For more than 50 years, one organization has been driven by the mission to “match talent with opportunity.â€ These days, the role of SEO, or Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, in positioning diverse students for corporate careers, has become even more critical. SEO interns receive 100 hours of customized training before their first day on the job–40 hours online and 60 in person, says William Goodloe, the organization’s president and CEO. “Students must score 90% on online courses to move to the next course,â€ he says. “Training is tailored specifically to the internship areaâ€ and may involve Six Sigma–the rigorous, data-driven process for eliminating defects–or instruction in market analysis or portfolio valuation. The interns are trained in hard skills such as Excel, PowerPoint and financial statement analysis, and soft skills such as relationship building and workplace courtesy. (Above left, SEO intern and Georgia Tech student Stacia Burke reads the Wall Street Journal.)
The organization must be doing something right: more than 75% of SEO interns receive full-time job offers from partner companies. “We align our recruiting, training, and coaching or monitoring with the needs of our corporate partners,â€ says Goodloe. “We also stay in constant communication with our interns and partners, and work intensely to minimize miscommunication, and course-correct if needed during the internship summer.â€
SEO Career (its other programs are SEO Scholars and SEO Alternative Investments) recruits and trains primarily African American and Hispanic students from campuses nationwide. The organization maintains close contact with the employers, conducting regular meetings with the interns’ managers, as well as connecting with human resources and diversity professionals.
Goodloe admits to a few challenges in helping interns make the transition from campus life to professional environments, as well as making sure they understand technical competence, high performance standards, and corporate culture. Goodloe says SEO interns must realize that “in the professional world, 98% can be a failing grade. A manager should not have to double-check your spreadsheet to find the one mistake you made.â€
He also stresses the need for college students to manage their course load and grade point average from day one. “When students apply for internships as a college junior, the first and second-year grades are what SEO and corporate recruiters focus on. It’s very difficult to recover from a 2.3 GPA semester.â€ Students need a 3.0 for admission to the program, but the average GPA of SEO Career applicants is 3.5.
It’s called SEO Career for a reason: for many companies, summer internships represent their pipeline to full-time entry-level hires, Goodloe says, but SEO takes pride in its long-term outcomes. More than 450 SEO alumni hold senior positions within investment banking, asset management, private equity, hedge fund, and venture capital firms.
One of those is 2012 Wharton School graduate Triston Francis, a firm management associate at Morgan Stanley. As a first generation college student Francis was accepted into the SEO U. program, which prepares students for SEO Career. He wasn’t accepted when he applied after his sophomore year, but undeterred, he applied to SEO Career after his junior year and was admitted. On the final day of the 10-week internship in consumer retail investment banking at Morgan Stanley, Francis was offered a full-time job. The rising college senior hadn’t even graduated yet.
Did SEO prepare him for the workplace? “Definitely,â€ Francis says, although he says one way he would change SEO would be having the organization match its interns with nonminority associates and vice presidents. “Wall Street is still predominantly white and male. The SEO community is a powerful one and you want to leverage it, but you really need to extend beyond it to flourish.â€
Still, Francis recognizes that it was SEO that gave him an advantage. “SEO gives you an understanding of how the workplace operates and teaches you the technicals, which translates into summer interns getting full-time job offers.â€ During the internship he and other interns met and heard prominent speakers like Carla Harris (an SEO alum) and Jamie Dimon. He was also privileged to meet directors on the Morgan Stanley board. Says Francis, “I’ve developed a lifelong bond with SEO.â€
For more on SEO, go to www.seocareer.org.