Advice to Students Getting Ready for Internship Recruiting Season: Put Away Your Cell Phones!

Editor’s Note: This post is to address a more overarching need and general approach towards professional etiquette, and is not directed towards the use of cell phones during the college’s recruiting events themselves. Students have been instructed to use the Career Fair Plus mobile app as a resource for navigating the Poole College recruiting events, but should be conscientious and conservative with their use for the reasons outlined in this post. 

Around this time of year, students are getting ready for interviews for internships, especially for supply chain and procurement roles.  The NC State Poole College of Management Supply Chain Job Fair is always a big event, and this year we have more than 40 companies and hundreds of students attending.  It is also a good time to remind students of a few basic things they need to be aware of, as many undergrads have not worked in a typical office or supply chain environment.

The inspiration for this blog came in the form of an email from an employer, a large company here in RTP, that read as follows:

I’m curious as to whether your undergraduates are required to take a corporate etiquette or workplace norms type of a course.  The reason I ask, and I’m sure it’s the same experience for you guys, but we continue to see younger folks have an increased dependency on cell phones.  I see it during team meeting’s with our interns or even one on one discussions.  Another challenge that we have is shorter attention spans and as a result having to spread topics across multiple meetings.

I was quite frankly dismayed to hear this about one of our students, but at the same time, perhaps not surprised.  I also don’t think it’s unique to NC State students, but applies to an entire generation of undergraduates coming out of school.  Many students are addicted to social media and texting, and cannot sit still for five minutes, even if in the middle of a meeting or a job interview!  Just to be clear:  There is NOTHING as disrespectful as someone who is checking their cell phone and texting during a team meeting or an interview.  The implicit message is:  “You are not important.  What I am doing here is far more important than the conversation we are having right now, and you are a distraction.”  This is also a sure-fire way to not receive a job offer or a recommendation letter at the end of the time you spend in your role.  Whatever is buzzing on your cellphone, it can wait!

At NC State, we do address this issue and professional communication in the workplace in our M120 Professional Development and Career Planning Course.  Unfortunately, at this time, this course is an optional course for our undergraduate students and is not required.  It needs to be and we are moving to make this a required 1-credit course.
As faculty, I think we also have to look at other touch-points with our students besides our career course where there are conversations about professionalism, business etiquette, dependency on phones, etc.  One of the best ways to ensure this is through the regular team meetings that accompany our practicum projects.  These teams are led by executive advisors, seasoned supply chain executives often with 30+ years of experience.   These folks have no problem telling students to put away their cell phones, sit up, look people in the eye, and focus on what is going on.  Being aware of your surroundings is one of the most important components of what is known as situational intelligence, and checking your cellphone is the exact opposite of what it means to be aware of what is going on around you.