Internships: To Pay or Not to Pay?

November 29th, 2013

Unpaid internships are rapidly falling out of favor for a long list of reasons, starting with the legal hassles that begin as soon as this “educational opportunity” starts to look suspiciously like “unpaid labor”. In an ideal, meaningful, and functional unpaid internship, the intern and the employer both gain value from the experience: While the intern leaves with a few months of deep immersion in the company and exposure to a specific career field, the employer walks away with a sense of altruism and a positive reputation in the mind of the intern and the larger community. The employer devotes time and energy to teaching the young trainee about the business, and in return, the company gains a talented potential employee, a sense of goodwill, and nothing else.

After an unpaid internship, a legitimate company does NOT gain a few months of filed documents, a proposal written, dozens of customers served, a site inspected, or a warehouse stocked for free. Collecting free labor from those too young, too desperate for work, or too inexperienced to stand up for themselves is unethical and reputation damaging, even when it’s technically legal. So as an employer, how can you tell the difference? How do you know when you’re crossing the line? Keep these guidelines in mind.

1. The relationship should be guided the intern. Find out what she wants to learn, what departments of the company she’d like to see, and where she’d like to take her career in the future. Then shape her experience around these needs, and work to provide her with the specific mentoring and exposure she requests. If you can’t dedicate some significant time and energy to shaping her education and answering her questions, you aren’t ready to offer an unpaid internship.

2. An unpaid intern who isn’t officially trained or certified should not be expected to contribute to company productivity. In fact, this intern can and should be expected to get in the way and slow things down. Again, if you aren’t prepared to pull working employees away from their tasks in order to show her the ropes and elevate her experience, you aren’t ready to have an intern in the workplace.

3. The intern may or may not be hired as a full time employee after the internship period comes to an end. Any unpaid work she completes should not be contingent on this kind of contractual arrangement unless the arrangement is completed in writing, reviewed by a legal team, and signed by both parties.

4. Unpaid interns should be treated with respect at all times. Any relationship that begins to resemble paid employment drifts close to the edge of acceptability. Interns should never be belittled, harshly criticized, or ordered to complete tasks they would rather decline. If in doubt, err on the side of forbearance and diplomacy. Remember, the intern’s goal is to gain experience and marketable skills, not to contribute to the company.

For more on how to structure your unpaid internships, arrange a consultation with the staffing and employment experts at PSU.

Reasons you May Want to Consider Restructuring

November 22nd, 2013

“Restructuring” has become a term synonymous with negative events in the world of staffing and employment. After all, restructuring strategies are usually accompanied by efforts to cut payroll cost, streamline teams and eliminate labor redundancies, all of which often leave employees out in the cold if their jobs are the ones in the line of fire.

But restructuring has an upside, of course. After all, leaner and more efficient companies are more stable and sustainable. And if you can manage to take advantage of resignations, retirements and thoughtful expansion plans, you can keep your workplace streamlined before the need for layoffs comes into the equation. Here are a few ways to keep your eyes open to restructuring opportunities before you need to let existing employees go.

1. Before you hire, think of the future. How does the position you’ve just created fit into your company’s long term growth strategy? What will become of this position and how might this set of responsibilities evolve over the next five and ten years? Answer these questions before you start accepting resumes and interviewing applicants, and as you do so, ask questions that measure the alignment between their plans and yours.

2. Consider modern work methods and how they might influence your potential positions. Flex time, working from home, and outsourcing are rapidly changing the way works gets done in our society. Be careful you aren’t hiring for a position that can easily be shared by two existing employees on flexible schedules. And by the same token, don’t hire for a position that will become irrelevant as soon as you can find a way to put a flexible arrangement into effect.

3. Don’t disregard potential financial disruptions that are right around the corner. If part of your long term strategy involves pursuing mergers, selling the business, acquisitions, or partnerships with other companies, consider the impact these potential moves will have on your need for staff. And think ahead—don’t hire for positions that will become redundant as soon as a pending merger takes place.

4. Consider the future of your business model. What competitive pressures will you be facing in the years ahead, both from within your business and from other industries and outside events? Consider the talents you’ll need on board as these pressures rise and shift.

For more on how to handle—or better, anticipate—the staffing challenges that come with large company and industry changes, reach out to the staffing experts at PSU.

Fired? How to Address Your Situation in a Job Interview

November 15th, 2013

Getting fired isn’t just a momentarily painful experience. While the actual moment itself can be traumatizing and awkward, the emotional and professional fallout from one difficult day can haunt job seekers for years to come….But it doesn’t have to.

First, bear in mind that this event may feel isolating, but firings are far more common than most job seekers realize. So you aren’t alone. And second, the right attitude and a few savvy job search moves can keep this event from holding you back. In fact, this rough patch may help you move your career forward by giving you an opportunity to demonstrate resilience, positivity, and the ability to learn from your experiences. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start looking for new positions and scheduling interviews.

1. If you’re asked why you left your last position, answer with one word, but choose that word carefully. Don’t launch into a response that begins like this: “Well, it’s a long story, one that begins with a manager who started working for my old company in 2007. From day one, the two of us had our differences…” Instead, try “I was laid-off”, “I was fired”, “I was dismissed”, etc. Choose the word you use carefully, since words have meaning and power. But keep your answer short.

