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Transcript: Friday, June 30, 2006, 2:00 p.m. ET

Intern to Employee

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Peter Stephens
Managing Director, The Washington Center
Friday, June 30, 2006; 2:00 PM

Avoid: sweaty palms, white socks, long-winded answers and little white lies to clinch a new and better job. You can learn more about every stage of the job hunt, from recruiting to networking to transitioning to a new career, by checking in with our Hiring Squad

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Peter Stephens has worked to place thousands of interns in Washington area offices through the nonprofit Washington Center. His explicit goal is to set up students for successful careers. Find out what course he recommends for part-timers and unpaid workers who yearn for a real title and a full-time job.

Peter was online providing advice for workers who want to turn an internship into a full-time gig.

The transcript follows below.

____________________

Washington, D.C.: I'm an intern in a public relations firm. All I do is fax and file, answer phones and do the daily lunch run for the senior partners. No real public relations experience that I was promised. I'm not allowed in meetings because they discuss "proprietary" information, I'm told. I've had a conversation with the hiring manager and she said I'm having the "experience" of seeing how the office "works." But once the summer is over, my clerical skills will be honed. I'll know nothing about public relations. It's unpaid, so do I stay or bail, and do something else to make some cash, even if it's not in this field?

Peter Stephens:  Good afternoon! Ask for access to materials/information that is not considered protected. Also ask if you can sign a waiver that will allow you to view more sensitive information. If you are not being paid, you need to access how long the training is, and then have an exit strategy.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Peter: Always the intern, never the new hire. Is it sometimes hard for an organization to picture an intern doing anything but stuffing envelopes? How do I shine in my position when I am one of many, and there are many more who have not been hired for full-time positions?

Peter Stephens: I know it seems difficult but you have to find a niche where you can demonstrate what you are good at/ interested in/ they need help with

_______________________

Philadelphia, Pa. by way of Vienna, Va.: Peter,

What advice do you have for interns who run into politically-charged situations during internships?

Peter Stephens: That is very difficult, when I was a junior officer I had several close calls with superiors because I did not know that politics of the office. My advise is to be very careful of what you say and listen for clues and to what is going on around you. It is often hard to not want to voice your opinion but it is the safer course of action.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I am at an unpaid summer internship now in D.C. that I really enjoy. I also attend school in the district, so my employment here doesn't HAVE to end when the summer is over. I would like to continue here for pay, but the fall semester will bring in a new crop of interns who can do my job here for free. How should I go about presenting the idea of retaining me here for pay?

Peter Stephens: Ask your supervisor, if there is an opportunity for a paid slot, part-time, while you are in university. Many firms hire former interns because they are a known commodity.

_______________________

Denver, Colo.: Regarding Internships for those still in undergrad. When do you suggest a student begin searching for an internship? Our son will be a Junior this Fall. His career goals include working in Asia after graduation.

thanks

Peter Stephens: What field? And where in Asia? Internships are relatively new outside North America. Language skill may be important? Economist magazine and Foreign Affairs have internship/training listings.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I am currently an contractor intern. The company that I work for supports the Missile Defense Agency/ Department of Defense. I have been an intern for this sector of the government for two years now. I took the internship because it was open and it would allow the opportunity for me to get some Administrative experience. I will be finished college in the Fall semester of 2006 and would like to turn my internship into a full-time post ion, however my major is Education/Family & Consumer Sciences. After being at this agency for a while, I now realize that I much rather work in a setting like this, but my initial passion leans towards Education and the Health and Services of children and families. What do you suggest?

Peter Stephens: Mmm, ask you immediate supervisor. Tell them that you enjoy the work you are doing with them, and what you major/academic interest is, many times agencies have opportunities that may support their primary function.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: As someone who hires interns and makes the decision whether or not to keep them on after the summer, here is a BIG piece of advice: invest in a work wardrobe. No jeans. No cutoffs. No short tops or plunging necklines. No low-slung pants (don't care to see the tattoo you got on your vacation or your navel). Ask your HR department before your first day what proper attire is if they don't tell you. Keep your hairstyle tasteful. Save the rainbow-colored hair for the clubs. A tasteful suit is never a bad choice. And guys, wear a tie.

