Careers , Education – July 11, 2010

Internships are Win-win

Photo: Olivier Koning

The advantages of internships are becoming increasingly obvious to businesses and to college students.

More students than ever are interning before graduating, and businesses small and large are drilling pipelines into universities to find those students.

Universities are making it easier for the two groups to connect. Hawaii Pacific University’s HPU Connect Web site lets students and alumni search for internships and upload their resumes for potential employers to view, while allowing employers to post positions, view resumes and collect applications online. Over 640 businesses use HPU Connect, including the CIA, AT&T and the YMCA.

“An employer will call and say, ‘Hey, I have a great internship opportunity,’ so we’ll take the information and create an account for them with HPU Connect and list all the information about the internship, and then that’s posted on HPU Connect,” says John Barrientos, director of HPU’s Career Services Center.

University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Shidler College of Business has a similar password-protected Web site where its students can find internships. Over 1,000 companies are registered, according to Richard Varley, director of Shidler’s Office of Internships and Career Development. Students can search the internships and send a resume to companies, and, if a company is interested, it will ask the student to apply.

“We want to make it as much like finding a real job as possible, because that’s part of the experience,” Varley says.

Varley says the economic downturn has attracted more students to the internship program. When the economy was healthy, about 150 to 165 business students used the Shidler program each semester, but there were 212 this spring.

“Students have the sense the market is a lot tighter,” Varley says. “There is no guarantee walking out of college with a four-year degree that you are going to get a job. Now they are saying, ‘I need a degree and as much experience as possible,’ so more and more students are doing internships.”

About 53.3 percent of internships turned into full-time jobs, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2010 Internship and Co-op Survey. Even if the company doesn’t hire the intern, the internship increases student’s likelihood of landing another job after graduation.

Internships are often a win-win for the intern and the employer. Employers can save money over paying a full-time employee and they have what amounts to an extended interview with the student.

“They get the chance to spend four months with a young person to see what their abilities are, how they handle real work environments, how they handle ambiguity, how they handle stressful situations, and then they can make a full-time hiring decision based on four months of solid experience with a student rather than a one-hour interview,” Varley says.

On the flip side, student interns can learn what it is like to work at different businesses or organizations, and gain experience in a profession they may be thinking about entering while sometimes earning a paycheck and credit toward their degrees.

“The students get to understand really who they are, what their strengths are and what kind of career they want,” Varley says.

Pays off years later

Syd Kawahakui knows the value of networking as an intern, even if it didn’t pay off until several years later. After Kawahakui graduated from UH-Manoa in 2004 with a double major in Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian language, he took a summer internship at the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, where he was a team leader for 10 to 12 children. Kawahakui says he supervised as the children did “outdoor, hands-on projects” on Oahu and the Big Island.

Three years later, he ran into someone he had worked with at HYCC, who told Kawahakui about an opening at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Kawahakui applied and was hired as a general laborer before working his way up to field supervisor, where he now helps oversee interns.

Kawahakui says an intern should be open minded, a “sponge” that tries to soak up as much information from the people with whom they work.

“Basically an intern is just a hired servant for you,” he says. “We get free labor, basically. But if we see that the intern actually wants this job and is really inspired to do this kind of work, then we jump over hurdles to keep him with us or try to find jobs for them to do.”

Paid vs. unpaid

Myrtle Ching-Rappa, director of UH-Manoa Career Development and Student Employment, maintains that employers should always pay interns and says the center won’t list unpaid internships on its Web site.

She says the rule exists not only because of liability but because the center believes that if an employer expects students to do work that benefits the employer, then the students should be paid. “Our philosophy is that students should get credit for what they learn and they should get paid for what they produce,” Ching-Rappa says.

However, even in unpaid internships, employers should give students “real work,” she says.

“Don’t make them get the coffee or do copies,” she says. “Give them real work so that you can see whether they fit in or whether they have the skills necessary to do the job long term. For me, that is the only reason that justifies an employer not paying a student to do work – if there is potential of a full-time hire.”

As the recession left the job market in shambles, more employers began offering unpaid internships to save money while still getting work done.

“In the past, the ratio (of paid vs. unpaid) was pretty split, and then the recession happened and there were more nonpaid internships,” says HPU career counselor Sharon Santiago. However, more employers are beginning to offer paid internships again as the economy slowly recovers, she says.

Occasionally, there is outside funding for internships. Kamehameha Schools’ Kapili Oihana internship program pays some Native Hawaiian students who take unpaid internships, says Jewel Henderson, a career program specialist with the program. (Students can contact the program at ks_cphc@ksbe.edu or (800) 842-4682.) And the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists subsidizes summer journalism internships at local media.

The Shidler business school’s Web site lists both paid and unpaid internships. Varley says that when the economy was booming, about 55 percent to 60 percent of employers were offering paid internships, but now that number is in the “high 40s.”

