Finding internships and attracting interns

By Douglas Linde, PhD

A few years ago one of my students, Travis, had a summer internship with Tony Leonard at the Philadelphia Eagles. A few months later Travis attended the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization Conference to receive a scholarship and met Dan Douglas from the Reading Fightin’ Phils. Dan wisely invited Travis to try a baseball internship the next summer and he accepted. This is an example of how a student landed an internship and an employer got an intern.

This article is intended to provide practical information for both sports turf managers and students in regards to internships based on my 20 years of matching students with employers.

The intern market

The marketplace for interns has significantly changed in the past few years. There is a big shortage of turf interns for both the golf and sports turf industries. The main reason for the shortage is fewer students have been enrolling in universities to study turf. From speaking with colleagues at other universities, the enrollment in turf is about half of what it was in 2008; however, the demand for interns is still strong. A result of this change in supply is that it’s difficult for employers to find interns but very easy for students to land an internship.

One of my students recently had three internship offers and he used the offers to negotiate pay and benefits. From monitoring jobs sites like TurfNet, I noticed recently that employers in the golf industry have begun to increase wages and other perks in order to attract interns. In fact, in a quick search on TurfNet in January, I noticed the typical wage rate for golf course interns was $12-15 per hour plus overtime, and many courses offered free housing. So some interns are making $6,000 and $7,000 over the summer on a golf course. There is competition for interns between the golf and sports turf industries especially for students that are not sure which career path they want within turf.

How to attract interns

Given the low supply of students, it’s even more critical to evaluate your intern program and try something new. A good intern program attracts more interns. These suggestions are also commonly found in good intern programs.

Have a formalized intern program. Formalized programs include things such as a detailed job advertisement, a wide range of tasks to be learned, and a sincere desire of the employer to train and mentor students. An email saying, “Doc, let your students know I’m looking for an intern” is not a formal program.

Provide free housing. This should increase the size of the applicant pool because it can draw students from across the nation and even internationally. Plus, they don’t have to find or pay for housing, which is a huge benefit. Many golf courses offer this benefit.

Competitive wage. Many students studying turf don’t come from wealthy backgrounds and they often need to make money in the summer to help pay for college. Although pay rate should not be the only selection criteria by students it often is an important one. I’ve had some students crossover from sports turf to golf for this reason.

Detailed job description. List as much information as you can such as expectations, hours, pay, duties, benefits, and requirements. Also, list any selling points of your program such as location, housing, overtime pay, special events, projects, and educational and networking opportunities. These selling points can be the “icing on the cake.”

Advertise. Create a professional looking advertisement flyer, brochure, or video. If you don’t have that skill, find someone in your organization that does. Post it on your company website and others such as STMA and TurfNet. Other places to share the advertisement are conference job boards, university placement offices, and turf professors and advisors. Consider posting in early November. My students have to visit me in November for academic advising for the spring semester. I ask them about their work plans for the upcoming summer.

Another suggestion to get the word out is to invite a professor, turf class or club to visit your site if you are near a turf university or another similar institution. They get an educational tour and you may get an intern. Tony Leonard from the Philadelphia Eagles regularly gives tours for my class and has hired interns from those classes.

Remember that “word-of-mouth” by former interns can be a great way to advertise assuming you gave them a good experience. However, “word-of-mouth” can kill your program if you gave them a bad experience.

Be professional in your communication. Applicants will have more respect for you and your organization. Respond promptly to phone calls and emails from interested students. Inform applicants if they did not get the job. Simply write an email saying, “Thanks for applying. Another applicant was chosen.” It gives closure to the student. Be honest with pay rate and hours expectation. If you expect them to work 70 hours per week for $1,000 per month make sure they know it. One of my students quit his internship after 3 weeks because the expectations were not made clear.

Don’t make them work 70 hours per week on a $1000 per month salary; that’s $3.60 per hour.

A counter argument could be made that this formula results in only the most dedicated and passionate people in the industry. Thus, weeding out students that may be less dedicated and passionate to the sports turf industry. I’ve had quite a few students that had the passion yet crossed over into the golf or lawn care industry for higher pay. Travis, who interned in professional football and baseball, was one of my better students that had a passion for sports turf took a job with a landscape company upon graduation and now works in the lawn care industry.

I know it can be difficult to find more money but do what you can to do something. Use this article to help justify an increase to your supervisor or owner.

Give them some days off and predictable quitting times. Are you hazing interns with excessive hours? This means making them work long hours with few days off because that’s what was done to you. The millennial generation is less willing to make big sacrifices for their career like previous generations. I first ran into this a few years ago with a student named Dan. He was one of my better students academically and a campus leader. I encouraged him to work for an employer that worked the interns long hours. After the summer, Dan told me he couldn’t see himself working those kinds of hours as a career and left the turf industry for an environmental science job.

One of my top employers of students in the golf industry said to me about 5 years ago, “Doc, these kids don’t want to work.” At first I was concerned that I sent some type of message to my students that created this work ethic. But after hearing similar comments from other employers and reading about the generalizations of millennials, I learned it was a shift in work philosophy. If you fight it, you may not attract and/or retain millennial employees.

How to land an internship

Although this has become easier given the high demand for interns, there are various things a student should consider when trying to land an internship. A great place to begin is to read the STMA Internship guide by Raechal Volkening, CSFM.

After reading the guide, it’s time to list your goals. First, list some of the key skills you already have in regards to sports turf management. Then make a list of skills you need or want to get from the internship. Share your thoughts with your advisor or a past employer to get their input.

Then consider desires such as location, pay, hours, housing, prestige of employer, and number of interns at the site. If you’re a junior, you might want to consider working for an employer that has a history of hiring interns upon graduation. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, do you want to work for an employer that has a history of a good intern program? Advisors, past employers, past interns, and fellow students are great resources for learning which employers have a good program.

Once you have an idea of your goals and desires, it’s time to look for some internships that may meet as many of those goals and desires as possible. Search the intern postings on STMA and TurfNet. You have to be a member or know a member of STMA to see their postings. TurfNet is free but doesn’t usually have many sports turf intern postings. Other sources include advisors, students, field managers, conferences, and college placement offices.

One last way to find some opportunities is to directly contact a facility and ask to speak to the head field manager to see if there are any openings. One of my more assertive students, Emma, lived near the Lehigh Valley Iron Pig’s baseball stadium and simply cold-called the field manager. She explained she was studying turf in college and was looking for a summer job. She happened to call at the right time and was hired.

Before applying for any internship, make sure you have a resume and cover letter and they look and read perfect. The turf industry prides itself on attention to detail so why would a field manager hire someone with a sloppy resume. For example, I had an employer tell me he rejected one of my students for an internship because he had a few spelling mistakes in his resume and they needed someone that paid attention to detail.

Then it’s time to apply for two to four positions. Positions start to be posted in November. That’s the time of year to start looking. If you wait until April, you may have missed out on the ideal internship for you. When you get an interview, take some time to read about how to prepare for an interview. College placement offices may offer interview practice sessions for you to gain confidence. Or ask a parent or friend to interview you. Whether you get an interview or not, send a thank you note or email.

Last word

For sports turf managers, it can be difficult to attract interns to your facility in today’s intern market. Evaluate your program and try some of the suggestions I mentioned. As for students, you should take advantage of all the opportunities that are available by making sure you follow some of the suggestions. That way you can get the most out of your internship experience.

Dr. Doug Linde has been a professor of Turf Management at Delaware Valley University, Doylestown, PA since 1996 and specializes in preparing college students for a career in the turf industry. He is the academic and career advisor for all turf students and teaches seven classes related to turf management.