Intern Management 101

Because they can do so much more than operate the copy machine

July, 2006

When Clifton Yasutomi first visited Merrill Lynch, he was an engineering student whose business background consisted of a fascination with Robert Kiyosaki’s book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” “I started to get interested in how to make money work for you,” Yasutomi says. He then joined a student business club, which sponsored a tour at Merrill Lynch. “That was the first time I had heard of a financial advisor career. When I learned about an internship there, I applied,” he says.

While some interns languish behind a copy machine, Yasutomi’s mentor, financial advisor Milton Kawasaki, allowed interns to exercise their book smarts on such real-world duties as preparing portfolio evaluation, screening mutual funds, performing due diligence on investment managers, creating a personal financial plan for themselves and managing a hypothetical $1 million portfolio. Two years later, Yasutomi and Kawasaki are professional colleagues.

With state unemployment rates dipping to 3 percent, employers are in a buyers’ market when it comes to attracting good employees. Internships can provide a temporary solution, or an ongoing source for new talent. “For employers, this is a good way to recruit – it’s a low-cost way to get real work done, and make a real-world decision on a potential full-time hire,” says Rick Varley, director of the University of Hawaii College of Business internship program. He says retention also tends to be higher among former interns who are subsequently hired full-time.

Still, demand for interns appears to be growing faster than supply. “Students have more to choose from – companies have to be competitive, which was not the case five years ago,” Varley says. He adds that in the 2001 spring semester, there were 120 internship openings for 131 students enrolled in the internship class. This past semester, the number of openings more than doubled to 410, with only 177 students enrolled. Increased demand is also evident in the rise of paid internships within the last five years, from 46 percent to 62 percent, along with average hourly wages, which rose from $10.23 to $12.47.

As a former educator, Kawasaki says successful internships don’t happen by chance. “We schedule one hour of learning for every four hours of work,” Kawasaki says. “It takes a lot of time to provide training for someone who is only going to be on board for three to four months. Some of my colleagues who tried it would rather hire a part-time worker to do one or two simple things for that period of time; I continue to do it because I enjoy working with college students and I like to teach.”


Like any good match, communication is key. Internship programs pair interns with companies they can learn from – but determining whether there is chemistry is up to both parties. “We’re like matchmakers setting them up on a date – but whether the relationship is sustained or doesn’t really depends on whether both parties see the relationship as mutually beneficial. It’s all based on compatibility or fit,” says Lianne Maeda, career services director at Hawaii Pacific University.

Like any employment decision, employers need to conduct comprehensive interviews. “The benefit to the company is that it gets a better match – the student wants to be there, and the student figures out how to create a workable resume, develop good interview skills, go through the process of being selected like a real employee – so it’s as much of a real world environment as possible,” says Varley.

For some interns, this could be their first taste of working in a real-world environment. “What seems normal or common sense in your business may not be to them. Providing detailed information is necessary,” says former intern Lauren Miyasato. “Providing a comfortable, approachable environment is helpful when working with student interns.” She says that sometimes students need to be told that they’re free to ask questions.

When Tanaka of Tokyo hired an intern who was interested in the restaurant business, company president Chester Kaneshiro spent at least 20 minutes a day preparing for daily briefings. “Every day [intern Lauren Castiglio] and I would talk through her experience and review any questions she had from the previous day. There was always something to cover before she met with the manager she was working for that day,” Kaneshiro says.


For industries faced with the impending retirement of a baby boomer work force, internships can provide a steady source of potential employees. That’s what the local insurance industry was betting on when it established its cooperative internship program. Participating insurance companies, such as First Insurance Company of Hawaii, AIG Hawaii and Tokyo Marine, hire four to six interns, who rotate among various companies to obtain a 360-degree view of the entire industry, from insurance agency sales to processing claims and customer service. Steve Tabussi, vice president of customer solutions for First Insurance, says this was done to battle stereotypes about the insurance industry as stuffy or boring. “If the intent is to develop interest in your profession as a career, then internships provide valuable exposure,” he says.

Many of those who worked as insurance interns in previous years have accepted jobs in the insurance industry. “It’s a commitment of time, but I’m convinced we will have a big payoff down the road,” Tabussi says.

Kaneshiro took a similar broad-based approach with Tanaka of Tokyo’s intern. To suit her goals, he tweaked the in-house management training program with the help of his general managers. Within six weeks, she experienced everything from working with customers to cashiers, reviewing building blueprints and selecting advertising media to finding a good CPA.


