Career Coach offers advice for interns and new college graduates

May 21, 2014

Whether you work in a cubicle or a corner office, an assembly line or a sales floor, everyone could use a little career advice now and then. Our career coach, Joyce Russell, is here to help you solve your workplace conundrums, from how to ask for a promotion to how to deal with a difficult boss. Ask her your question now!

Want more? Read Joyce Russell's Career Coach columns.

Welcome to our May online chat. I am ready to take your questions about summer interns, jobs and any other career-related questions!

Best,

JRussell

Very small office. No HR dept. We have a huge gossip in our office that is making it a hostile work environment. We're talking non HIPAA medical stuff, who is gay, who is drinking, etc. It's terrible. The gossiper is the boss. He/she needs to leave and be fired, but how do we make that happen? There's no one but the board to go to. We are desperate. Telling him/her to stop doesn't work. Walking away doesn't help. It's a bad, bad situation. Help please.

Clearly, a very tough situation when it is the boss that is the problem. It sounds serious enough that you should go to the Board about it. In addition, you did not say exactly how many people are in the department, but could you have several of them meet with the boss together? If just one person talks to the boss, this is a problem. But, if several or all of them talk to the boss together (in a calm, helpful manner) that might work. Or, is there one person who is closer to the boss whom he/she would listen to? Could that person approach the boss? Also, if there are violations of the law, you could bring this up to an outside agency as well. Trying to tackle it internally in a helpful, constructive manner might be the best first attempt. I would carefully think about what are the one to two most critical things you want him/her to change right now? Start small with the  key issues rather than a laundry list. Good luck!

Readers:

As graduates finish their degrees or other students go out to start internships, there are some tips that can help them be more successful. Readers, feel free to send in any tips you have to help them be as successful in these new ventures as possible.  Also, I have a few tips as well:

1. The most important advice is to find out what exactly you should be doing on your new job or internship. Talk to your boss to learn what his/her expectations are for you to be successful.

2. It would be helpful to know how you will be evaluated on the job. Ask for a copy of the performance appraisal form (if one is used). You want to know how the boss will be evaluating you on the job, and what the key dimensions are that you should be focusing on.

3. Follow a professional code - be on time or arrive early; dress professionally according to the company policy or norm; avoid taking lots of personal time during the day (i.e., making lots of personal calls, taking longer breaks than expected, etc), etc.

4. Show initiative - ask what else you can do. This is especially important for new interns or employees. Look around for work to do or learn as much as you can about how the organization functions so you can see what needs to be done. Ask overworked colleagues if you can help them out.

5. Be willing to do even the "grunt" or more trivial projects or tasks. These have to get done and someone has to do them. Of course you would not want your entire day or week to be filled with trivial tasks, but at least be willing to pitch in.

 

I have also prepared some other advice for job seekers such as found in the following links. Check these out and readers, feel free to share additional advice:

A good interview starts with preparation

Don't be a desperate job seeker

 

But I took a position and, after two months, I was terminated because the company did not like the work I was doing. When going into an interview, I have said it was just not a good fit. Do you have any advice on how to spin this?

I am assuming your work was not well-suited to the firm because it was not in your area of expertise? If so, your answer is actually fine. The problem would be if they did reference checks and the firm stated that your performance was poor. Then that would hinder your further progress. Often companies just give dates of employment rather than more specifics, but not always. 

When giving your response, what is critical is to help them see how working at the new firm would be much better suited to your expertise and interests.  Explain to them what your skills are and how they map well to what their firm is looking for.

Also, do you have some previous experiences where you did a great job at a company and can share those references? If so, that would also help. Good luck!

Interns want to have a positive job experience when they start at your company. Many times interns will have a great experience, but sometimes, they don't and then they do not feel very positive about the firm (and tell all their friends). What can employers do to make sure that interns have a good positive experience?

1. Employers should first determine if you have a rich experience that interns will find meaningful. There is nothing more frustrating to interns than taking a potentially promising summer experience and then sitting around all day waiting for something to do. Now, you might say that they should show initiative, and this could be true. On the other hand, I have heard of employers who really did not have anything scoped out for their interns before they started. 

2. Make sure someone in the firm will actually be mentoring, supervising, or assisting the intern. Often, they are left totally alone without any help or guidance and they really find that distressing. Young people today are especially interested in receiving mentoring or help on the job.

3. Help them to see the importance of the tasks that you have assigned them. Even if the tasks are small, if they get a sense of why these tasks are needed (in terms of the bigger picture), this will help them to stay motivated.

4. Periodically introduce them to others in the firm. Many interns are social and want to meet others at the company. Especially important to Millennials is working with other interns or others nearer their age (or at least meeting them). Are there social events sponsored by the firm? If so, invite them to join.

5. Make sure to give them periodic feedback on how they are doing. This is especially important to younger generations who have been used to receiving more frequent feedback.

Readers:

One issue that comes up a lot from employers is the degree to which applicants handle the job search process in a professional manner. If you can do this, you can really stand out in the marketplace. So, what are employers looking for?

1. Professional dress - everything from your hair being combed, to wearing conservative or business clothes that fit you, to making sure your shoes are shined. It doesn't matter what generation you are from and what your unique personality is, employers still want to know that you took the time to "dress up" for the interview. Find the outfit you will wear to an interview and prepare yourself in advance to "show" a friend, neighbor, or family member. Have them critique you to determine if you look professional enough for an interview. Even small things matter (e.g., matching socks, clean glasses, etc).

2. Professional looking resume and other materials. Make sure that any materials you give to the recruiter or employer are professionally done. Your resume, cover letter and letters of reference should all be clean, concise and with NO spelling or grammatical errors. This is a pet peeve of employers when they get these materials and they see misspellings on your resume or splotches of coffee on your cover letter. They figure that if you can't even do a nice job on these products (which you have control over), then why would you do a professional job for them?

3. Get a business card made for yourself. Depending on the type of company, make it "fit" their culture. Having a business card can seem very professional since it indicates how you are "branding" yourself. Don't be overly flashy with the card unless the firm is a creative artistic one.

4. Practice your etiquette in advance - saying "thank you", "please", addressing supervisors as Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so instead of  by their first name. Do the same in any written correspondence (e-mails, letters) you send to them. It is always better to err on the side of being more formal than informal. If they want you to call them by their first name, they will tell you to do this.

5. Send follow-up thank you letters to all the people you met at the firm. Sending an e-mail plus a card is best. The e-mail will get their quickly, but the card will make a lasting impression. Once again, check for misspellings and errors.

Some applicants say they want to be hired for "who they are and their natural selves" in the workplace, and don't feel that they need to "play these professionalism games." But professionalism does matter in the workplace. And, you are not "losing yourself" by being a professional in the interview or job search process. Instead, what you are showing the employer is that you value the opportunity and their firm enough to dress up.

As many of you graduate from schools in the next few days or weeks, congratulations on your accomplishments!  Before you start your new job, take some time off to relax and enjoy your  break. You deserve it!  Then, once you start your new job - you'll be able to give it your all in an enthusiastic manner.

Our next online chat will be June 18th from 12-1pm. By that time, people will be taking more vacations so send in your questions about taking vacations at work - what your company does that is creative (or not), what you are looking for in terms of time off at work, and what companies should be doing in terms of vacation policies.

Until then, good luck with your job searches and careers.

Best,

JRussell

In This Chat
Joyce E.A. Russell
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.
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