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Posted December 01, 2020 by

8 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has made internships more inclusive

By William Brackenridge

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended economies, work habits, thrown families into poverty, and forced social disruption in almost every country.

It has resulted in more than one million deaths worldwide. Similar to World War II for our grandparents, COVID-19 is the calamity of this generation. But even in World War II, technologies spearheaded remarkable growth in human quality of life up to that date. While COVID-19 is horrible, it has triggered social and technological initiatives.

One example of this is business internships. In the past, already-privileged youth leveraged their parents’ power and influence. This has changed since the pandemic started. Internships are now more inclusive and will likely stay this way after the pandemic.

1. The telework exodus

Before COVID-19, the idea of a teleworking intern was laughable. Working from home was something only individual employees were allowed after years of work, service, and building trust from management. Even as more and more evidence poured in that telework was better for both companies and employees, we insisted people come to the office.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, we discovered many jobs could be performed at home — and that a lot of us not only like it better but are more productive. This applied to interns as well in companies that kept their interns working during the lockdowns.

How does this increase inclusivity? Being able to intern from home opens the opportunity to a far broader population, including people with child care needs, disabilities, and those without reliable transportation. It eliminates a broad spectrum of barriers that previously kept candidates out.

2. A shift in focus

Years ago, the main reason employers hosted internships was to get work done at a low cost. However, research suggests the purpose has shifted toward identifying future talent. More and more companies that once considered interns as resources to be expended now consider them investments to be grown with the company.

A shift toward inclusivity can accompany this shift in treatment. When a company views interns as nothing more than cheap or free labor, there’s little incentive to view an internship program with an eye toward inclusivity and fairness. As interns become critical members of organizations, those factors grow in importance.

Although this change started before COVID-19, it’s likely the general reassessment of corporate priorities, culture, and practice will impact this shift as well. The overall trend toward inclusion, diversity, and fairness will likely continue as the world returns to work.

3. More real work

In most offices, interns complete menial tasks like fetching coffee, making photocopies, and running errands. Although many consider this a rite of passage, it meant interns gained little in the way of on-point work experience.

During COVID-19, interns are completing real work. There’s no coffee to fetch or dry cleaning to deliver when everybody is working from home. Instead, interns get assignments to move real projects forward, giving them the hands-on experience that makes internships truly valuable.

This shift makes internships more inclusive by changing the selection criteria from the intern’s point of view. Having the luxury to spend a year doing menial work for low or no pay is only available to a small number of people who probably don’t need the help. If internships include meaningful work experience, it becomes a realistic option for a broader range of candidates.

4. Less networking, more mentorship

Being an intern never paid enough to justify the expenditure of time and effort alone, but it offered the benefit of networking. By spending time in the same office as experienced staff in a business or field, the intern got a chance to make connections that could further their career.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, interns aren’t spending time with those connections. Although this could be seen as a loss for them, it has evolved into something more valuable. Instead of casual break room contact with multiple officemates, interns receive deep and meaningful mentorship from a handful of co-workers. It replaces several surface-level connections with a handful of quality relationships.

Superficial networking benefits those who already have an established network of connections, and interns without that net gain less from experience. By contrast, the closer mentoring involved in telework internships is precisely the kind of relationship that best serves outsiders who want to break ground in a new career.

5. Lower costs

Low-paid interns must cover the costs of their daily commute, lunches, and other expenses of reporting to an office. One of the chief reasons many people wind up in an easier job than the career they wanted is because an internship would have cost them too much.

The COVID-19-driven advent of virtual internships reduces the cost of becoming an intern. Yes, interns might need to upgrade their home workstation and internet access, but all other expenses are no longer a factor. Becoming an intern requires less financial investment and is thus an option for more people.

Whether or not post-COVID-19 employers will continue to offer virtual internships remains to be seen. Still, even if they do not, they may very well change some policies to continue making internships more affordable.

6. A smaller window

This past summer, many companies reduced the number of interns or canceled their internship programs entirely, leaving fewer internships available overall. 

When many internship opportunities exist, the temptation to give a slot to your manager’s nephew or somebody from your old fraternity can be pretty intense. The job doesn’t pay much, so what harm can the wrong candidate do?

