Archive for February, 2010

Hispanic interns: we are family

By Miguel Corona

Early in my career, I managed the internship and cooperative education program for the University of Texas at El Paso career center, a campus where over 70% of the student population is Hispanic. As students returned to campus from their work experiences, I spent a lot of time with each of them discussing what he or she had learned from applying their academic knowledge in a practical setting. I’d often ask about their respective projects, supervisors, co-workers, and the cities where they lived. When I asked students about their organization’s culture, a common response went something like “… the people I worked with were like part of a big family.” And while I was delighted to know that student experiences emphasized practical work experience in their area of study, I was just as pleased to see that some employers recognized the importance of “family” to our students. Whether these companies recognized it or not, they had enhanced these students’ internship experiences by tapping an important element of Hispanic culture – familism.

Familism can be described as a cultural characteristic where interests, choices, and activities are formed within the context of a larger network. In most cases, especially in Hispanic culture, this means a family network. If you ask any Hispanic American what is most valued in his or her life, family is usually the first or second choice. Familism is often illustrated as a “belief system” that incorporates loyalty, cooperation, and cohesion towards members of a family or network. Other elements of familism might include duty, support, understanding, and respect. Familism also values principles such as interdependence, camaraderie, and community. One can easily see how these attributes can lend themselves to a work setting.

In organizational environments, particularly internship opportunities, supervisors and interns assume particular roles, which are naturally found in traditional family settings. Hence, in the case of Hispanics, it would make sense to highlight this type of relationship by providing guidance and direction to student interns; mirroring the strong relationships they value in their own family networks. Assure interns are incorporated into all aspects of the department or team to which they’ve been assigned. Give them time to network and get to know everyone with whom they’ll interact. By and large, employers can benefit greatly by extending these family tie concepts into their Hispanic interns’ work environments. Aside from the positive emotional effects, employers will most likely see marked increase in their interns’ performance.

February 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm 4 comments

Grow an internship program focused on teaching

By writer

It makes sense that interns, with little office experience, have yet to figure out their own work limitations or the best way to ask for assistance. But this is what an internship is for—experience, learning new skills, finding independence in the work setting, and understanding when to ask for help.

Once, I had an intern submit Excel spreadsheets with a ton of mistakes. My first reaction (luckily, I hid this first reaction with a smile) was annoyance; I had counted on using the data prepared by the intern in the report I was working on. I knew I had two choices in this situation: I could reply to the intern with the ubiquitous “good job” and remember not to give him any more Excel projects, or I could take the time to figure out why the work wasn’t what I had expected. I didn’t think it was laziness. This particular intern did not seem the type to slack off. I had a sneaking suspicion he just didn’t know how to use Excel, and had been too nervous to speak up when I handed him the task.

I knew this was the time for a teaching moment. I reviewed Excel with the intern and showed him simple ways he could take his work to the next level.  Sure enough, no one had bothered to teach him simple Excel functions.  I made sure to emphasize that in his original document, he had all the numbers I needed, but the organization and level of functionality required for me to utilize his work was not present.  We talked about simple formatting tricks, and I explained more advanced functions that might be useful later.  By making it clear to him I was going to do a lot more with his spreadsheet than just print it and look at the numbers, I hoped to give him a better sense of the importance of his work. I also hoped that through this experience, he would see me as someone he could approach with work questions, rather than fumbling around trying to learn new skills without assistance.

In all, this training took about one hour.  While I had other projects I needed to work on during that time, I knew the Excel training was a gift that would keep on giving – for both my company and the intern.  The student’s subsequent work was improved and I was able to use his spreadsheets in my own work.  In the end, the company got more productivity, and the student learned Excel skills that he will utilize and build on well into his career.

February 13, 2010 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

Hispanic or Latino? Which is politically correct?

