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The Predator – Watch out for Exploitative Internships

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jun 21, 2012 in Career Path, Lessons Learned

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For those who are still in college or just now graduating, the saying, “It’s a jungle out there,” is truer now more than ever. One of the many options that students or recent graduates flock to in lieu of full- or even part-time employment is the unpaid internship. Don’t get me wrong—internships, especially in certain hard-to-break-into industries like journalism, are often the only way to get your foot in the door. But in hard economic times, it’s not uncommon for companies and businesses to offer internships that are either exploitative, technically illegal, or some combination of both. Here’s what you should watch out for to avoid becoming the prey of shady internship programs:

1.      Ask former interns about their experiences; don’t join an internship program blind.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s plenty of information out there about both good and bad internships. Sometimes a simple Google search will suffice. You can also look into websites that rank and review internships, like Vault.com. Whatever you do, try to get in personal touch with a former intern—either through email, on the phone, or in-person—so that you understand from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, what the internship is really like.

2.      You should not be asked to do the same work in amount and kind as a full-time worker.

What makes an internship illegal is getting paid nothing to conduct “essential work.” Essential work is basically a full set of tasks that a full-time employee who gets paid does on a daily basis. Internships are essentially a networking opportunity combined with a few diverse tasks to give you a better idea of what the company or organization does as a whole. If you’re being asked to do essential work, then you’re working for a company that’s breaking the law. For more information about the legality of unpaid internships, check out this article.

3.      Always first seek out paid internships. They do exist.

Of course, the vast majority of internships are unpaid. But you’d be surprised by how many internships are out there that do pay, even if it’s not very much. Paid internships tend to be more serious in the nature of the work you’ll be doing, and they’re more affordable.

4.      There are definite alternatives to unpaid internships. You just have to know where to look.

Although many of my friends and relatives have had internships, and I’ve counseled younger people who’ve participated in good internships, I’ve never done unpaid work in my life beyond extracurricular volunteer work. When I graduated from college and couldn’t find work, I instead took on freelance projects as a writer and consultant. These (paid) projects can be just as rewarding as internships. You’ll establish connections that can lead to full-time work, you’ll learn the basics of various industries, and you’ll be getting paid to boot. So while internships can be wonderful experiences, you don’t absolutely need them to get your foot in the door.

In virtually every industry, there are predators out there. Don’t be their victim. Do your research and choose internships wisely. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Barbara Jolie. Barbara is a full time freelance writer and blogger in the Houston area. She enjoys writing about education and the advantages of online classes for all students. If you have any questions email Barbara at barbara.jolie876 @gmail.com.

If you have a great idea for a jungle-themed post, let us know! Guest writers or requests are always welcome!

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The Terrain – Guiding the Graduates

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on May 11, 2012 in Executive Coaching, Job Search

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I remember it like it was yesterday:  crossing the stage, shaking the Dean’s hand, smiling for the cameras, and feeling ready to take on the world.  Now, I see my friends’ children taking part in the same ritual. These graduates will come home after their graduation parties and beach vacations to find jobs, but will instead find that they are woefully unprepared to navigate the competitive job terrain that holds their fate in its hands.

A recent article in the Huffington Post stated half of college graduates won’t have a job offer upon graduation.

Most people are average.  Average grades with average income potential.  That’s where the term average comes from, right?  It’s the middle of the exceptionally talented, or those with really high GPAs compared to those who may have prioritized the social aspects of college over the academics and may have even worked their way through school. Perhaps they didn’t get to take advantage of the career center prior to packing up and leaving campus.  Within the average pool of people, there are still exceptionally talented people waiting to be plucked into their destiny of success.  Hard work does pay off, and finding a job after college is hard work.

If your recent graduate didn’t have summer internships relating to their studies, or part time work to offer them a glimpse of what professional life would be like after obtaining their degree, they are probably going to have to pay their dues now, as painful as that might be for you to watch.  Recent grads often feel their education should preclude them from starting with an entry level position, but the fact remains, a job with a reputable company is a great starting point for anyone. 

Whether the business is large or small, publicly traded or privately held, full or part time, they need some work experience. They need to prove to an employer they are reliable, dependable, organized, have good communications skills, can follow direction, and that they can work both independently and in teams.  The basics.  They need to take any job they can get and make it their own whether as an assistant manager at a drug store, or as the administrative assistant in an office.  They need to build the list of references that will vouch for them in the future.

For many grads it’s too soon for them to really know what they want to do long term or where their career will take them, so encourage them to just get started. They will learn more about themselves while working than not working and you can learn something from any job, good or bad.  Some of the most valuable experience can be gained in the most unlikely situations. 