When internship opportunities are limited, it becomes essential to make sure the candidates for internships are the best-qualified and most likely to continue work if offered full employment. Those candidates are more likely to come from diverse, inclusive backgrounds than from a pool of people with existing connections.

7. A wider net

The traditional pipelines for finding interns have been colleges, family and friends of existing employees, and limited searches to the general public. These are far from inclusive by nature and are further limited by geography. Candidates had to live within a reasonable drive of the home office.

Although the pipelines haven’t changed very much, the telework revolution of COVID-19 is removing geographical limitations. Interning positions aren’t open only to those in the same or surrounding zip codes, but to anywhere with an internet connection.

That by itself makes internships more inclusive. And it’s possible that, in coming years, this could also erode the closed nature of intern recruitment, opening doors beyond those with an already-privileged connection. Time will tell.

8. Consistent, ubiquitous reassessment

Many business practices have continued for no better reasons than that they’re how we’ve always done things. Internships followed the same patterns as ever, including nepotism, institutional racism, and sexism. In most cases, nobody continued these unfair hiring practices on purpose — they just kept doing what they were taught to do.

COVID-19 has forced us to reassess so many assumptions about how we do business, how we interact with our co-workers, and even what we consider most important. This reassessment has trickled into internships as leaders become more open-minded about everything their company does. The end result is companies moving away from old, less-inclusive models and into new modes. Some of these models will be explicitly designed for greater inclusion, while others will simply be more inclusive as a side effect of their core reasons for the change. In both cases, the result is better for everybody.

Final thought: The big if

Although all of the changes we discussed above are playing out in real time as the pandemic continues, we still have the uncertainty of what happens once things return to normal. It’s possible the changes to internships specifically (and business in general) will stay even after everybody returns to work. It’s also possible most companies will return to how they did business before, with management and many employees craving the old normal as a way of embracing the end of a terrifying year.

Most likely, the result will be something in between those extremes.

William Brackenridge is a Kentucky-based writer. He has two children who are college students vying for internships this year.

Posted November 25, 2020 by

Video: Should employers be planning for 2021 interns to work remotely or on-site?

Rishav Khanal of inPerson recently sat down with me to discuss some of the issues their employer customers are grappling with, including whether they should plan on their 2021 internship programs being remote, having everyone on-site like before COVID, or some combination of the two.

Posted November 13, 2020 by

The key to hiring diverse students and recent grads is to be intentional and targeted

David Owens, Director of Campus Recruiting at national staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group, recently shared with me some tips for how employers can hire more diverse students for internships and recent graduates for entry-level jobs.

I think that it is worth noting that, according to David, the tips come from tactics and strategies used by Addison Group, so they’re not just talking-the-talk. They’re also walking-the-walk.

According to David,

The key to hiring more diverse students and graduates is being intentional and targeted with the outreach. Look at how you’ve recruited in the past and what improvements can be made to intentionally reach groups of various identities. Another piece of advice to employers in their approach to hiring more diverse students is to be transparent. Be transparent about your organization, your people, your intentions, and your process. We aren’t perfect, no organization is; but as long as you are authentic and transparent in your approach, you will mitigate any miscommunication or confusion from the candidate’s perspective.

To hire more diverse students it’s invaluable to have in-depth and strategic partnerships with colleges and universities. Consider where there may be gaps in representation in these partnerships. Do you recruit from any Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities or Hispanic-Serving Institutions? It can be helpful to create a “short-list” of targeted universities, which is what we at Addison Group are practicing. This helps us determine how to strategically engage with the select student population and articulate our company offerings in a way that resonates.

I also recommend forming partnerships with diverse student organizations and clubs that have a strong presence on-campus. If you’re looking for entry-level engineers, work with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, for example. These organizations will help you connect directly with students and candidates that you may not normally reach. 

Posted November 13, 2020 by

4 tips for hiring diverse college students in Chicago, Illinois

Have you ever looked at someone’s profile on LinkedIn and admired them for their career choices even though you’ve never had the opportunity to meet them? That just happened to me.