Peter Stephens: Agreed, most professional environments are just that, professional, especially in service industries. Clients expect to be met my someone who looks the part. A good rule to follow is that you can always take the tie off but its hard to go the other way. Invest in professional clothes.

_______________________

Allentown, Pa.: I have been interning in DC for several months, but I have to return to college in the fall to finish my undergraduate degree. Any advice on how to find a paying job after I graduate without having to go through the interning process again?

Peter Stephens: Ask the staff where you are interning now about where you should look for a professional position when you graduate. Ask them about their first jobs, where were they, how did they find them, do they have any contacts in the field and would they be willing to give you a reference or put in a call for you?

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Should someone who has interned expect a jumpstart in an organization, or do we have to work our way up the ladder as well?

Peter Stephens: Expect no, work towards, yes. If you have done a good job and let your supervisor know you are looking they may consider you or let you know about an opening with their contacts. Ask.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: How do you find great internships for Washington Center students? Any resources you could recommend. I am unsure of Princeton Review and others, especially since they oftentimes leave out great small firms and such.

Peter Stephens: Word of mouth, meeting people at events, existing contacts, the Internet are our primary sources.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Do defense-oriented government agencies (CIA, etc.) offer internships for undergrad's -- and, if so, is the work actually interesting? Or is it just making copies because I don't have a clearance?

Peter Stephens: They are generally very interesting if that what you are looking for? They will provide the clearances, which care time consuming and sometimes difficult to get. Many are advertised on-line at agency websites.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Hi Peter

I am in my early forties and I am looking to get back in the work-force after a two-year absence. It's been difficult but I would consider an internship. Would agencies consider someone of my age?

Peter Stephens: Yes, it depends on the industry/office. As the work-world changes more and more people are entering the work-force several times and in different incarnations. Visit the websites of the organizations you are interested in and read their descriptions. They will tell you what they are looking for you.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: My summer internship is clearly and plainly a bust. Boring work. Bizarre co-workers. A lunatic boss. And of course, I'm here all week and not getting paid. I'm tempted to just quit and take an "incomplete." I have no desire to work here. Should I just bail, or wait it out until the summer's over?

Peter Stephens: I have been there, the summer is half-way through, tough it out. Get the reference letter, the credits and consider it an adventure. Some offices are truly nuts, it is a good opportunity to explore how you would react if you were the boss, the staff, the clients in a off-the-wall environment.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I'm a relatively new worker with over a year at my current job in a non-profit (two years out of college). I have been put in charge of an intern this summer and I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to guide the intern as I don't want to stick her with meaningless work (i.e. file all day) but also get the help I do need. (well yes, I will need SOME help with filing).

also, any tips for the intern? I can tell that this person likes the job but is not extraordinarily enthusiastic about it. Thanks!

Peter Stephens: Create a time-line, what needs to be done, how and when. Then mix-it up. Set deadlines, is there any out of the office work? Can they come with you to meetings. Share information and explain why things are done a specific way. Tell them, I know this is a bit dull, but it is important. Finish it and we can something more interesting.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: If you're an intern at a company but have yet to graduate yet, what's the best way to approach them about a job opening you wouldn't be able to take until after school is over? Is it right to apply knowing you wouldn't be able to start for several months or even a year?

Peter Stephens: Yes, that is fine, many companies recruit from their intern pool. Let your boss know you are interested, stay in touch while you are back at university and then let them know when you can start. It is done all the time.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: in an internship this summer as a law student. I have a great supervisor and good work. the problem is the receptionist who seems to get her jollies out of harassing the interns mercilessly. she makes getting our work done impossible, is rude and condescending to us, and generally just a nasty person. of course, she treats much of the rest of the staff this way as well. their only respite is offices far from hers with doors; she interrupts us constantly in our shared office right next to her. thoughts on how to rectify this and emerge with a decent reference letter?

