Helping students focus on most important aspects of internships

May 24, 2012 at 8:00 am | Posted in Advising interns | Leave a comment
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Coach Susan Sandberg

Susan Sandberg

The subject of internships—paid or unpaid?—rages as the #1 controversial issue in education today as the summer internship season kicks off. Even the most respected media sources in the country are highlighting the debate. According to Time magazine, “Today an estimated one-third to one-half of the U.S.’s 1.5 million internships are without pay, a trend that has only accelerated since the 2008 financial crisis. Employers contend that they’re paying interns with experience, which can be more valuable than cash, especially in tough-to-break-into fields such as media, fashion and entertainment.” As a career services professional, it’s your job to help your students see beyond the news stories. The following reminders focus on getting the most value out of internships (whether paid or unpaid):

  • Focus on the internship:  A new study by Millennial Branding and Experience, Inc. reported in shows that only half of employers have hired an intern in the past six months. While 91 percent of employers think that students should participate in an internship before they graduate, the majority of companies surveyed haven’t hired interns for full-time positions.  Remind your students not to worry about getting a job offer, but to focus on learning as much as possible from their current internship, viewing the experience as a test to determine if your student wants to pursue a career in that field.  Advise your students not to ask how many interns the company hires or inquire about future opportunities until the internship has a successful conclusion.  Students should also avoid gossiping about interns in the news who are suing their internship sites for unpaid work or misrepresented internships.  To start a conversation at work, students may want to ask questions about the job or the company or talk about sports or even the weather.
  • Focus on preparation:  As part of Senior Week, Ohio University Career Services is hosting an Etiquette Dinner Workshop. Although the word “Etiquette” may sound old-fashioned, it’s still in vogue to understand proper behavior. If your students have the opportunity to share a meal with employees or the internship supervisor, it’s important to know proper table manners and protocol. Refrain from drinking alcohol at work functions is a good place to start. Dress codes are another important subject.  Encourage your students to wear basic or neutral colors. Males should wear dress shirts and trousers and females may wear pants suits, tailored dresses, or knee-length skirts and blouses. Better to err on the side of being too conservative until students spend enough time at their internship to observe dress policy.   Students should research their internship company thoroughly, using Google or talking to other students who have already interned there.
  • Focus on new challenges:  A successful internship will offer students the opportunity to learn new skills and new approaches to projects.  Encourage your students to ask lots of questions, request more assignments, and volunteer to help out on projects.  An internship is a great place to get a mentor who will explain new duties and help interns avoid errors. Mentors are key to building a good reputation. The mentor may be the internship supervisor, a seasoned employee, or a staff person who shares the same career interests or is an alum of the intern’s college.  Reassure your student interns that it’s perfectly acceptable to admit ignorance at an assignment as long as they follow up with asking for help in performing the assignment.  If technology issues cause undue stress for your interns, you may be able to help out by contacting the technical staff at the company and asking for assistance for your students.
  • Focus on enjoying the internship:  An internship may be a turning point in life, so before a student decides that the internship is boring, too difficult or too whatever, he or she should give it a chance. For example, in a recent NYT’s Sunday Review section,  Kara Newman wrote about her internship years ago at a prominent New York magazine. She says that she “hated” her internship, but one of her duties was serving Scotch to the boss. Now she’s the spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine.  If students are unhappy in their internships, try to find out why. As a good career professional, you’ve probably thoroughly researched the site and know the internship supervisor well enough to ask him or her about the intern’s complaints.  If the intern is simply miserable and wants to leave no matter what you suggest, the intern may still be able to find another internship for this summer at, the world’s largest internship site with 70,000 internships and 20,000 employers.

Q. How can I explain to students that unpaid internships can be priceless because they are investing in their own futures?

June 1, 2010 at 11:48 am | Posted in Intern Compensation | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. This is a hot topic in the news right now, so it’s important to address it with your students immediately, whether they are currently doing internships or looking for fall internships. Consider sending an informative and reassuring email out to all your students involved in the internship process, explaining why unpaid internships can be priceless. You might want to send them a link to the Wall Street Journal article, May 18, 2010, “Creating Internships Out of Thin Air,” to validate your explanation. Here are several reasons you can give as to why unpaid internships are excellent investments: 

  • You receive letters of recommendation, which will help you get future internships, which may be paid. Count on having multiple internships, each one better than the previous one.
  • You may earn school credit, which will free up space in your academic program to take other courses (or more internships) or to concentrate on those time-intensive classes with long labs.
  • You could follow the advice of Colleen Sabatino, career coach at, who was quoted in the above Wall Street Journal article. She suggests that you ask the company about any options for pay, such as a stipend or even a part-time job at minimum wage. You may have to cut back your hours if you have to work in another job.
  • You could ask the Career Center if it has any funding available or knows of any government-related monies for internships. New opportunities come up all the time, so check federal and state sites often.
  • You also have career-related experience to strengthen your resume. Remember, it’s your resume that gets you the all-important interview. After a few unpaid internships, you can drop your high-school entries and add impressive professional experience, which will get you the interview.  Investments usually take a while to pay off, so start investing in yourself now.

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