I put out a request to employers, college career service office professionals, and other career experts to provide to me tips for how employers can hire more diverse college students for internships and recent graduates for entry-level jobs. One of the experts that I heard back from was Sasha Pena, the director of career and leadership development for Chicago Scholars. Her work is easy to admire.

According to the Chicago Scholars LinkedIn page, it is a 501(c)(3) foundation, formed in 1996 to help under-resourced and academically ambitious Chicago high school students attend and graduate college. During this 20-year period, it has developed and refined its seven-year college to career access and success program to serve 2,500 students who have attended 313 highly rated colleges in the U.S.

Chicago Scholars is nationally recognized for its best practices model. Its mission is to uniquely select, train, and mentor academically ambitious students from under-resourced communities to complete college and become the next generation of leaders who will transform their neighborhoods and the City of Chicago. Sasha oversees all career events and programs for Scholars resulting in full-time positions, and increased Scholar satisfaction with the support of the organization. Additionally, she manages key career programs that help Scholars explore careers, develop as leaders, and expand their networks.

Her tips:

  1. Recruitment of diverse and recent graduates takes some intentionality and early investment. Start with the following questions: What are you doing to recruit diverse and young talent? Who do you or your employer’s partner or outsource finding talent to? Organizations and professional associations that are a hub of diverse candidates are a great place to start. Take advantage of early exposure opportunities like career exploration and development events, offering internships and rotation problems. In Chicago, leverage a college access and leadership program like Chicago Scholars, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), alumni association, or a program like the Hispanic Leadership Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE).
  2. Make sure your company brand visibly shows they value diversity. Diverse candidates and recent graduates are seeking out companies that value and commit to diversity. Solidarity statements are not enough, people want to see specific action represented. Action can be shown through storytelling, reflected in partnerships, and represented in specific roles dedicated to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion or organization-wide training.
  3. Market and showcase clear pathways for leadership development​. Candidates want to see opportunities for growth and development when considering company fit.
  4. Audit your current recruitment and hiring practices. Make sure you have a diverse recruiting team, incorporate systems that mitigate bias, reevaluate the idea of culture fit through a DEIA lens, and update job descriptions to reflect company values.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

3 tips for how to hire diverse college students from CEO of a small, healthcare business

Although most college and university students and recent graduates are employed by large businesses, there is still a sizable minority who work for small businesses. One of those is JourneyPure, an addiction treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee with about 250 employees.

Kevin Lee, the chief executive officer, recently shared with me three tips for employers who want to hire more diverse students:

  1. Recruit in schools with a diverse student body. Build partnerships with schools that have a diverse study body and you may want to target schools that serve minority populations in particular.
  2. Avoid including personal information during screening. Information such as addresses, names, and schools can be used to discriminate against certain groups of applicants so removing this information while screening and shortlisting candidates for interviews will encourage a fair assessment.
  3. Target diverse individuals on social media. Social media advertising allows you to target a certain demographic of people and you can do this to reach diverse student groups. Your recruitment team can then build relationships with diverse students for future roles.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

3 tips from Cabo San Lucas on how employers can hire more diverse college and university students

As a job search site used by 2.5+ million students and recent graduates a year, most of our employer customers are Fortune 1,000 companies, government agencies, and other employers who hire at scale. But not all of them. Some are small businesses. And so when we offer advice about how to recruit and retain diverse students and recent graduates who are searching for part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs, we like to offer tips from a diverse group of people.

Case in point: I recently received three great tips on how to recruit diverse students from Edgar Arroyo, the president of SJD Taxi, a travel rental company in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico:

  1. Improve diversity branding. Showcase any employee resource groups that your company has and make sure you show their activities on your website and social media platforms so that students and recent graduates can find out more. Have a section on your website explaining your company’s commitment and approach to diversity with any awards and testimonials that you have.
  2. Review job requirements. Review the job requirements and descriptions of all the roles you are hiring for and examine if you really need them. Sometimes you don’t require the candidate to have a certain degree or field of study, and including these requirements can cause people to not apply for their job because they think they’re not a fit for what you are looking for.
  3. Organize specific recruitment events for diverse groups. Targeted events where you can bring in current employees belonging to diverse groups can raise awareness and encourage diverse students to apply to the company. It can also further strengthen your company’s branding in terms of its commitment to diversity.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

Employers should create mentorship programs if they want to hire more diverse students for their internship programs

I recently asked a number of career experts to share some of their wisdom with College Recruiter and, therefore, employers of students and recent graduates who are searching for part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs. The question that I had was around how employers can increase the number of diverse students and recent graduates they hire, as many of them are really struggling with tactics and strategies for doing so successfully.

