Why Students Are Choosing Gap Years Over Remote Learning During COVID-19

Najifa Hossain -- September 19, 2020

As the semester began to kick off in mid-August, students all across the nation were faced with an imminent question: Is it worth going back to school this semester?

Among the millions of service workers, educators, and other professionals having to re-orient their work life over the past few months, students have also been making changes to their academic plans as schools implemented hybrid or completely virtual classes. According to Guild Education senior strategist Michael Horn, Harvard and MIT (among other universities) offered incoming Fall 2020 freshmen deferred admission to give them the option of taking a gap year. Though most universities are supporting remote learning efforts to make it accessible to as many students as possible, many are re-framing gap years as an opportunity rather than a loss. As Horn later mentions in his article, it is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore the effect these past few months have had on their generation. From a global pandemic to national protests to potent climate change, this is a defining era that demands innovation, creativity, and cooperation more than ever before. Students are constantly exposed to a wide array of problems and situations that extend well beyond the classroom, and many academics and employers are realizing the power of their potential.

Given this outlook, it’s no surprise that the startup sector swept in. Over the past few months, many have made creative efforts to recruit students that they anticipated would take gap years. According to Fox Business, venture firms like Contrary Capital are even hosting entrepreneurship contests with funding awards for students who start companies this year.

Characteristically, many businesses within the tech sector saw the disruption from this pandemic as an opportunity to innovate. One such company even created an entire platform to match startups with student talent as seamlessly as possible (see Seedstages). In a post-pandemic world, initiatives like these will likely guide the new normal; with more exposure to flexible, determined students, startups and small business ventures will undoubtedly recognize the potential of their demographic as a whole. On the flip side, students will also get a real taste of work that directly reflects their career interests in an environment that gives them the leeway to learn, lead, and collaborate.

How do the advantages of taking a gap year compare to learning in a virtual classroom? According to the Gap Year Association’s 2020 National Alumni Survey, students who took gap years reported experiencing professional and personal growth critical to their career success today. The association also summarized research findings from The Characteristics of ‘Gap‐Year’ Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes, noting that “taking a gap year had a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution”. For many students, the decision to take a gap year will reap far more than financial benefits.

It’s safe to say that a world of working from home and donning a mask as we head through the door is not what we had in mind for Fall 2020. Unpredictable times call for unpredictable decisions; it likely wasn’t a part of any hopeful college freshman’s plan to defer something they’d been working toward for years. But for many, it was necessary. For many, choosing to take a gap year over enrolling in school virtually saved money, helped them guide their career interests, connected them with valuable skills and people, and above all, gave them an opportunity to make their mark on the world.

4 Reasons to Intern at a Startup as a College Student

Michelle Garcia-Guevara -- September 12th, 2020

Any college student will know that when it comes down to job hunting and interviews, arguably the #1 quality employers look for is previous experience.

According to Knouse, an employer uses the job experience section of any resume to compare the job titles, duties, and responsibilities of the jobs listed by the applicant with the requirements of the job to which the applicant is applying. The employer essentially is looking for an applicant whose past experiences meet the needs of the position in question.

Experience in the form of internships is the most common way students show they are qualified to employers, but for many, it can be difficult to choose where to intern. Among the dozens of questions, we hear students ask, the one we most often hear is: should I intern at a startup company?

Although the answer can vary on a case by case basis, here are 4 compelling reasons to intern at a startup as a college student.

Significant Responsibilities

Because startups are usually companies with few employees when employers hire interns they have in mind people who will do more than just work on one concentrated project. Interning at a startup will mean that you will be given greater responsibilities, sometimes equivalent to that of a full-time employee. Through this unique experience, you will have multiple projects and milestones that you can take ownership of.

The work that you do will have a visible impact on the company which can be excellent for resume building.

A startup is a perfect place to develop leadership skills such as effective communication, teamwork, and time management because in some cases you may even grow to have other employees working under you. In comparison to an established company, your role as an intern at a startup will not be strictly bounded and will allow you to explore several areas of expertise and quickly take on even more significant tasks.

Meaningful Connections

Working at a startup also allows you to make connections that may be more difficult to establish at a large organization. In a startup, you will likely have frequent contact with the CEO and the Executive Board along with the other employees.

These are usually highly ambitious and successful people who can provide excellent mentorship and recommendations for future ventures.

Employees at a startup are usually knowledgable in a variety of fields since they are responsible for vast areas of the companies operations. In other words, the same person who is responsible for handling a campaigning strategy may also be learning how to develop the companies website. This type of environment allows students to have the freedom to learn and grow alongside employers without having to face the communication gap between employees and management that usually comes with working at a large company.

Explore New Paths

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about one-third of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs changed majors, compared with 28 percent of those enrolled in associate’s degree programs. About 1 in 10 students changed majors more than once.

As such, college is the place where students can freely explore their interests. Interning at a startup can facilitate this process because roles at such an early stage are not clearly defined.

Employers at the startup stage are typically flexible in that they allow students to take on tasks that align with their interests.

For example, although you may come in as a Marketing intern, you might also be given tasks that may be considered Business Development, or Data Analysis. This can be a great opportunity for someone who would like to pursue entrepreneurship or is looking to work in an executive role in the future that requires having knowledge about the overall workings of a company. