Building the Stairway to Internship Success

by Susan Brennan

Creating a successful internship program goes beyond posting internships and hoping that students apply and get hired. It is rooted in a comprehensive career development program with institutional buy-in from faculty and administration. It requires an ability to get students to the door, through the door and up the stairs—interested in internships, prepared for the role, and successful once they’re on the job.

Exploring each step will demonstrate careful collaboration on the part of the career services team, faculty and administration, and employers to create a “wow” customer service experience for all constituents. The goal: corporate partners will continue to provide meaningful internships, and students will continue to get hands-on experience and opportunities for career development.

To the Door

Students understand the value of internships by becoming more self-aware through tools such as StrengthsFinder, which my university offers through career development introduction courses for both first- and second-year students. (Although not required, the first-year course averages 98 percent enrollment).

Once they determine their strengths and interests, students learn how hands-on experience will help further develop their talents and provide opportunities to test out their strengths and discover what they like (and don’t like). At my university, each major has a designated career adviser who is an industry expert and understands different roles. They work closely with employers to determine market needs and tie those back into career programs and curriculum (by collaborating with faculty). We offer first-year students the opportunity to connect with a peer career colleague – these are fellow students who are trained to be a resource during and after the CDI courses. They can support the career development message and ease younger students into the process.

Through the Door

Most schools have a recruiting program to post internships. The key is working with employers to secure meaningful internships that work for your student body. Bentley posts an average of 3,000 internships per year; each one is vetted by a member of the career services recruiting team to determine relevance for our students. This includes on-site visits to better understand roles and observe students on the job. This kind of groundwork helps students secure positions (with top companies in high demand) because their skills are aligned with employer needs. Bentley students also have an advantage because they have developed a useful internship search toolbox in the CDI course including: self-awareness through StrengthsFinder; résumé and cover letter writing; elevator pitch and LinkedIn profile development for networking; research and interviewing skills; and customized career action plan development.

Up the Stairs

Once students land internships, they want to be successful. In order to do that, they need to strengthen the eight Career Readiness Competencies, as defined by NACE. It’s our job to develop those in each student so by the time they arrive at work, they have the competence that comes from education; the confidence to know that they’re prepared; a community of mentors and other support; and the curiosity to take on new projects and try new things. Developing these comes not only from career workshops and programs, but through the curriculum. At Bentley, for example, their confidence is built through hands-on projects and consulting through corporate immersion programs and resources such as the Center for Marketing Technology and Trading Room. Career advisers build career communities that bring students together with faculty, alumni, parents, and friends into learning communities that provide mentorship and connection around similar career interests.

Princeton Review named Bentley No. 1 for internship opportunities, but the ranking is really founded on a robust career services program that is all-encompassing. Career development has to be built into a university’s DNA, with a campus-wide commitment to experiential learning. That is what will help students know which internships to apply for, get hired and perform well.

Done right, an internship program has the power to boost a school’s overall career placement rate (Bentley is at 99 percent). According to a 2015 NACE survey, an employer is far more likely to offer a job to a student prior to graduation if he or she had an internship or co-op. A 2016 NACE survey reported that a primary goal for most internship programs, according to responding employers, is converting students who have taken part in an internship or co-op program into full-time employees, with an average offer rate of 72.7 percent.

Beyond rankings and numbers, however, a strong internship program will help provide jobs—and contribute to the lifelong career success and satisfaction—our graduates deserve.

 Susan BrennanSusan Brennan, Associate Vice President of University Career Services at Bentley University
Director–College on the 2016-17 NACE Board of Directors
Twitter: Twitter.com/bentleycareerSB
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susansandlerbrennan

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