Megan Hollis // Virginia Commonwealth University, Career Services
Tracey Lord // Florida State University, Career Center
Each student has a different reason for pursuing an experiential learning opportunity. Helping the student identify their motivation could be as simple as asking them questions about their career goals, their plan for the rest of their time in school, or reaching deeper to connect about any dream careers they have now or have had in the past. Prompting reflection in this way may bring up answers they did not know they had! After identifying the student’s motivation, the next step is to build upon that foundation with intentional goal-setting and guided reflection. There are five critical junctions that facilitate student success throughout the life cycle of a semester-long experiential learning opportunity: first impressions, settling in, avoiding the mid-point slump, wrapping up and graceful goodbyes. This article provides tips for internship supervisors for effective management at each of these junctions.
Studies have shown that students who hold internships during college secure full-time employment or obtain graduate school admission at higher rates when compared to peers who do not. To help students succeed in an internship, we need to first help them think about the why behind their specific reason for pursuing, securing, and completing an internship. This motivation can help craft learning goals and be used as a vehicle to keep interns inspired to perform and engage at their highest capacity throughout the experience.
Each student has a different reason for pursuing an internship (or other form of experiential or work-integrated learning opportunity). For some, it is merely a graduation requirement for their academic major. For others, there are a variety of reasons such as trying on a potential future career field, and it can be quite complex.
Helping students identify their motivation could be as simple as asking them questions about their career goals, their plan for the rest of their time in school, or reaching deeper to uncover any dream careers they have now or have had in the past. Prompting reflection in this way may bring up answers they did not know they had!
After identifying the student’s motivation for pursuing an internship with your organization, the next step is to build upon that foundation with intentional goal-setting and guided reflection. In the points below, we have identified five critical junctions that facilitate sustained student success throughout the duration of the internship. Each one is paired with a tip for success and a note on how to help interns navigate their experience. Special attention will be paid to virtual internships since hosting an intern virtually presents a whole new array of opportunities and challenges. Virtual interns may feel more disconnected from you as their supervisor and from your organization. The opportunity for them to learn about organizational culture, norms, communication styles, and interactions is not as readily available to them as it would be in-person. Thinking preemptively about how you can help virtual interns stay engaged will be key to their success and the potential opportunity for your organization to convert them to a full-time hire – now or down the road.
Before students begin their internship, help them connect what they have learned in the classroom directly to their intended internship activities. This is especially crucial during remote work. Check in with them to provide concrete details regarding company norms and expectations during remote work (response times, appropriate use of virtual communication tools, attire, and virtual background, etc.).
Tip: Help them find competencies for professionals in their field. What is expected of new graduates with a degree in X? Understanding the types of skills or credentials they will need to be successful can help them find meaning in their current course of study and experiences.
Virtual note: Make sure to set clear expectations about how you expect a student to be available and to communicate. How often do you want to connect with your interns? What hours do they need to stick to, or can they work at any point throughout the day? What protocol should they follow when using internal communication channels, such as a chat/instant messenger tool?
While students may be comfortable at their internship site, encourage them to think of their whole experience as an interview. Students may have full-time opportunities in the future based on their performance now. Leaning into the process of building and maintaining professional relationships with their supervisor and other co-workers will be a valuable way to help them learn norms, processes, and avoid missteps. Talk with them candidly about how COVID-19 has changed and impacted working at this site and in this field.
Encourage the student to reach out to co-workers regularly to learn more about how they support the organization. When they are tackling a new-to-them project, be sure to suggest different colleagues they should do an informational interview with to learn more about the history/context behind the project! Building connections outside of their department or work area can be helpful for them to see the big picture of the organization and where they fit.
Students doing virtual internships miss out on the spontaneous lunchroom or hallway chats that can be so helpful in conveying office culture and providing networking opportunities. Think creatively about how you can connect your interns to each other and to employees they may not meet in their day-to-day work. Provide suggestions for building connections virtually, such as strategies for leveraging company-approved communication tools, attending networking events virtually or setting up 1:1 virtual coffee chats or lunch meetings.
The midpoint of an experience is a perfect time to revisit goals. As we know, it is very easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and lose sight of where we want to go. Reflecting on, and even editing goals, can help re-center a student’s focus and direction.
Have your students schedule a midpoint check-in with their supervisor at the beginning of their experience. If they know it is coming, they will be better prepared to talk about their progress and anything they’d like to change when that day arrives.
This is a great time to ask students their thoughts on your organization’s office culture. Making sure they are experiencing it and connecting it back to the values and mission of the organization is hard to do virtually! If you feel they are not quite there, think creatively about who you can connect them to, or company events in which they can participate.
It is important to help fuel students’ momentum to close out their internship projects. This is a great time to prompt them to look beyond the day-to-day work of their internship and consider how the experience has changed them before, during, and after the experience.
Ask them about pride points and moments where they felt like a subject matter expert in an area they knew little about a short time ago!
This is a great time to ask students their thoughts on how they could leverage internal subject matter experts to learn more about completing certain projects or tasks. Ask them to identify an area they would like to conquer and/or improve before they offboard, then set-up a virtual meeting for them to learn from a colleague, or several colleagues, for a deep dive in that area.
Reflection is a powerful tool to help students make connections between their current skillset in comparison to future career goals and between what they have learned in the classroom and what they actively contributed to throughout their internship. Guiding them through reflections on situations where they applied skills, rather competently or with room for improvement, will help them prepare to verbalize their knowledge, skills and abilities through cover letters or admissions essays, as well as during interviews for full-time work or graduate school.
As they offboard from their internship site, having completed these reflections will help them authentically and thoroughly thank the colleagues that helped them polish and grow throughout the experience! Remind them to write thank you notes/emails to close out their experience.
Keep it virtual and connect on LinkedIn. If the student did great work for you, consider writing a recommendation on his or her profile.
This article is an exert from the content of their co-authored textbook Making Your Internship Count which facilitates sustained student success before, during and after an experiential learning opportunity. It can be provided to student participants and site supervisors to ensure a positive, productive experience for both parties.
Megan Hollis serves as the Associate Director of Health Sciences Career Advising in Career Services at Virginia Commonwealth University. Previously, Megan worked at Florida State University in the Career Center for ten years. She also served on the board of the Florida Association of Colleges & Employers for eight years, including a year as President. Megan earned a B.S. in Psychology from Christopher Newport University and M.S. in Higher Education from Florida State University.
As Program Director for Experiential Learning at Florida State University (FSU), Tracey Lord focuses on partnerships and services that expand student access to and engagement in experiential learning opportunities. Career highlights include serving on the national board for the Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA) and circumnavigating the globe as the resident Career Services Staff on the Fall 2011 Voyage of Semester at Sea.