Posts tagged ‘internship’
Q. I’m confused by all the news articles focusing on the legal issues regarding internships. How can I find out what our company can do or not do in accordance with the law?
by the Intern Coach
A. Excellent question! Since so many students want internships and hundreds of companies are starting internship programs, the ground rules have been constantly changing. In the past, schools managed all the internship programs for their students, utilizing the same companies every year. Thanks to the growing number of online internship sites, such as internships.com, students have a far wider selection. As an employer, you are faced with figuring out what applies to you. Here are some tips to help you:
- Every day, a new challenge arises to question the legal status of internship programs. The sources that you might want to pay strict attention to (and those that will probably be paying strict attention to you) involve pronouncements by state or federal governments. Each state seems to be issuing different regulations or rules governing internships. Review what your state is doing and see if your program is in compliance. Also, monitor the federal legislation that is studying the internship situation.
- Confer with your legal department or company lawyer on the legal issues surrounding internships. You may find that your legal expert will err on the side of conservatism in terms of meeting regulations in order to protect you and your company. You’ll probably want to act accordingly. If in doubt about paid or non-paid internships or credit or no credit, you could appoint a committee to review all the legislation and discussion and make a recommendation on how your company should proceed.
- Compare notes on internship programs with other companies that are similar to yours, such as public or private, small or large, domestic or international, etc. Find out if they’ve run into any problems and if so, how they’ve solved them. You could also meet with the college career centers that send you interns and determine their requirements for your company before you agree to accept any interns.
- For further protection, you might ask interns to sign off that they understand and accept the conditions of the internship before they begin one at your company. Do remember that internships are win-win situations for companies and students, so don’t be put off by the confusing news articles on internships.
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.
by the Intern Coach
A. In the best of all possible worlds, your interns would be swept along in a wave of enthusiasm with your other employees as everyone worked together to finish deadline projects on time. However, this is not always the case, so you may need some innovative ways to inspire your interns. Here are a few tips:
- Please realize that your interns may not have developed the ability to work at an accelerated speed to finish a project and may not understand why such a goal is important. It’s up to the intern supervisor to mentor the intern, educating him/her on the details as to why the project is meaningful and what would be the consequences if the project doesn’t meet the deadline.
- Incentives for interns can range from a free lunch in the company cafeteria to tickets to a baseball game or special dinner, where the company has a block of tickets. When your intern finishes a project on or ahead of deadline, you could recognize him/her in the company newsletter for outstanding efforts.
- Some companies use a point system to reward interns and to help them establish professional work habits. For example, if your intern finishes a project, he/she would receive a certain number of points. If he/she finishes it before deadline, the intern earns more points. Being on time for work deserves points, not missing any days scores points etc. At the end of the internship, the intern may have reached the gold standard in terms of points and be awarded a certificate as well as a cash prize or other remuneration.
- If a deadline project is quite large and very important towards reaching the company’s bottom-line, then you might offer incentives not only to your interns but to your employees. You’ll find your intern will model the behavior of the other employees, so if your staff is highly motivated, your intern will probably be inspired to finish deadline projects on time, too.
Q. What if the student’s self-assessment of their performance isn’t in alignment with the company’s?
by the Intern Coach
A. If the student thinks he/she is not performing up to company expectations, but the company is totally satisfied with the student, that’s not a serious problem. You can simply assure the insecure intern that you’re very pleased with his/her work. However, if the student perceives that he/she is doing an excellent job while the company begs to differ, that’s a complicated problem. Here are some solutions to get everyone in agreement:
- The internship manager needs to compare the student and the company assessments to discover the discrepancies. After isolating the problem areas from the company viewpoint, the manager should devise a list of suggestions on how the intern can improve those problem areas. Also note any problems that the intern alleges with the company.
- The most challenging step is sitting down with the intern and explaining the company’s concerns and how the intern can address those issues. First, select an area in which the student is meeting company expectations and compliment the intern on a job well done. Then, point out the areas that need to have improvement, emphasizing that the student will benefit by increasing his/her skill set.
- Be positive in your suggestions and phrase your sentences carefully. For example, instead of saying, “You aren’t getting your reports in on time, and you’re working too slowly,” try saying, “We’d like to see the reports in earlier; if you feel overwhelmed with other duties, we can lighten your load.”
- Rather than blaming the intern with the word “you” for poor performance, you’re focusing on teamwork with the word “we” and the company’s desire to help the intern achieve success. It’s helpful for you and the student intern to set revised goals together, so he/she can take appropriate steps to improve performance.
- After you have this conversation with your student, check in on a daily basis to see how the student is progressing in reaching the goals. Keep up a teamwork attitude, so the student feels supported in these efforts. By the next evaluation period, the company and the intern should be in alignment on assessments.
by the Intern Coach
A. That’s a sensitive issue. The answer is yes and no, depending on the pre-arranged guidelines governing the internship. The following suggestions may help you decide what’s appropriate in your organization.