I was really happy to hear back from mentorship program expert Patty Alper,  the author of Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in AmericaShe is also president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. Patty’s three tips were:

  1. Employers Mentor Students. I have written extensively about something I call Project-Based Mentoring ®. The actionable steps behind PBM include – companies that offer their employees (maybe once or twice a month) to mentor school students on Projects that are assigned by the teacher.  The inherent beauty of this, is the project fits in the wheelhouse of the employee, and they can share their knowledge as a real-world practitioner to the student/mentee. This mimics work-based settings with master planning, collaboration, timelines, and oral presentations. The company, by engaging students in this way, introduces youth to new fields of endeavor, new skills that mimic workplace environments, and a new sense of accomplishment once the project is completed. Indeed a relationship is formed whereby the mentor can endorse the student with a letter of recommendation, and can potentially invite them for a summer internship at the company. This is a win/win/win, for the company, the student and the school as it on-boards youth to a local company, and is the perfect segue to an internship, apprenticeship, or employment.
  2. Do Good Quotient in Your Community. After extensive interviews with MasterCard, EY, Comcast, SAP, Pfizer, I’ve learned that they all have robust community mentorship programs in schools where their companies reside. Inevitably, every human resource department has said that the Millennials, and younger generations like to see companies that “do good.” Their corporate social responsibility page is visited the most often by job candidates with the thought that, “They would prefer to work for a company that is not only profit-driven, but who cares about their footprint, their environment, and their community. “ Given a choice, an employee would rather work for a “do good” company than one who is not.
  3. Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. I recommend welcoming diversity through a company’s actions as well as their words. I think it would be important to have a strategy in place that includes diversity and inclusion on a company website with specific programs that are actionable, supportive, and welcoming. One such program I suggest would be to have a New Employee Mentor Program such that a seasoned employee would be assigned to a new employee who helps them navigate the inroads and to support key project assignments with goal setting, master planning, collaboration, grit to work through hypothesis that run awry, and practice sessions and reviews to prepare new mentees for finals oral presentation or written summaries. These steps ensure success, training, and kindness.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

Employers trying to hire more diverse students for internships should prioritize future potential over prior experience

One of the many, many things that I’ve learned over the past few months about how employers can better hire diverse students for internships and recent graduates for entry-level jobs is that they need to re-examine what they previously regarded as job requirements or even preferences. Do they really need to attend certain schools, or are those just the schools you look at due to inertia? Do they really need to be enrolled in certain majors, or are those just the majors you look at due to inertia?

We recently received a few tips about these issues from Gorick Ng of Harvard Business School and author of THE UNSPOKEN RULES: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, and they resonate well with me:

  1. Prioritize outbound over inbound recruiting. Rather than wait for candidates to come for you, consider doing targeted outreach to communities with large concentrations of candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. Consider, for example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)First-Gen Forward institutions, and community colleges (which boast some of the most diverse student bodies around). Within institutions, consider engaging with specific affinity groups and first-generation college student advising programs. Consider also engaging with “college access programs,” nonprofits that help low-income students apply to and succeed in college.
  2. Prioritize commitment over commonalities. “Fit” matters. But know that motivation fit and cultural fit aren’t the same things. You want someone who is passionate about your work and is committed to growing in your organization—not necessarily someone who looks like you, talks like you, and has the same background and interests as you do. Be specific about what you really mean by “cultural fit”—and share this definition with everyone involved in the candidate screening process. That way, you don’t have two colleagues both claiming that a candidate is not a “fit” when colleague A means that the candidate doesn’t seem to be interested in the mission of the organization, while colleague B means that they don’t like the candidate’s mannerisms.
  3. Prioritize future potential over prior experience. Getting a job is a chicken-and-egg problem: you need relevant experience to get relevant experience. But where do you begin? You need someone to give you a chance. You—the recruiter or hiring manager—have the power to give this chance to a deserving young person. Don’t just give credit for related internships. Give credit for perseverance. The fact that a candidate hustled through college working as a cashier, retail sales associate, barista, and/or server doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have been capable of working as a financial analyst instead. It may simply mean that they didn’t have the network to land such a role or the financial means to pick an unpaid internship over a paid hourly job. Yes, you’ll need to invest in training these new hires, but this investment will be worth it if you care about diversity.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