By Miguel Corona

One of the common questions I get asked by organizations and clients I work with is what term do I prefer. “Term?” I ask…“Yes, do you prefer Hispanic or Latino?” is the usual follow-up question. It’s a frequent question and one an employer should consider as well. I don’t have a personal preference when it comes to either, and I tend to use both terms interchangeably as many Hispanics and Latinos that I know do (you see, I did it just there!). I honestly appreciate the question and realize most people are asking in order to use the correct term and to avoid potentially offending others. While many in the Hispanic community share the same perspective that I do, others are still very much prescribed to one term or the other. According to a PEW Hispanic Center survey, 36% of the Hispanic community preferred the term “Hispanic” while 21% preferred the term “Latino.” The remaining respondents in the survey (43%) had no preference or used both terms interchangeably.

The use of each term might also be determined by what region of the United States you are standing in when you say it. Concentrations of the Hispanic population differ by region, for example, there are many more Mexican Americans in Texas and California than there are in Florida, where there are more Cuban Americans. Along the East Coast, you’ll find a higher concentration of Puerto Ricans. In my own experience of living in several areas of the country, I’ve found the term “Latino” most often used on the West and East coasts, and the term “Hispanic” in states like Texas and other parts of the Southwest. Of course, this is just one person’s experience! There continues to be a lot debate within the Hispanic community about what term actually captures the true essence of the population.

Whether it’s Hispanic or Latino, what is common to each perspective is that each term is  used to represent a demographic with a common cultural background including characteristics such as language. Employers should be aware, however, that these two terms often do not capture differences in race or ancestry common to the Hispanic population. While Hispanics are often “grouped” to represent a monolithic group on forms such as job applications, the reality is that Hispanics are incredibly heterogeneous. Hispanics originate from European, Latin American, and even African heritage. Hispanics can literally vary from blond and green-eyed to African in physical features.

So what’s the bottom line for employers? Realize that Hispanics are not a homogeneous ethnic group. There is great diversity in their demographic, economic, and social backgrounds. Yet, there are also many similarities in areas such as language, culture, and attitudes. This combined variety and similarity provides employers with an opportunity to leverage their backgrounds and experiences in a work setting.

February 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm 2 comments

Guidelines for internships: managing interns well

By writer

Sometimes the work assigned to interns is less than glamorous–data entry, research, scheduling appointments, copying and collating, etc.  As any manager of interns knows, these tasks are the building blocks of critical business projects.  Interns, however, may not understand this yet.  There is a term that these interns, some of them just out of high school, are probably all too familiar with: busy-work.

A common complaint among students is that their teachers give them “busy-work” – work with no other purpose than to keep them busy.  When interns are assigned tasks like photocopying, they might assume it’s busy-work and therefore, unimportant, and this attitude is sure to negatively impact their enthusiasm, commitment, and ultimately, their entire experience. 

That’s why it’s important to explain to your interns that these types of tasks are actually essential steps to accomplishing the critical work objectives of your company.  For instance, when I ask an intern to collect data and enter it into an Excel spreadsheet, I always explain before they begin the project what the data will be used for and why it’s important.  I tell the student how the data will be analyzed and what decisions will be made based on the data.  Whenever possible, I invite the intern to participate in those meetings or conversations, so they can observe the life of their work after completion.

It’s important to explain the larger impact of a task before an intern starts  a project.  This will help them to understand why it’s important to finish the task efficiently and with integrity.  In my experience I have found this always leads to a better product and a happier, more engaged intern.

Everyone wants to know they are contributing to the larger business objectives or bottom line of a company, including interns.  For an intern, this is probably their first foray into the business world and they probably have high expectations.  By teaching the interns that tasks such as data entry and appointment scheduling are a vital step to accomplishing company-wide goals, they will feel invested and important.  The intern will also learn a lot more about how business gets done, not just data entry!