- Check the internship guidelines to see if a survey is listed as one of the methods to assess the intern’s performance. If so, yes, you have clear permission to survey the staff for its opinion. However, your organization may want to have the same ground rules for the rest of the staff, so the intern doesn’t feel singled out. How are the staff members evaluated?
- If the survey is not described in written materials before the internship begins, then the answer is, in most cases, no. If you bring it up as an afterthought, the intern will be suspicious and think you are checking up on him/her. You might want to ask the department head or intern supervisor for his/her opinion before you make any decision.
- The staff may or may not like to be involved in such a survey. Some members might find they don’t have the time to do a survey or that it’s a waste of their valuable time. Others might feel that they don’t know the intern well enough to participate in the survey. If you have several interns in the company or in the department, the staff may feel overwhelmed by the survey assignments, especially if they haven’t worked closely with the intern.
- A word of caution: If you do a survey, you don’t have any guarantee that the results will be an accurate reading of the intern’s performance unless you customize each survey to relate to each intern’s assignment. Before you come to a decision, talk to the intern’s school to find out if staff surveys are the usual procedure or if they are frowned on by the career center. Then, proceed accordingly.
The other day I came across this article on the Coaching Commons website, which asked the question: would knowing a person’s cultural history help you coach them? According to a new study featured in the article, understanding another’s culture can make a difference in effective coaching strategies. As shared by the study’s authors and by my previous posts, culture is an important element that forms a person’s identity. Hence, by understanding one’s culture, a manager or supervisor can gain a better understanding of their behaviors especially in a work setting. Given today’s multi-cultural workforce, the ability to develop employees by fully tapping and recognizing their talents is essential.
In working with managers over the last year, I’ve noted that their biggest challenge in understanding cultural differences is not the different backgrounds, experiences, values, or languages, of their employees, but it’s in understand their own culture. Put differently, some of the managers that I’ve work with filter expectations and meanings based on their own experiences. This has the potential for creating a number of perceived dilemmas. How? By supervising employees or interns based solely on their own cultural perspective, a manager might assume it’s the employee that might be having an issue. Since managing an intern depends in part to one’s cultural perspective, a potential barrier to an intern’s progress might be related cultural differences rather than behavior.
This is why my advice to managers supervising or coaching recent Hispanic college graduates has always been the same. Cultural awareness is not only about understanding your own culture, but also understanding that your culture will probably be different than the person you’re supervising. Furthermore, cultural awareness, especially in a supervision context, is more than realizing another culture might be unlike your own; it’s about learning to appreciate that other culture. Often times it’s culture that dictates your behavior – often times without you knowing. For example, it impacts the way you communicate, your body language, and how you manage conflict. By understanding that your culture influences your viewpoints and perspectives, you’ll decrease the likelihood of misinterpreting an employee’s behavior.
If you’re working with Hispanic interns in your organization, I’d encourage you to place a greater focus on understanding your culture as well as that of your intern’s. This is especially important if you’re in a supervisory role. I’ve hopefully explained why developing cross cultural awareness has much in common with building rapport in a coaching situation. For supervisors, it’s not only about understanding another’s culture but also about understanding their own.
by the Intern Coach
A. The sooner you correct this situation the better. You have two main options: (1) either help the intern reorganize or restructure in order to meet the goals, or (2) change the goals and reset new ones with the help of your intern to ensure that he/she can meet them. Here are some tips to help you decide which option is the better solution:
- Schedule a meeting with the intern’s immediate supervisor to create a specific list of unmet goals. Try to discover if there were any extenuating circumstances, such as the intern called in sick, the computer system was down, the necessary meeting was cancelled, reports were lost etc. Also, look for any personality issues that may be causing problems. Does the intern perform the work incorrectly because he/she doesn’t ask questions first? Are the directions clear? Is the intern working too slowly or talking too much resulting in missed deadlines and unmet goals?
- Now that you have one side of the story, set a meeting with the intern to explore the intern’s version of why goals are not being met. The intern may be unaware of the situation and think he/she is doing an excellent job. Or the intern may have been too intimidated by his/her supervisor to ask clarifying questions, not wanting to appear dumb or unprepared. If the intern is keeping a daily journal on work activities, ask him/her to share the journal with you, so you can assess the problem. You may discover that the intern is unhappy with the assignments, co-workers, supervisor, or even the company, which is compromising his/her performance.
- Based on the information that you’ve collected from both parties, you may want to suggest a new set of goals that are compatible with the intern and the supervisor. If you do recommend new goals, don’t blame anyone for the failure of the first set. You may even want to ask the intern to create his/her own new goals, based on his/her knowledge of the company. You can be sure that these goals will be met since the intern has full ownership.
- If you don’t want to establish new goals, you could assign a mentor to help the intern get back on track. The mentor could be a more senior intern or a junior employee that could empathize with the intern’s inexperience. Whatever you do, don’t fire your intern; you’ll only generate anger from the intern and confusion from the school. Everyone involved will appreciate your successful efforts in solving the problem—and goals will then be met.