Remember your first job search? You needed a resume that demonstrated your work experience, yet you had none because you were just beginning your career. You had to have experience to get experience!
Today, students are learning that internships are a vital part of jump-starting a career. Colleges are learning that they can better prepare graduates to meet workforce demands by allowing them the flexibility and opportunity of internships that provide actual hands-on experience.
Kelly Koermer, JD, and dean of the Integrated Business and Applied Technology division at Harford Community College (HCC), says the college’s new 4Financial Internship Program is a workforce development program that gives interns hands-on, real world experience while earning both college credit and a salary. What makes it different from an ordinary internship? Not only do students have the opportunity to work for one company in their field of discipline, they have the opportunity to work for four companies in one year.
“Businesses are driving this effort,” Koermer says. “It helps their employees as they can get additional help with their work, while it also develops students. Plus, it’s a great way of doing a job interview,” she continues. “They are getting on-the-job training in internships that are specially designed for their interests.”
The program, initiated by Bob Johnson, CEO of Key Title, Inc., in Bel Air, was designed to give students experience in a variety of job disciplines within the finance industry. Four companies collaborated to create a program that would be personalized for the students’ interests and capitalize on their strengths.
Johnson explains that he came up with the idea while considering ways to get more young people interested in the finance business. “The title industry always seems to be an afterthought,” he notes. “People don’t realize that it’s part of the financial market. We thought by reaching young people, we could communicate that information.”
Johnson gathered colleagues in the industry to help develop his idea. They represented the banking, insurance, financial planning and title markets: Freedom Federal Credit Union, Harford Mutual Insurance Company, The Kelly Group and Key Title, Inc. Together, these companies created a yearlong rotation internship in four areas of expertise. Interns would spend three months with each company, experiencing firsthand how their specialty services fit into the marketplace. The group asked HCC to assist in marketing the program and to lend its resources and insight into getting the right student interns.
“The college wants to be a model and respond to workforce needs,” Koermer says. “We are guiding students on a pathway to a career. HCC set guidelines for the candidates and developed the selection process, and the businesses interviewed the candidates and took care of the financial matters.”
HCC communicated to students through its online job posting program and career counselors. Anna Berglowe-Lynch, GCDF, coordinator for career services at HCC, says, “A lot of thought went into the requirements. We started in the fall because we wanted to make sure the students were serious about the internships, and not treating it like a summer job. The companies offer hourly wages and paid leave,” she explains.
Berglowe-Lynch says requirements for the 4Financial Internship application include a 3.0 minimum GPA or a letter stating why the GPA is lower, a cover letter, resume and 12 or fewer credits remaining at the college. Berglowe-Lynch says the credit requirement is another stopgap to make sure the students have the right expectations.
“We screened the candidates to make sure they met all the criteria, then we passed them on to Bob and the employers,” she explains. Eleven students applied for the internships.
Berglowe-Lynch explains that the college provides a business behavior boot camp, which reviews the “rules” and nuances of working in an office environment. Students are taught the merits of being punctual for work and dressing and speaking appropriately in an office environment. Students who met all the basic requirements and had completed this course were at the top of the recommendation list. “Taking the boot camp seminar really made a difference,” Berglowe-Lynch says. “The program is meant to have these employees come together over the course of the year to share what they’ve learned, which makes it a really unique program.”
Once the students were screened and accepted by HCC, they were interviewed by each employer, Johnson explains. “We ranked them individually using a scoring system we developed. We then compiled the scores and hired the top four people,” he says. “Our maximum number was four, because of the timing issue.”
Johnson says in addition to the basic criteria, the employers look for people with a good work ethic, an open mind and a good attitude. He notes coming to the interview prepared, with some research about the company and a few good questions, also earns the candidate points.
“The program is very student-focused and provides exciting opportunities,” Berglowe-Lynch says. “It will be successful if we can grow the number of applicants.”
Johnson concurs, saying, “I hope it becomes an annual internship and that other business segments start to innovate in the same way. That will make me proud.”
The 4Financial Internship Program kicked off Oct. 1, with students each reporting to their assigned starting company. For the next three months, interns Kristen Butler, Damian Mancuso, Jennifer Koscinski and Amy Glab will spend their work days with Freedom Federal Credit Union, The Kelly Group, Harford Mutual Insurance Company and Key Title, Inc., respectively. They will rotate to the next company on Jan. 1.
Johnson says the assignments were far from random. “We worked on the timing of the focus areas. For example, Damian was interested in marketing in the financial sector, so we looked at when each company highlighted its marketing efforts,” he says. “The schedule can change along the way if we get feedback that shows it should.”
Johnson says as long as communication is good, the scheduling part is not difficult. The interns will be meeting regularly as a group with an academic advisor at HCC, and they are keeping individual journals that are shared and evaluated throughout the year. He says he has been directly involved in the day-to-day work of his current intern, Amy Glab, so that he sees what is working. “My staff is involved as well, and we want her to learn the process. We’ve started with getting familiar with a client file, then she will attend meetings, make changes to the file and follow the client through the entire process.”
Intern Kristen Butler, who studied accounting and graduated from HCC with an associate degree in business, started her first 4Financial rotation at Freedom Federal. She says she is excited to explore how accounting works in each company. “This is an opportunity to have hands-on input at every business center. I had very little experience in business, and this will give me some background.”
In the first two weeks, Butler attended an employee meeting to meet everyone on the team and hear their stories. She visited several of the departments and observed daily operations – from electronic services and human resources to maintenance and marketing. In the accounting department, she had hands-on experience reconciling accounts.
Koermer, too, says she is hoping for more applicants for the positions as the 4Financial Internship Program grows. Most importantly, she hopes the inaugural class of four will be ambassadors for the next round of applicants. “These current interns will be the salespeople for the value of the internship,” she says. “We want to know what worked and what didn’t work, and we can make changes accordingly.” I95 Content Marketing
Top Right: Kristen Butler’s first 4Financial Internship experience is at Freedom Federal Credit Union. Photos by Lauren Ciambruschini
Middle Left: Amy Glab, a 4Financial Internship participant, is joined by Bob Johnson, CEO of Key Title, Inc., who originated the idea for the unique internship program.
Bottom Right: Dianna G. Phillips, Ph.D., president of Harford Community College (left), checks in with Jennifer Koscinski, a 4Financial intern at Harford Mutual Insurance Company.