Peter Stephens: It is a turf and status battle, kill her with kindness. In many offices its the receptions/support staff who hold all the institutional information. It is psychological warfare. Remember you are on the way up...be kind, it will pay off.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I keep hearing about people with paid internships (grad students) who are working toward a consulting position. What is the best way to line myself up for one of those?

Peter Stephens: If you have a paid internship, the next step is professional en force employment. Ask how others in your office have they made the transition.

_______________________

Temp-to-Perm: I'm temping at a really nice office and would like to work here permanently. However, I'm far and beyond overqualified for what I'm doing now (I took the temp job to pay the bills, I haven't had an entry level job in 7 years). How do I go about convincing them that not only should they make me a permanent employee, they should hire me as a mid-level permanent employee?

Peter Stephens: Keep an eye out for openings in the office, speak with the Human Resource manager. Most companies post positions internally. Apply for ones you think you are qualified for. Tell your supervisor you are interested in a more responsible position.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: How do you list part-time work on your resume if it is concurrent with a full-time position?

Peter Stephens: What is the nature of the part-time position? Does it enhance your professional skills?

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: What are some great places to intern that you can think of in D.C. Are there government internships? Are they good?

Peter Stephens: It depends what you are interested in? Many people think that interns work on the Hill, but in fact almost every office has interns who provide a variety of functions while they are training.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: I'm a recent college grad who is two weeks into a summer temp job. I haven't really done much, but I want to start working on my resume so I can start lining up a permanent position in the fall (in case I can't get hired where I temp). Is it too soon to list this temp job on my resume?

Peter Stephens: No, its not too soon, make sure when you list you explain what it was your learned/tasks you were performing.

_______________________

Wiliamsburg, Va.: What is the best way to turn an internship into a "real job" and when is it appropriate to speak with potential employers about this? Also, if an internship is not beneficial, i.e. only grunt work, is it worthwhile to stick it out or should I ask for more substantial work?Thanks for your guidance.

Peter Stephens: As soon as you complete a task ask for additional responsibly. Communicate what you can do, speak other languages, have good writing skills, or computer skills. Be assertive, with out being pushy. Ask if there is any follow-up required?

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Something I don't understand, how are interns a known entity, really. Do firms think that someone else could file less well?

Peter Stephens: Are you asking where interns fit in the office? Companies know that interns are valuable, and seek to provide substantive experience. Problems begin when interns are under utilized. Sometimes all that is required is that the intern tell their supervisor that they have completed the assignment and are ready for something else?

_______________________

RE: Part-time: Yes it does enhance my professional. skills. Its actually more inline with what I want to do than my full-time job does, which to me is just a job

Peter Stephens: Good, in the resume list it under professional experience and indicate that it is your primary career interest.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: It seems to me what you wear is less of an issue than if you are given substantive tasks. How to get juicy work seems the biggest hurtle, not wardrobe.

Peter Stephens: True, but if you need to do the grin and grip you have to be presentable.

_______________________

For PR intern....: Also, if you got this internship through your school and end up having to bail, tell the school. Having interned in a college career office, trust me when I say they want to know what happened and whether the internship was what was advertised. If nothing else, you can prevent someone else from being misled.

Peter Stephens: If you had a bad internship experience and you did all you could to fix it, let the school or agency know. Having an intern is a responsibility. I have pulled interns and refused to work with some offices.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Any interesting internship experience horror stories you care to share (either about the intern or the institution for which he/she worked)?

Peter Stephens: People do some strange things, but basically problems stem from lack of communication

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I'm working part time now in a job I'd love to do after I graduate from college, but I feel that, despite my best efforts, I'm being ignored by my boss. I try to come up with ideas and to make myself heard, but I haven't gotten any big projects or opportunities yet. any advice?

Peter Stephens: What does your boss do that they seem to enjoy the most?

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Thank you for your questions. Happy 4th!

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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