Varley says he encourages students not to base their decisions on whether the internship is paid or not, or if the company “is a big-time name,” but whether the internship matches student’s goals and gives them good experience in their chosen profession. “Go after the ones that will really give you meaty opportunities to really sink your teeth into something and come away with some confidence that you can do something at the professional level,” Varley advises students.

Rules on unpaid interns

In April, the U.S. Department of Labor clarified six requirements that businesses must meet if they do not pay interns or other workers at least the minimum wage:

• The training provided by the employer must be similar to that provided in a vocational or academic setting;

• The training must help the trainee;

• The trainee cannot “displace regular employees;”

• The employer receives no direct benefit from the training, and may actually be harmed;

• There is not necessarily a job waiting at the end of the training;

• Both the employer and the trainee understand and agree that the work done is for no pay.

“If it doesn’t meet all six of those conditions, it cannot be an (unpaid) internship,” UH’s Ching-Rappa says.

Interning at small businesses

HPU’s Barrientos says small businesses are one of the best places for students to intern because employers can focus more attention on training them. Small businesses can also offer students the chance to do many different things instead of being assigned to a specific department, he says.

Michelle Ng, a volunteer/outreach coordinator for Helping Hands Hawaii, recommends that small businesses looking for interns register with university career offices. But Ng adds that word of mouth is also important in attracting interns. “Once you’ve had a couple of interns with a good experience, it gets easier from there.”

Santiago says it is important for employers to push interns. “Challenging the students helps them not only grow as student professionals, but it helps the employer to shape the potential employees for whenever they graduate.” Interns are often hired full-time because they “already know the company’s culture and structure,” she says.

Varley recommends that students treat the internship as though it is a real job and to ask questions and show enthusiasm. “Be the best person they can be every time they step through the door,” he says. “I tell them people who are hiring are watching every step they make, and it could be a hit or miss for the rest of your career.”

First Choice When Hiring?
Intern or Other ‘Known Quantity’

John Barrientos knows how important internships are to both college students and the companies that hire them.

To demonstrate, the director of the HPU’s Career Services Center opens a packet of information titled “The Job Search” and turns to two multicolored pyramids. Each is divided into four layers:

• classified want ads 
• job postings/agencies
• networking 
• hiring a known quantity

One pyramid is labeled Employer Search; the other pyramid is labeled Employee Search and is flipped upside down.

“This is the typical job search,” Barrientos says. “When employers need to hire an employee, the first thing they do is hire a known quantity – interns, part-time workers. (If that fails), then they start to network, either within the company or outside of it. If they can’t find anyone, then they’ll start to post. The last thing they do is either post electronically or in the newspaper.”

Barrientos pointed at the Employee Search pyramid. “A lot of times, when we start looking for a job, this is our process,” he says, pointing at the section labeled classified want ads.

“So what we tell most students is doing an internship puts you right here,” he says, pointing to the known quantity and networking levels at the tip of the pyramid. “Sixty to eighty percent of jobs are filled right here.”


Top-Tier Internships

The accounting firm KPMG is one of the top 10 places nationwide to intern, according to Vault.com’s review of 785 companies, and is a model for businesses looking to launch or upgrade internship programs.

Gordon Ciano, an audit partner with the KPMG Honolulu office, says the local branch hires two to four student interns each summer, usually from the UH Shidler College of Business.

Ciano says KPMG puts a lot of effort into recruiting interns. “We have dialogue with students early in their (school) careers, and by the time they are ready for their internship, they’ve probably attended a number of events that we’ve put on or met with a number of our recruiters.” These events include resume-writing workshops, mock interviews, a tour of the KPMG office, and social events such as bowling, scavenger hunts, mini golf and Dave and Buster’s parties.

“It’s not a short process, it’s a long process,” Ciano adds. “We do devote a lot of time and effort on campus, the reason being is we want to know who is out there, who is good and we also want them to know what KPMG is like, too. In our minds it’s a two-way kind of choice.”

KPMG interns are treated well. They:

• Earn an hourly rate equivalent to an associate’s salary
• Meet regularly with their mentors, who see how they are doing and if the internship meets their expectations
• Are exposed to many clients and can interact with KPMG professionals at all levels
• Receive a week of training on the Mainland and the chance to work at an overseas office

“We want to make sure we hire the right student and we want to make sure a student is happy with KPMG,” Ciano says.


Finding Interns

Employers can use these university Web sites to find interns or other employees

• HPU Connect:
544-0230 or csc@hpu.edu

• Shidler College of Business:
956-2675 or rvarley@hawaii.edu

• UH-Manoa general career Web site:
956-7007 or cdse@hawaii.edu

• Chaminade University:
739-4654 or sheela.menon@chaminade.edu

• UH-Hilo:

• UH community colleges:

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