2. If asked to provide detail, briefly discuss the hard facts surrounding what went wrong. As in “my product roll-out didn’t meet expectations”, or “I had creative disagreements with my manager.” But after this brief explanation, focus on what you learned from the experience and how it helped you grow as a professional and as a person.

3. By all means, avoid language that suggests reluctance to take responsibility for your mistakes. Don’t say anything that sounds like you’re blaming your former boss, a cranky client, the company, the weather, your parents, or anything else. Take full ownership, and leave no room for error on that point.

4. As the interview moves on from this incident, make sure all the final notes of the discussion are positive. Feel the vibe in the room carefully, and if the feeling isn’t positive, stay on the subject until it is. Even simple, nonverbal gestures can lift the mood, like a relaxed, forward leaning posture (instead of a tense, apologetic, guilty, or angry expression).

5. Forgive yourself. Process the incident on your own, or with your friends and family, as well as you can before you step into your interview. Employers don’t like baggage. And neither should you. Check your bags at the door– or better yet, work through them, get rid of them altogether, and move on.

For more on how to address a firing and move past it before it begins to undermine your confidence or damage your long term career, reach out to the staffing and employment experts at PSU.

The Benefits of a Standard Response Time Policy

November 8th, 2013

“Standard response time” has recently become a hot button phrase in HR and management spheres, largely due to the rise of digital communication devices and an age of constant connectivity. When customers can reach a business at all hours of the day, every day of the week, how quickly should the company respond to every query, complaint, or social media comment? And just as important, how quickly should employees be expected to respond to queries and requests from managers and coworkers?

Since answers vary across the board, the debate on this question isn’t likely to end any time soon. But one thing seems clear: companies can benefit greatly by clarifying expected response times, and turning these expectations into a clear and written—rather than implied and unwritten—aspect of company culture. Exempt employees should know exactly when they are and are not expected to be available, and non-exempt employees must be paid for the time they spend off the clock but connected to the workplace.

Workers also need to know when it’s time to disconnect. Vacations and personal time are critical to productivity, and an unwritten policy can lead to resentment between those who do and don’t disconnect appropriately. Nothing kills morale faster than a culture in which connected employees are considered suck-ups and the disconnected are viewed as slackers.

The Goals of an Effective Response Time Policy

Regardless of the expected response time for any given company, an effective response time policy should accomplish a few universal goals:

1. The policy should clarify expectations for work conducted outside of business hours for each employee and each position. This expectation should be included the employee’s job description and should be clarified in writing for the employee before she begins her first day of work.

2. The policy should let employees who are traveling on business know how often they will be expected to check in. Once a day? Five times a day? Once a week?

3. The policy should clearly disconnect the company from an employee on vacation, and leave no doubts or concerns that her job may be in jeopardy if she becomes inaccessible. If vacationing employees can be contacted for emergencies, this term should be defined.

4. The policy should generate a way to measure non-standard work hours for non-exempt employees and compensate them for these hours.

5. The policy should clarify exactly who is responsible for responding to the needs of clients and vendors during non-work hours.
For more information on what a standard response time policy should entail and how to establish a functional policy in your own workplace, contact the NC staffing and management experts at PSU.

How to Successfully End a Meeting

November 1st, 2013

How often have you walked away from a planning meeting feeling optimistic about the future, only to watch all the accomplishments of the meeting unravel within a day? How many times have you stepped away from the table believing all the participants were on the same page, only to find out that you were wrong…very wrong? These problems aren’t just annoying hassles; they’re time wasters. And of course, time is money. Make sure the important conversations at the heart of your meeting only need to happen once. Start by keeping these tips in mind.

Timing Matters

The most important way to keep your meeting effective is to tune in and recognize when it’s time to wrap up. Saying the same thing ten times instead of one won’t help if your listeners are glazing over by the third repetition. Deliver your message, listen to the others at the table, move confidently through your agenda, and know when it’s time to close the books. Don’t get lost in minutiae or allow the meeting to be hijacked by those who don’t want to return to their desks.

Repeat Instructions

Effective meetings end with a list of action items. Make sure each participant knows exactly what will happen next and who will hold responsibility for which tasks. Make sure each player knows where to turn with questions and requests for help.

Establish Deadlines

Knowing what to do is only half the battle. Each team member will also to understand her personal deadlines and the ongoing timeline of the project as a whole. If tasks will be subdivided into deliverables with individual deadlines, clarify the requirements for each step.

Obtain Clear Buy-In and Clear Commitments

Don’t accept weasel promises, unless you want to. If participants accept responsibilities and deadlines with phrases like the following, ask them for more direct commitments:

“I’ll try to deliver this by Monday.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“This seems doable.”
“I’ll look into it.”
If participants can’t commit, encourage them to clearly decline. Either way, all parties should know exactly what to expect when the deadline arrives.

Don’t Forget Non-Verbal Details

Employees and managers are often coached on the art of the professional greeting, which starts with a firm handshake and clear eye contact. But the professional goodbye is just as important to a successful agreement or conversation. Don’t just let the meeting dissolve. Ask if anyone needs further clarification on any issue, then state clearly that the meeting is over. Thank everyone for their time. Reaffirm when you’ll meet again. Make clear eye contact as you say good bye. If the group is small and the relationships are formal, shake hands before you part ways.

For more on how to conclude a successful meeting with no threads left untied, reach out to the NC staffing and management experts at PSU.

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