Many times the amount of rejections the grads face is overwhelming and they will retreat back to school for more education. Here’s the skinny on that:  Unless the profession they are choosing (like nursing, law, etc.) requires the education to get started, they are going to be in the same boat a few years down the road if they don’t combine that extra learning with substantive work experience. It’s better to obtain that additional degree in combination with some practical application of their studies. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement or special executive on site MBA programs that employees who are positioning themselves for promotion can take advantage of. Developing a healthy balance of education and experience is the most strategic and effective way to optimize your value to current and potential employers.

Telling all of this to your grads isn’t the easiest task, so you might want to consider hiring a coach to work with them.  Through the International Coach Federation website (http://www.coachfederation.org/) you can search for coaches in your local area that offer career services.  The investment there will be well worth your time if you properly vet the coach you choose as someone who has successfully worked with others in the same situation in the past.

Teach your grads to network.  Currently, 80% of all jobs are found as a direct result of networking and utilizing personal connections. Ask your friends who work in your grad’s field for help. You’ll be surprised at how willing these personal connections are to help a young person and how quickly a small network can expand with just a little help from family and friends.  Encourage your job seekers to make a list of companies they are interested in so you can easily see if you have contacts there that may be able to assist them.  Having a well thought out job search strategy they can execute is important.  Setting timelines for follow up and evaluating results can’t be achieved if you don’t have a list to work from.

You might also want to take a look at your grad’s online profile because future employers are looking as well.  Their Facebook page and LinkedIn profile should be clean and professional.  Encourage your grad to remove any photos that may give future employers the wrong impression of their character.  Keeping a diligent eye on their online presence is very important and can be a deal breaker.  Just last week someone in our office pointed out that a person’s wedding website noted they had yet to graduate when the resume they presented to us stated they had completed their degree. That person was due to complete it this year in December but they are looking for a job now. 

Lastly, they can always do volunteer work to obtain more experience.  Many companies and non profits need help so don’t forget to consider those channels as well.

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The Breeze – Cool Summer Job Tips For Students

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Jun 22, 2010 in Career Path, Self Improvement

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No one wants their kids to grow up too quickly. We can never have time back from when we were younger, but let’s face it; our kids ARE growing up more quickly. They are more technologically savvy, they have larger vocabularies and many have traveled the world before they even leave high school breezing through a more connected world.

The generations that have wanted to make their kids lives easier have succeeded. But this is actually making job searches tougher for these young people as competition for entry level jobs has dramatically increased.

Consider these tips for high school and college students-

High school summer jobs introduce us to a hard day’s work. That’s how you make money- you go to work, do a good job, and they pay you. High school is a great time for fun summer jobs where extra help is needed like camp counselors, lifeguarding, babysitting, caddying, amusement park work, landscaping, pet sitting, waiting tables, or catering.

As the college students arrive home this summer, our inclination is to let them cool off and have a break from their studies and enjoy their “free” summers (before they have to work full time.) Unfortunately, they will be at a huge disadvantage if they haven’t had a college sponsored internship or some other position giving them the chance to try out professional work before they have to work full time.

It’s easy for college students to revisit their old high school summer jobs for some extra cash, but 3 or 4 summers later, those skills aren’t going to be the ones employers are seeking. Sure, they will have shown dependability by being on time and they’ll have learned to be individually accountable for their actions, but unless they have assumed responsibility for managing, scheduling, preparing correspondence for the company, and doing some basic bookkeeping or payroll using Microsoft office including word and excel, it’s possible the skills they’re building won’t be suitable for a professional entry level job after graduation. College students should have one or two internships under their belt or in the bag by their sophomore and junior years.

Many colleges have companies that solicit interns for formalized programs. Motorola, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ebay, Microsoft and many other large corporations have formalized internship programs. If your student is interested in pursuing that type of work you can research the company websites and call human resources for information on the educational requirements for admission. These programs are very competitive but often yield job offers for participants.

Remember, over 80% of employers are small businesses. Ask the merchants you patronize as well as people you know personally if your student could interview for a 6 or 8 week assignment while they are home from college. Your local business journal or chamber of commerce are great resources to use when researching small businesses in your area.

Support your students by planning your summer vacations so they can work a meaningful 6 or 8 week program. Help them prepare their resume but show them how to research information to follow up on themselves and set up their own interviews. If they are juniors or seniors you could enlist a few sessions with an executive coach to help them hone their interview skills before sending them out to apply.

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