Archive for July, 2010
Q. When I told our interns that they were under dressing for work, they blamed the hot summer weather for their scanty outfits. What should I do?
by the Intern Coach
A. It’s true that this is the hottest summer in recorded US weather history, but that doesn’t excuse their inappropriate appearance. The Baltimore Sun recently published an article about your problem. Here are a few tips from that piece:
- You’re not alone. In Washington, DC, where they’ve never quite forgotten Monica Lewinsky, a name has evolved for the scantily-clad summer staff: “skinterns.” A vice president of human resources, who hires 80 interns a year, says she “nips the problem in the bud with an up-front discussion about standards and expectations.” It’s not that they come in and look sloppy, but they’re showing up in bar clothes. She wants them to represent the company name with integrity and professionalism.
- In a recent episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” called “The Bare Midriff,” Larry David is disgruntled that his new secretary is wearing a shirt that exposes her tummy. When he confronts her, she says she’s proud of her body and wants to flaunt it. His reply: “You can flaunt two-thirds of the day outside the office and then you have one-third non-flaunt,” her tells her. “Why not take a break in the flaunt?”
- One HR Director sends female employees/interns home to change if their dress is inappropriate. Another option is to keep a supply of t-shirts readily available, so an intern can cover up, presenting a more modest appearance. If an intern receives several warnings and still doesn’t arrive in proper office attire, the internship for that student is terminated, according to the HR Director.
- You could also call the students’ career centers and discuss the issue with the staff. Then, a staff member could reinforce to the intern that wearing booty shorts, cleavage-baring tops, or see-through skirts to the office is inappropriate, regardless of the temperature. You could suggest that the school follow the lead of many universities and offer a one-credit elective course on professional skills for business, clarifying dress issues.
- Emphasize to your interns that you want them to put their best foot forward when they meet clients and customers because they reflect your company. Rather than scold the interns, offer them a list of acceptable clothing standards for the company. Remind them to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach, erring on the conservative side. They may even thank you.
Q. When there are issues with an intern’s performance, how should I handle the intern’s request for a reference?
by the Intern Coach
A. That’s a sensitive issue. You want to be honest but not damage the intern’s future prospects. You might want to do some research before you make your decision since each case is different, depending on the individual and the situation. Here are a few points to ponder:
- Review the job expectations as explained before the internship began, making sure that the company didn’t change the internship descriptions in the course of the internship period. Other areas in which the intern could fault the company rather than himself/herself would be if there was an unexpected change in intern supervisors or other compromising situations. Find out if your employees tried to help the intern improve his/her performance or were co-workers too busy to bother.
- Ask the intern’s supervisor and co-workers for their evaluations. You could discover that the intern actually performed well in one area, so you might be able to at least offer one positive comment on the reference. Then, you could abstain from commenting on the negative aspects of the intern’s performance. However, if the intern committed unpardonable acts, such as stealing from the company or disappearing from the internship site without explanation, then you would have to consider refusing to write a reference letter.
- Meet with the intern to discuss the issues. You might find out that the intern had personal problems or issues that impacted his/her ability to perform up to expectations. Then, you’d have to use your own personal judgment to decide what to include in the reference letter. Keep in mind that a positive reference letter could open new doors for a young person, but a poor one can close doors for a long time, especially in a weak economy.
- Consult with the school’s career center about your conundrum. The staff may have a solution or be able to cast more light on the situation. You want to safeguard your relationship with the school in order to get future interns that will add value to your company. If you and the school counselor—together—conclude that the student did a poor job and does not deserve a good reference, then you can advise the student that it’s a joint decision, limiting your culpability. Then, you might be doing the student a favor because he/she will strive for improved performance in the future, resulting in excellent reference letters.
by the Intern Coach
A. That’s a tough question, especially if the student intern has performed his/her duties beyond expectation. First, take it as a compliment to the company and to your internship program that the student would like to become an employee. Then, consider the following ways to tell the student that you can’t offer employment:
- Begin by expressing your thanks to the student for an outstanding performance as an intern. Note specific accomplishments. You might take this opportunity to present a laudatory recommendation letter to the student or a certificate of appreciation from the company for a job well done.
- Explain that the company is not hiring anyone at this time. If the company has had lay-offs in the recent past, you might mention that, too. However, stress that the company’s future looks bright. Ask the student intern to stay in touch with you and the company. Assure him/her that when an opening occurs, he/she will be considered for the position.
- Offer to write a reference to another company to which the student might apply for employment. Or, if you know of any potential jobs in other companies, you might refer the student to the appropriate person, building the student’s networking opportunities. You could invite the student to go to a meeting or event with you, where he/she could network to connect with potential employers.
- Suggest that your student continue to intern with the company in a virtual internship if you would like to keep the intern as a possible candidate for future openings. Or you may have some consulting projects for the student that would extend the relationship. However, if you feel that the intern is not a good fit for employment, you would only be creating false hope. It would be much better to cut off any further collaboration, citing the recession and weak economy as the villains.
by the Intern Coach
A. Taking time out of your busy schedule to determine the best way for the staff to express thanks to your hard-working interns is important to everyone. The interns will appreciate your efforts, and the staff members will enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped mentor young people. Here are some tips on how to proceed:
- Schedule a thank-you event for the interns on the last day. You could plan a luncheon to honor the interns or hold a small reception with light refreshments. At the event, interns could receive Certificates of Achievement for completing the internship. You may want to present each intern with a small gift from the company, such as a coffee mug, key chain, or quality pen engraved with the company’s name. Another option would be to give each intern a gift certificate to be used for a company product if applicable or for a popular café or restaurant.
- Write a glowing thank-you letter to the intern and have it signed by all staff members who worked with the intern. If you prefer a more informal approach, select an appropriate thank-you card. Please keep in mind that this group thank-you letter or card does not replace the formal letter of recommendation or reference, which is provided by each internship supervisor for every intern. Make sure that this formal document is completed and given to the intern before the internship ends. Your interns will be grateful for the timely delivery since they may be applying for another internship. Both the staff thank-you letter or card and the formal letter of recommendation will be excellent additions to the students’ portfolios.
- Suggest that the staff members offer to help their student interns document their internship achievements. The company could provide a handsome file or folder with the company’s name on it. Then, the staff could work with the interns to organize the appropriate materials, including documents, photos, company brochures or annual reports, relevant correspondence, and online exhibits. Divide up the assignments, asking different people to handle various aspects in order to include all staff in the process and not overwhelm any one employee.
- Practice diplomacy, ensuring that everyone—from staff members to interns—feels like he/she has performed well and contributed to a successful internship experience. Each intern should be thanked and treated equally even if one intern has performed on a higher level than another. You can emphasize superior performance in the individual recommendation letter rather than in a public pronouncement. Do give the staff equal credit, too, thanking each of them for helping the interns learn new skills.