11 steps to get the most out of internships

By Zach Severns

Internship programs have become a very important part of the turf industry and they can be beneficial for both students and employers. Internships should be designed for both parties to get the most out of each other during the internship, and after. As head groundskeepers we are responsible for providing a strong educational and fun experience. Doing this will only strengthen the industry. Interns are responsible to give their all and really invest into an internship program, because it could take them to great places later. In order for a great internship to take place, a number of things have to happen. If certain steps are not taken, an internship can fail and both parties will speak ill of one another and bridges will be burned. Some of these steps may sound like common sense, but they are common mistakes in failing internships.

Step 1: how to find a quality internship

The best way to find an internship for the first time would be to register with STMA or teamworkonline.com. These websites and organizations can provide students with job fliers that give descriptions on what constitutes a particular internship. As for head groundskeepers (especially at minor league parks and smaller facilities) make a vibrant and attractive flier that will attract motivated students. After the first internship, a student’s network will grow and it will be much easier to find internships and jobs through word of mouth.

Step 2: resume and cover letter

The number one rule when putting together a resume is be professional; while making a resume and cover letter act as if you are the one doing the hiring. Be your own worst critique. If something jumps off the page at a critical person then you have nothing to worry about. Part of being professional is to check with references before using them on a resume. Show them the courtesy of how much they are respected by asking for their blessing. The goal of the resume and cover letter process is to sell yourself and get noticed, so be confident but not cocky! Take the time and use quality paper, and if at all possible mail instead of email a resume and cover letter (unless specified). Mailing shows that the time was taken to do it right.

Step 3: Interviewing

The interview process can be the most stressful part of the entire process for a student, but it is important to relax and just be yourself, because that is who you will be during the whole internship. Most interviews are done over the phone or in person at the STMA conference. Sound confident, be confident!

During an interview don’t stress and give a bad answer; if you don’t know something, you simply don’t know. If you get caught not knowing an answer, convey to the interviewer that you are eager to be exposed to situations that will allow you to broaden your horizons and obtain a better understanding. There is nothing worse than to give a hasty answer, if you have to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and then answer. Internships were invented so that newcomers to the industry can learn something they didn’t know.

Step 4: Having more than one job offer

This is a good problem to have; the question is how to choose which one? Timing will probably be an issue because organizations also have to fill their positions in a timely manner. It is important not to panic and make a rash decision. Weigh the options of places that have offered a position, use your personal preference of what you need (not what you want) to learn and what you can improve. There are different preferences that will come into play such as being close to home, wanting to move and experience life, or willing to do anything to rise in the industry (this will most likely involve moving around).

If an organization is taking a long time to respond, it is ok to give them a call or an email to check the situation. Remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but don’t screech! Now, after committing to a job, it is wise not to back out after committing unless something catastrophic happens. When telling an employer that you didn’t choose them, be respectful and simply tell them that the opportunity was appreciated and the place that was chosen was a better fit for what you want and need for a career. Be respectful and don’t burn a bridge. Look at it as a way to get your name out in the industry. Every time you meet someone new in the industry it is a way to increase your network of contacts, because they might be helpful down the road. People in this industry are not just fellow turf managers; they potentially could become some of your closest friends.

Step 5: What to look for in an internship

When first starting out in the industry, a good fit would be to go to a place that has long hours and a small crew. It sounds tough, but that’s exactly what it makes you and will be beneficial in the long run. This will help decide if this career is really for you, and will provide the opportunity to master the basics of the job.

The best place to take advantage of such internships is in Minor League Baseball. Once an internship or two have been completed, now is the time to learn the technical knowledge of the industry. Theses specifics consist of climate, growing conditions, different sports, different working environments (state systems vs. private organizations), and different skills that need to be improved. It is good to experience them all if possible so one knows exactly what they want for a career. Other specifics come into play when choosing an internship, especially a good living situation. It is important to be happy at home so it does not affect the quality of work and attitude at work; no one likes negativity. Make sure to be financially stable; most interns are poor college students and employers will take that into consideration. Look for an internship that will invest into a student’s future, and will teach as much as possible and help further your career.

