Monday, November 22, 2010

Is it confusing to be an intern?

We seem to use the term "intern" for a lot of different categories. I think in Canada, according to the CAFCE guidelines, there's a pretty clear definition. But, when I look at all the different situations that interns wind up in, I wonder if we're doing a favour for students and employers, let alone ourselves the practitioners, in letting loose the many different interpretations.

My most prominent (negative) image and the one which I like to have you imagine least, is the intern in the U.S. television/motion picture industry. Time was that the interns in these roles were compensated and given challenging, productive opportunities. I think those same challenges may still be there, but they've let themselves slide down the slippery slope, greased by the demand from the students and the abundance of roles, to the point where students are not paid. When that happens it means that the engagement of and by the student is lessened. Following this to the logical conclusion, the employer does not see the need to have a student work (and learn) in their workplace if they're not engaged. There are likely many flavours to this story, but I'm describing the most bitter tasting one.

Interns can contribute to their employer post-graduation, pre-graduation, and any number of different ways. Internships often mean that a student is working more than the usual four- or eight-month terms. It's often 12- or 16-months. I think these are very good for the employer and moderately so for the student. It has to be managed well. Ideally the student is progressing through a cycle of roles in that time span. The point being to engage them in all different ways so as to enable them to contribute best and learn optimally. Obviously this is more the case for a series of four-month work-terms...where different employers/supervisors are involved.

This is not meant to be an extensive categorization of what it means to be an intern.

When you hear "intern", be open to the different interpretations.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Career Trajectories

We often speak to Co-op students about their career trajectory. Keeping in mind that the possibility for one work-term that doesn't suit a student can happen, students generally are developing their career sense, if not a definable progression, during the three or so years they're in Co-op. So, when they're finished and graduated how does this continue?

Take a research a Co-op student you would hope they get a few good stints in the lab. Perhaps they even get to explore some notions and ideas under a good mentor. Will they ever have the rapid rise in capabilities and exposure to personal development that happens in the crucible of the work-term? If they commence work in a research lab, post-graduation, will they be drinking the same amount from a fire hose or just a water fountain?

Consider a marketing student. They see four different studios and four different organizational structures, perhaps. This in the span of three years. Is that going to happen to them again...even with the shuddering thought that they will have to bounce from job to job due to economics?

Co-op is a steep learning curve for many reasons. First, you have to learn to know yourself and sell this notion on paper. Then, you have to adjust and perform in a new working and learning world for four months and return to apply that new knowledge in class. That point isn't really expected in the conventional working world...but maybe it should the sense of sharing knowledge with your team.

Have any of us thought about the rapid adjustment and the need to internalize the change that goes on in the person of a Co-op student...likely not from the vantage point of our rather more shallow, later in the career, learning curves.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Latest Installment

As in, I haven't written anything in a's now pent up. And a certain double-meaning derives from the fact that I have just met with the most recent class of Co-op students getting ready to enter the job search cycle.

No apologies for not having written. It's the first two months of a new job and that over-ruled several other priorities.

What I want to remark upon is the tremendous quality of the preparation that students have put forth. We have been reviewing their resumes for grading purposes and I can say that I have been very pleasantly surprised. I see order and attention to the requirements which may not always have been evident before. Congratulations to this class.

Having just returned from a CAFCE event in Winnipeg, we were able to learn from some experts int he field about the nature and nurture of the upcoming Generation Y. What I remember specifically about the characterization of these people is their reliance upon their parents for guidance and nurturing and the social and workplace habits that result in them having a dependance in instantaneous social connections (read: Facebook and Twitter). What and how should we respond?

We (the older generations, be it Gen X or Boomers) need to acknowledge that IT IS NOW DIFFERENT. Our models and our expectations are not transferred to these people. They need to be responded to differently, but we should not yield on our business-performance expectations. It's just that we need to tailor our strategies and styles to suit. That's what leaders do. For example, if I want to lead a horse to water, I don't pull and I don't push. I need to motivate the horse on her terms. Is the horse thirsty? It will be. If it isn't, how much am I willing to accommodate until the act of drinking the water is done? That's not meant to be trite. My point is that you need to understand the natural balance between comprehending the other and where you need them to be.

In other terms, if you've been to another culture, you'll understand that your way is not THE way. In the Globe and Mail the other day, in a discussion about work/life balance we learned of a young father who sells flowers for 17 hours a day. He does this for 2 months in a row and takes a month off. Why? So that his cousin can work and have an income. Wouldn't we naturally assume that he needed a vacation? No. He was balancing against a greater need that the extended family would be successful.