Internships that last three to nine months are conducive to completing short-term projects. For the past three years, vice president Dan Goo, has hired an intern from Chaminade University’s Hogan Entrepreneur Program to do one project: coordinate and run D&J Specialties’ annual product show. Miyasato was his most recent intern.

THREE TIMES A CHARM: With help from D&J Specialties VP Dan Goo, intern Lauren Miyasato ran three annual product shows for the company.

D&J Specialties produces logo-brand merchandise for corporate and retail clients such as Universal Studios Hollywood, Hawaiian Airlines and Servco Lexus. Miyasato’s duties spanned everything from ordering and sending out invitations to customers and handling RSVPs to communicating with the hotel, confirming arrangements for after-parties for Mainland suppliers, following up after the show with thank you notes and filling out any orders that were taken during the show. She also had to write an overview of how the show went, a recap of the budget, expenses and return on investment, and any comments and recommendations from the attendees.

Miyasato says it was helpful to have a clear job description, along with the tools necessary to do the job: “Dan had a binder from the previous year’s product show, so I was able to study it. I would recommend that employers have the required materials ready, and discuss with your incoming intern the outcome of the previous year’s work – explain what the positives were, what you think needs to be improved.”

Some interns’ projects can benefit an organization beyond the few months they are present. Sean Rostron, a former intern for Catholic Charities, became involved with strategic planning meetings as he worked on finance policy manual for the nonprofit. Eventually, he headed up an entrepreneurial focus committee that deliberated on generating revenue for the nonprofit, based on their core services. “One major outcome was that Catholic Charities started a van service for the elderly with Queen’s Medical Center, so they could get to their medical appointments. They have a contract with Queen’s to do that – the money they earned from that was put back into their core services,” says Rostron.

Such fresh perspectives make the internship experience worthwhile, says Goo. “I would highly recommend it. It’s a great resource for companies and a great learning opportunity for students so it’s a win-win situation.”

How To Ace An Internship

From an educator’s point of view, there’s no such thing as a bad internship, as long as they offer real world experience: You learn something, even if it means changing your mind about your chosen career. “We’d rather they find out now than when they have to pay a mortgage,” says Varley. Still, spending three to six months on an internship that’s a mismatch is no picnic. To keep this from happening, interns need to see themselves as a contributing member of the workforce.

Students without previous work experience may be conditioned to sit behind a desk and wait for instructions. To get the most out of an internship, interns need to speak up about what they can do, and what they want to learn. Kaneshiro from Tanaka of Tokyo was convinced to hire the company’s first intern after an interview. “She had a passion to get into the restaurant business, a background in catering, and attended culinary school. In talking to her I could sense her passion – this is what she really wants to do; she was able to articulate that, and it was really inspiring,” he says.

Employers who are willing to hire interns have something to share, but they won’t know how much to share until the intern asks. Says Yasutomi, “The biggest challenge was because I was not a finance major, I was not familiar with some of the terminology so I had a bit of a learning curve – I asked a lot of questions.” He recommends asking specific questions about assignments, how much time is allotted to what types of tasks, have a clear understanding of what is expected.

Interns need to be clear about their employers’ expectations regarding timeliness, professional conduct, dress codes and absentee policies. Varley says that sometimes students treat their internships the same way they do on-campus jobs. “On campus, we’re pretty understanding, we tell them that their classes come first. Sometimes they’ll think, ‘oh I have an exam today I need to study, I’m just not going to go to work, and they don’t call,“ he says. That doesn’t pass muster in the professional world.

Kevin McDonald, a Chaminade student who completed an internship in China, says the most gratifying experience was being taken seriously. “From the first person we met when we landed, they didn’t care that we were students, so you get a feel for what it’s really like to be a professional … The most gratifying thing was to hear them say, ‘We’re going to use (your ideas)’ or ‘This is an idea that we’ve never considered before.’” For Yasutomi, his internship gave him more than an introduction to the working world: “I learned that a career as a financial advisor is in line with my passion and my strengths. Students are ultimately looking for something they can love to do, and that’s what makes them good at it.” That may be the best lesson of all.



Related Stories

On Newsstands Now

October 2017

HB October 2017


Maria Torres-Kitamura