Dear Parent of an Intern
I write this blog with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I also write it as a parent of two young professionals, both of whom served in internships before stepping out into their careers. I have been an employer of college interns for more than thirty years as well. Yep. Three decades. I think I’ve seen it all:
- Students who ask when spring break is once they start a job.
- Students who lack basic professional etiquette.
- Students who’ve never worked a job a single day in their lives.
- Students who brought a parent to the job interview.
- Students who text (or even post to Instagram) during the job interview.
All of this has made me wonder: Do we parents today prepare our children intentionally for that step into their careers? Do we sit down and explain how an internship is often the best first step into a full time role? Do we mention that a reference from an employer following a successful internship is highly valuable and offers an advantage over their peers? Have we taught them that an internship is a dress rehearsal for their careers? Have we communicated that the classroom may have ill-prepared them for the workroom, or stressed the importance of getting some kind of work experience in high school?
I recently read a study that reveals many people don’t believe adulthood really begins until someone is 29 years old. That’s incredible to me. So, what are we doing to help our students mature and get ready for adulthood?
My Challenge to Parents and Students
I’d like to encourage every parent reading this post to consider preparing their child for an internship or first work role by letting go and allowing them to grow up on the job. You are the person most responsible for preparing them for life as an adult. You are uniquely positioned to have great conversations about how tough a work day can be and how every day may not feel “fun,” but that the job can still be a fit for them.
As a fellow parent who is on the journey with you, let’s do our best to:
1. Not excuse unprofessional behavior…
When we allow inappropriate conduct, we send the message that someone will rescue them when they make bad decisions. They don’t have to meet a standard. They can, in fact, lower the standard since they are special. If you do this, please be ready to console them when their employer doesn’t see it the same way you do.
2. Not treat them as a college student when they’re on the job…
Think about it. We have had parents that didn’t prepare their child for the expectations of a work environment. When this happens, interns often continue the poor habits of dorm living they practiced as a student. We’ve had young professionals wear flip-flops or go barefoot in the office; we’ve had them come to work dirty and smelly and hair unkempt. Just remember—that employer who offered the internship will one day come in handy for a job reference. You’ll actually want that reference to be positive.
3. Not encourage them to compromise their commitment…
Don’t tell them you’ve got to do a trip and encourage them to leave early or reduce the terms of their agreement. Think about it. You are teaching them to make a commitment, and then do less than what they agreed to do. Your message is: commit to work, but always leave your options open and don’t worry about your reputation.
Over the years, I’ve hosted countless “exit interviews” for students who’ve finished a successful internship. One of the most frequent statements I hear them say to me:
“This internship really helped me grow up.”
In her first job, our vice president, Holly Moore, noticed it had snowed one night. She found out that several staff members were not going to work the next day. When she spoke to her mom, she asked Holly, “Are the roads clear where you’ll be driving?” When Holly replied they were, her Mom said, “Holly, you need the work. This is your chance to demonstrate commitment. They are expecting you.”
When I graduated from college, I had five job opportunities awaiting me. None of them had anything to do with my grades. They arose because I was already working in the real world during my years as a student. My employers never asked about my GPA, but they did ask about my work experience. I’m just sayin’…
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