CSUF Professor Shares Keys to Successful Internships

CSUF management professor Gerard Beenen studies what makes internships successful – both for interns and the sponsoring organizations. He has a passion for CSUF students and believes that internships are vital for succeeding in the contemporary business world.

CSUF Professor Gerard Beenan

College students routinely hear that internships are necessary for success in the contemporary business world. But many students come away from an internship with few marketable skills, while others use the experience to embark on a fulfilling and rewarding career. What factors make for a truly successful internship experience?

Gerard Beenen, assistant professor of management at CSU Fullerton, has conducted considerable research on creating successful internships, both for the interns themselves and sponsoring employers. Interns do best if they have what he terms a “learn-perform mindset,”-balancing the opportunity to learn about a future career with performing well on the job.

Beenen says that when he was a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, he witnessed firsthand how internships were becoming more important to the success of MBA students, a trend which is now extending to undergraduates. He says that internships provide an archetype of the future of managerial work. “Managers are being put into situations where they have to both learn and perform in a short amount of time,”he says. Internships provide this opportunity and are often a bridge to future employment, propelling some students to rewarding careers in their field of study.

“An internship is most vital at a general level for students to gain experience in areas where they have the least experience,” says Beenen. For instance, students pursuing a career in a specialized field, such as accounting, need an internship to gain experience and improve their employment prospects after graduation.

As for finding internships, while Mihaylo’s Career Services and CSUF’s Career Center and Center for Internships and Community Engagement (CICE) are helpful starting points, Beenen stresses the importance of personal networking. Students who performed well in class, but more important, who were engaged and motivated participants in their courses, usually are better positioned to build their networks and will be top of mind if employers ask for an academic recommendation.

Perhaps the most contentious issue involving internships is the proliferation of unpaid internship opportunities, which was brought to the public’s attention by the 2012 book, Intern Nation, by Ross Perlin. Beenen says that while there are cases in which unpaid interns are abused as cheap labor, the problem is not as widespread in the United States as commonly believed – and not nearly as bad as in other countries, such as France, where employers have created a permanent underclass of underpaid young workers under the guise of “internships.” While many interns may not receive monetary compensation, “they are getting paid in experience, which is valuable,” he says. “Employability is really a combination of education, motivation and experience.” All three elements are interrelated and invaluable in today’s business world.

A passionate and devoted professor, Beenen has years of real-world business experience. He was a management consultant with Bain & Company and Ernst & Young and was CEO for a cancer treatment center. Asked why he did not devote his career to academics sooner, Beenen says, “I had always thought I wanted to be a professor at some level, but the question was always what I would study.” He eventually found organizational behavior-a field combining his twin passions of psychology and business-to be a perfect fit. Beenen says that he loves working for CSUF and especially enjoys making an impact in the lives of his students. “My goal is that when students leave my class they are not only becoming better at managing people, but that they are becoming better people,” he says.

Beenen’s research about internships, providing valuable advice to both interns and employers, appeared in the Orange County Register on May 9, 2014. His research has been published in top tier peer-reviewed journals, including Human Resource Management and Academy of Management Learning and Education. His publications are available online here.

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I'm Daniel Coats, a CSU Fullerton Communications graduate student
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