assisting the Penguins’ Director of New Media, from June to August and then working with the social media team lead at Bayer MaterialScience LLC, from September to November. This type of internship is appropriate for college students pursuing a degree in Multimedia, Communications, Marketing, Interactive Design or a related discipline. Through innovative thinking, Bayer MaterialScience LLC and the Penguins have created a collaborative model for other organizations to give college students an opportunity to expand their experiences as they begin their careers.


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 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 help students prepare for the technology challenges that are prevalent in most offices?

May 27, 2010 at 9:58 am | Posted in Intern Support, Preparing interns | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. Most internship descriptions list the technology skills that are needed. Review those lists with each intern to ensure that your student is proficient in the required technology. If the internship doesn’t indicate any technology skills, ask your student to find out what, if any, skills will be expected. If your student feels unprepared for the technology challenges, the following suggestions may be helpful: 

  • Utilize a resource, such as a computer lab, technology class, or even your Career Center, at the university or college to help your student develop new technology skills before the internship starts. A technology tutor may be useful, too.
  • Arrange pre-internship training at the internship site on how to use the appropriate technology. The intern supervisor at the company will respect an intern willing to dedicate additional time to be up-to-date by the start of the internship. As a result, the intern will feel much more confident by Day One. If necessary, your student may have to put in extra time even after the internship starts in order to master the technology.
  • Recommend books or manuals, either online or in stores, about the various forms of technology as resources to help your students understand the technical aspects of the equipment they’ll use at their internships.
  • Invite Computer Science majors at your school to act as mentors for your students while they’re on their internships. Establish a hotline or email address for your interns, giving them immediate access to a mentor who can direct them in using technology.
  • Ask the intern supervisor to provide a company “techie” who is willing to answer any questions or help your intern figure out the technology. Such an arrangement will improve efficiency at work and be a good support system for your student. Emphasize to your student that the quality of work is what really counts; technology is simply a tool.
  • Facilitate a change of assignment if the intern still feels totally incapable of meeting the technology challenges in the company. Discuss the situation with the intern supervisor and ask for a different position for your student. Both the student and the intern supervisor will be grateful for your help in resolving the issue early on before it becomes a major problem.

Internship opportunities: a college to career GPS

May 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Posted in America's education system, Current events | 1 Comment
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by Dr. Rudy Crew USC, Advisor to

For the last decade, this country has been trying to “Leave No Child Behind.”  One premise was that the institutions charged with the care of children and young adults would operate seamlessly, and collaboratively in building skills, attitudes and values that enable successful careers.

I got the point, however subliminal.  As a former Chancellor of New York City Schools and later, Miami Dade County, I think the notion of leaving no child behind, had tremendous strategic potential.  But then there’s life and tyranny of the day to day.

The K-12 system is only loosely connected to that of junior colleges and other post-secondary institutions.  And from there, the way from college into the career or job of one’s choice is a function of luck, circumstance and as one young man once told me, a “hook up.” In truth, by contrast to other developed nations, we do a poor job of teaching the needed skills of occupational and civic literacy.  Worse yet, the path from college to a career requires a “GPS,” which very few students actually have.  Were it not for college career centers, savvy parents and big business, few students would make it into the job market at all, and even fewer from poor communities.

It was once taken as an article of faith, that college exit meant job entry.  The numbers tell a different tale.  First, 7 million jobs have left this country since 2006. Employment numbers are slow going north, and for the age group of the average college student (18-24) unemployment is still double the national average.   All this makes the case for a more explicit means by which students in this country get from college into a job—a National Internship program.  This is an investment in college age youth by small and big businesses alike.  It argues from the place where vision meets strategy– like that of other eras in our history when the marketplace was in turmoil.  The GI bill after WWII, the Civil Rights Bill both came after decades of deferred dreams for education and access to jobs–good jobs.

So now education is going to “Race to the Top.”  President Obama is right to suggest that we need to double time our pace if we intend to be competitive, globally.  But again, is it a slogan for the campaign or is there a strategy behind it?  Is there a real set of stairs from a community college in rural or urban America to a good job in the US economy?  I’ll know it’s for real when the “race” is being run with incentives for small and medium businesses to take on interns in the workplace.  It’ll be true when colleges and universities enlist their alumni associations to give an internship to the entire junior and senior class.  It will be true when career center budgets swell because of volume of demand and America’s Mayors campaign for the youth vote by harnessing themselves to youth employment. And when the skills taught in American public schools are ratcheted up to bear some relationship to skills needed to join a college, or vocation—for all students.

So much to do; so little time to win this race.  Your thoughts please; just no slogans.

Alumni: a rich and natural resource for students seeking internships

April 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Posted in alumni, career center, networking | 3 Comments
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by Jane Finkle

We all know that building a network is one of the key ways professionals discover work opportunities. Networking is a skill that students can develop and master as they seek out internships. Most college Career Offices maintain an online alumni career network. This dynamic resource helps students to explore their personal career interests with the guidance of alums. Students can also connect with alums who participate in college panels and programs. 