Step 6: Employer standards

Employers are looking for individuals with motivation, not necessarily experience. If a student is excited about their job, that excitement will go much further than experience. They will be teachable, willing to learn and willing to work hard to succeed. Employers need interns just as much as interns need employers. Interns need to go to a place where there employer is excited and passionate about their field and passing on knowledge. Don’t work for someone who will not invest into your passion to succeed. In the grand scheme of things employers want students to follow in their footsteps, or else everything we do in sports turf management is pointless. YOU ARE THE FUTURE! We are just as excited to see the industry grow as you are to grow in it.

Step 7: When the work starts

There are two types of workers: people that want to work and people that have to work. It all starts with attitude, if the glass is half full then the best can be made of any situation. If an intern is stuck in a situation that hasn’t worked out like it should, make a decision to work hard and get the most out of the situation. Come in to work every day with a positive attitude and an outlook that something productive is going to happen that day. Remember that internships are only for a few months, so make the most of it. No matter how bad the situation, don’t leave without a good recommendation. Good references are up to the intern. Don’t cheat yourself and let others decide the outcome; control your own fate by working your hardest. Be personable, at some point a path will be crossed of two workers that don’t work well together. Avoid complaining and listening to it. If each person is doing their job to best of their ability, then they shouldn’t have time to worry about the other person. Try to make friends with everyone on the crew, it will make work that much more fun.

Step 8: Don’t be afraid to be a leader

Everyone is different so try and motivate others by learning their personalities. This will help in the future when you are a supervisor. If the crew is ever divided don’t take sides, but remain neutral and do your job. Be the first person to work and the last one to leave (if possible), people will notice. Try and read the head groundskeeper’s mind; if he gives the crew off the day after a home stand but he is coming in, step up and ask him if he needs help. If there is a passion for the job, then this should be easy. Be proactive not reactive, know there is always one more thing that can be done to make the whole operation run smoother.

Step 9: When times get tough

Negative things are torn apart easily and good things take time. Keep working hard and know that this is being done to build a career. If you need to vent (everyone does) call home or a friend. Learning is happening even when it doesn’t seem to be, so stick with it because you never know where it will take you.

Step 10: What employers are expecting

The turf industry is like none other, as employers we are expecting interns to come in and be meaningful, not to just make coffee runs. The first nine steps will set up what an employer is looking for and #10 is to set up an intern for success. We are looking for individuals who are on time and ready to work, willing to perfect a task and improve as turf managers, take ownership in the field, and try thinking a few steps ahead. Look at the job in an aspect of “it’s on me” if the job does not get done. If something out of the ordinary is going on, get involved and learn as much as possible. If you were the head groundskeeper going home for the night, your job is not done. Be proactive as an intern and keep an eye on the radar and shoot him a text if something is out there, and see if you can do something for him to take some of stress off of him. During the day run scenarios through your head of what steps you and the crew should take if certain circumstances take place throughout the day and week. This is not just to help the head groundskeeper but shows that as an intern you are thinking ahead and ready to take on your own field early on in your career.

Step 11: What to take away

Acknowledge the fact that you have been through multiple internships, there’s more ways than one to do a job. Find what works most effectively for the situation. If an internship was bad don’t burn a bridge by talking bad about it, just know in your mind that it was something not to do.

If an internship ends at an outstanding place (which they should), then take what was learned and put it to use at the next one. Know that when you get your own field you can do things your way, until then do it the supervisor’s way. Take weekly notes of what has been done, so you can refer back when it’s your turn to be in charge. Records go a long way and will be helpful in the future.

Have an exit meeting with your supervisor to tell them what you have learned and thank them for the opportunity. Keep in touch with them and the rest of the crew. Someday they will be needed for work or a place to stay when traveling to a new job, or a job reference. You form a bond with people with whom you often spend 15-hour days!

Zach Severns is head groundskeeper of the Augusta Greenjackets. He interned (in order) for the Fresno Grizzlies, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals, LSU, and Louisville Bats. He also was foreman for Palouse Ridge Golf Club during college while also taking care of the pitching mounds for Washington State University baseball.