4 tips from BYU Law faculty and staff for how to hire more diverse, law students and recent grads

As a fully recovered lawyer, I was happy to receive some great tips from the faculty and staff of Brigham Young University Law School about how law firms and others can better hire diverse, law students and recent graduates:

  1. Investment. “To attract and build relationships with a qualified pool of diverse job candidates, businesses can invest in programs at nearby universities and law schools that foster the development of underrepresented students. For example, BYU Law and Utah Law just announced a collaboration with Utah law firms to offer full-tuition Achievement Fellowships to broaden the state’s appeal to underrepresented candidates and take action toward diversification.” – D. Gordon Smith, dean, BYU Law.
  2. Commitment. “Commitment from the top-down is key to attracting diverse applicants. Diversity hiring is unlikely to occur if it is not a priority for leadership. Management should include diversity as a priority in the hiring process, not just once, but should demonstrate continued commitment on an ongoing basis.” – Shannon Grandy, Dean of Career Services at BYU Law, which recently announced a collaboration with the University of Utah and Utah law firms to offer a full-scholarship Achievement Fellowship Program aimed at broadening opportunities for underrepresented populations within the Utah legal community.
  3. Culture. “Have an internal process where feedback is welcome from diverse employees who already work with the employer. Having open, regular, active conversations with your diverse employees in which the employer seeks to better understand how the commitment to diversity actually plays out in the lives of individual diverse employees will help the company discover its own blind spots. (It may be beneficial to allow for anonymous feedback so employees don’t feel they would be personally at risk for being honest). The more informed the employer is about their culture around diversity, the more specific and accurate information they can supply to diverse job candidates. And, the diverse employees themselves who feel heard and supported may voluntarily become evangelists on behalf of their employers to seek out more diverse candidates.” – Shannon Grandy, Dean of Career Services at BYU Law.
  4. Engagement. “Find ways to engage with diverse students earlier in their educational process. Many large law firms do this well. Examples include hosting receptions (virtual and in-person), conducting resume or mock interview workshops, offer diversity fellowships or internships for 1st-summer work. Another prong of engagement is the employer establishing relationships with the minority branches of professional organizations (such as local bar associations) and with law school career services offices and diversity and inclusion staff.” – Shannon Grandy, Dean of Career Services at BYU Law.  The school’s newly announced Achievement Fellowship Program includes mentorship opportunities with Utah law firms.
Posted November 13, 2020 by

To hire more diverse students for internships, explicitly say you’re looking for diverse candidates

At College Recruiter, we’re seeing a massive increase in the desire by most employers to hire more diverse students for internships and recent grads for entry-level jobs. In years past, it was typically for legal compliance reasons or societal pressures. More recently, the desire has driven more by the realization that the more diverse a workforce, the more productive is that workforce.

That said, hiring more diverse students and recent grads is easier said than done. Fortunately, we received a few great tips from Ian Kelly, vice president of operations for NuLeaf Naturals:

  1. Reach beyond your usual avenues. If you have not had success hiring diverse candidates or feel there is a shortage of applicants, really examine where you are posting your job posts. Find more niche avenues, such as student union groups and clubs that prioritize diversity so you can widen your reach.
  2. Explicitly say you are looking for diverse candidates. It is a common mistake to try and write job postings that are as “neutral” as possible in order to avoid excluding anyone, but this doesn’t mean that you are being inclusive. You need to state openly and without any room for confusion that you are actively hiring qualified candidates regardless of race, ability or background.
  3. Diversify your internships. If your company offers internships, make them more diverse from the start. It is a great way to get to know more candidates and better prepare them for careers in your company or in others.