I have had many positive experiences working with students who take the initiative to contact alums and find this action often leads them to an exciting internship opportunity. Here are three cases that illustrate the power of alumni in supporting student career development. In each instance the relationship bloomed into internship possibilities. Please note that all three cases are women because of my career counseling experience at a women’s college!

First Case Study – Meeting alumni at career conferences

Susan attended a career conference in New York City, sponsored by her career office and featuring alums in a variety of professions. The alums were volunteers who were intent upon sharing their work experience and answering student questions. Susan was especially impressed by the work of one of the alumna in financial services. She engaged this alum in conversation asking her question about her career. The alumna was so impressed with Susan’s approach and personality, she arranged for Susan to interview for an internship at her firm.

Second Case Study – Alumni networking through college career center

Through her career office, Linda secured an externship (one week job shadowing program) with an alumna working at a high profile women’s magazine. Even though Linda followed this alumna for a week only, she volunteered to help on a project and conducted an informational interview to find out more about the alumna’s career background and accomplishments. The alumna was impressed by Linda’s initiative and genuine interest that she created a summer internship at the magazine for Linda.

Third Case Study – Online alumni career network

Joan was specifically interested in finding a summer internship related to City Planning. I suggested she use our online alumnae career network to see if she could find an alumna in the field to talk with about her summer goals. Joan located an alumna in the city planning field in California. Emailing this alum, Linda included a brief introduction and asked the alumna if she would be willing to talk with her via phone about her career. Joan also invited the alum to offer any suggestions for summer internships. The alumna agreed and provided Joan with substantial information on the best way to find a summer internship related to City Planning and also volunteered to circulate Linda’s resume at her organization.

It has been my experience that many students shy away from approaching or contacting alums. They worry about imposing upon alums or are not sure about the best way to take advantage of alum’s expertise. When they express their angst about connecting with alum, I see it as counseling moment; an opportunity to not only alleviate their fears but also teach and provide guidance. Suggestions such as how to write an appropriate email or make a phone call to the alum are usually helpful, along with aiding them in forming questions that would engage the alum and also provide the student with valuable information.

Alumni are indeed a rich and natural resource for students. They remember their own college experience, both the triumphs and failures and these memories inspire them to reach out and support students from their alma mater. When we teach students to connect with alums during their internship search they experience firsthand the power of networking and sometimes end up with a great summer internship.

Make flexibility an internship mantra in the down economy

March 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Posted in Finding internships, Job market | Leave a comment
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by Kathryn Jordan, Ph.D.

There is a new economic reality facing college graduates in spring 2010.  Last year students entered the job market in the worst recruiting season in over twenty years according to statistics cited by the National Association of College and Employers.  More candidates are available for the fewer employment options and salary offers are down.  The new reality is evidence of the rapid changes that have occurred in work environments.  Adapting to change is related to a person’s ability to embrace other options, and flexibility will be a key to success. 

The importance of securing internships has only increased as the economy has changed.  The latest statistics show that employers are anticipating hiring more interns this season. Students and others in career transition this year will want to leverage their internship experiences to enhance chances for full time permanent employment. Following a few key points will lead to success even in a difficult market:

  • Pursue a variety of organizational internship targets
  • Seek opportunities to gain new and different skills or certifications
  • Consider unpaid internships and supplement income with part-time jobs
  • Open the geographic target zone.

We know that internships are now arguably a necessity for students, and many are considering post graduate internships as a way to launch into a permanent employment option. So when setting internship goals this season consider how important it is to complete multiple internship experiences. Employers like to see not just one internship experience but several paraprofessional experiences. Experience is a gold standard in the workplace. 

Explore a variety of internship targets and expand interests beyond those big well known businesses and widen options to consider government, non-profit organizations, and entrepreneurial options.  This is critical in an environment when old reputations are being dashed.   Consider a wider variety of organizations by size.  More opportunities will exist in small and mid-size organizations than at some of the larger businesses that are waiting for market improvement before adding staff.  Also, in smaller organizations you can find richer and broader experiences than in some big formalized internship programs.

If an internship opportunity presents itself where it is possible to learn a new skill, grab it.  In a work environment where job titles and the methods of doing jobs change with the speed of technology, it is advisable to add new skills each year and to embrace these changes.  An internship that can expand skills and provide accomplishments for a portfolio is invaluable.  New skill development may be one of the biggest benefits from any good internship–even more important than the pay scale.

Be flexible when evaluating internships and do not rely on the hourly pay as the single determining criteria for the internship.  While being paid is important, it may be that significant experience, responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments can be found in organizations that are not in a position to pay an intern.  Many interns supplement their incomes by working a part-time job.

Expand the geographic target zone for an internship. Consider local, regional, national, and international options and how a variety of cultural experiences could broaden expertise.  Markets in China, Africa, Russia, and the Middle East are now just a mouse click away.  The ability to work effectively within different social, economic, and cultural milieus is becoming more important each year.  In fact the worldwide recession is evidence of how quickly the world has become closely interrelated.  Interns should look for experiences that stretch their normal boundaries and comfort zones.  

This changing economy is an opportunity for students to push their professional life forward with internship experience. Embracing change with flexibility will allow students to find a silver lining while they grow as professionals.

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