February 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

College summer internships: planning ahead

By Miguel Corona

Although we’re deep in the middle of winter, many college students around the country have their sights set on warmer weather and the possibility of securing a summer internship. University career centers are already busy posting internship opportunities and scheduling employer campus interviews. Whether you’re an employer considering starting an internship program or have an established program in place, now is the time to be planning how summer interns will be best utilized by your organization. Do you know how your organization expects to leverage the energy, creativity, knowledge, and skills interns commonly bring to the workplace? And above all, and a factor often neglected by employers, is your internship program designed to produce genuine value and results to the student as well as the organization? Having managed internship programs for a university and a few organizations, the best and worst internship experiences often hinge on this last question.  

For the student, the goal of an internship is to gain practical and relevant experience through the application of knowledge so far attained only in an academic setting. Whether interns are joining your organization to support an established team or tasked with a short-term project, assure that their theoretical learning is being supplemented in the role. Beyond practical experience in their core area of study, interns are also expecting to develop and apply other skills that are essential to their long-term professional success. Provide interns the opportunity to develop interpersonal, critical thinking, presentation, networking, and political acumen skills. Developing these essential career skills is just as important to their overall internship experience.  

For the employer, it’s imperative to identify one or more projects where the intern can provide legitimate support or make a considerable impact. Employers might at times be reluctant to trust an intern with too much responsibility fearing that he or she will fail. On the contrary, from my experience, interns rise to the level of expectation and use their willingness to learn as an opportunity to contribute wherever they’re needed. Of course, this approach should be balanced with what an intern needs to learn in order to complete the assignment. Pinpointing the right opportunity, along with determining the appropriate amount of supervisory support, will go a long way in assuring an intern’s skills are used most effectively. Combining an intern’s specialized area of study, willingness to learn, and the right project will yield the best results where the organization most needs it.

February 10, 2010 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

Understanding cultural differences in the student world

By Miguel Corona

The rapid expansion of globalization continues to transform American society in a number of ways. We now live and work in an environment that is consistently being influenced by diverse cultures. The same diversity that is changing the American workforce has already transformed many colleges and universities. Students from varying ethnicities and races including Hispanics now constitute a growing part of the student population on many campuses in the United States. It’s a transformation that many colleges and universities are embracing. Hence, it’s logical to assume that much of the diversity found on campuses will continue to spill into the work environment.

Employers of all sizes and from various industries are conscious of this trend. Many employers have already grasped the idea that their organizations’ workforce should reflect the broader demographic and social environment in which they operate. But while diverse representation in organizations is important, just as vital is an employer’s ability to manage this diverse workforce. This creates a new set of challenges for employers including the development of new types of leaders skilled in managing an increasingly multicultural workforce. These new generations of leaders will require the ability to identify, understand and appreciate cultural differences – in other words, to be culturally intelligent.

Cultural Intelligence, or CQ, can be described as a person’s ability to relate effectively with people of different cultural backgrounds. By developing this skill, people are better able to engage, manage, and work with diverse work groups. From a Hispanic intern perspective, CQ can provide considerable value. Take for instance understanding acculturation differences. Acculturation can be described as the process of taking on another culture while keeping aspects of another (original) culture. Studies have demonstrated that Hispanic acculturation levels vary in the United States. Language, for example, is a cultural characteristic many Hispanics hold onto in order to maintain a connection with their heritage, family, and community. On the other hand, English becomes more dominant and important in the workplace or as Hispanics become more acculturated.  

Employers who have a greater understanding of CQ and its implications are in a better position to connect and manage Hispanic interns and other interns from differing cultures. Like other intelligences, CQ can be developed in most people with the objective of increasing their confidence in managing employees of different cultures. In future posts, I’ll continue to introduce specific cultural topics and concepts related to Hispanics in the workplace that might impact their values, attitudes, communication, and performance.

February 9, 2010 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

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This blog is dedicated to employers with a focus on how to hire and manage interns effectively. We will have a variety of experts who will share helpful ideas, tips and more. We invite you to comment, ask questions and share your experiences. You are also welcome to submit written contributions to this blog.

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