It's really challenging to look at things from the others' perspective. Give it a try...everday.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Swirling Textbooks

Dust is swirling. Papers are flying up in the air. Hammering sounds are echoing off walls. Sandals are scuffing down Winegard Walk.

It looks like change is here; new buildings; new carpets; new faces; new programs. It's feeling like Autumn and it looks like the new school year is almost here. When buildings are built, it takes a while. Each floor goes up over the course of weeks. I can watch the Engineering (north) work easily from where I am. That construction has been underway for a while. And soon it will be occupied.

When the new cohort comes here, that's nearly instantaneous. Nearly, I say, because the student presence changes every day during August. Varsity teams start to show up. There are early arrivals, with parents being toured around. What you can't mistake is the population change. There are definitely more people on campus today, relative to one month ago in July.

What are they expecting? That's something we focus on regularly. We are very concerned with not building false expectations, particularly for careers and their futures. Each new Fall intake of students has a different outlook. We will seek to understand that and we will encourage their dreams. We'll work with those dreams and help students make them real, even if those dreams can't be completely fulfilled without the intervention of building and change.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finding Talent...different vantage points

In the last month, I've gone from being the coach of students who were being involved, third-party you might say, to being interviewed, to interviewing others. In each, the hot seat has a different temperature. Definitely, as you all have experienced, being interviewed is the most stressful. You feel that your whole person is on display and you're being characterized and judged. Can I add to that that the role of the interviewer is similarly stressful, in a different way?

The interviewer is thinking about the impact to the business' future, the effects that the new person will bring to their team, and how you're affecting the successful candidate's future. None of which are inconsequential.

So, here we have a dynamic where two parties both want to "win" and there's a bit of a tension, if that's the right word. I feel that if openness and clarity are at the heart of the discussion, then both the interviewer and the interviewee should be able to walk away satisfied, on some level.

Certainly, qualifications are critical. Experience is deeply desired. But, often, employers tell me they're looking for people with the right work with their team. How do you convey that?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Learning Term or Work Term?

I've wrapped up nearly all of the Site Visits for the Summer work-term. There're amazing changes and growth going on at all levels for our students. Whether it's a senior student contemplating Stage Two of their working career or to return for more studies, through the first work-term students who are experiencing a variety of businesses and experiences, there're good things happening.

I often try to stimulate an employer and student to think of the work-term as a learning term, instead. Not in the sense of an Academic term, in class, in labs, tied to the campus. But, as a chance to develop professionally and to identify and build their capabilities. Ultimately, to record and portray their new abilities and confidences in the form of their updated resume.

What supports this sort of thinking about the work-term is that even when a student is not fully challenged, they can still learn from the current experience and then push their envelope, with diplomacy, and see what more can be achieved at that workplace. Who benefits? The student. Who else? The next student. What does it say about our University and the Co-op program? Volumes. It's the initiative that is remembered, after the term is over.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Letterman and Productivity

This is for Co-op students on work-terms who are wondering about their productivity. There's a fun little piece that's been circulated that puts "how to be successful on your work-term" in a Letterman count-down format. It talks to things like, finding a mentor, being a sponge (for learning), etc. If you haven't seen it, contact your Coordinator or let me know (brwilson@)'s both funny and encouraging.

I wanted to put one of those points in perspective as a way to encourage your success. I visited a student at a bank, who was working on some project-based opportunities. She's been very productive and I think you'd attribute it to, I certainly did, her capabilities for one, her interest in succeeding, and her manager's support for finding new challenges.

Think about're capable, you want to accomplish things, and if you've established a good working rapport with your manager, you should have their support to do more.

It's capability and initiative.

Have a great work-term.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Work-terms in Germany

I've just finished the third of three Site Visits with Co-op students who are working in Germany. They went over on the RISE ( program, which is typically for Science and Engineering students.

My observations are that the students have changed their lives. They're now more aware of other cultures and more interested in where their lives and careers go, from an international perspective.

Yes, they get to travel...duh! They're doing a great job of creating photo essays and keeping journals, too. This is the legacy of what they've done.

The jobs themselves, overall, are relatively challenging not least of all because they're relatively short duration...90 days, typically. Will they learn alot? Yes...everyone learns a tonne in the first 30 days, no matter what you're doing or for how long.

It's great. Consider it. Check out RISE.

Assistant Director
Co-operative Education and Career Services
University of Guelph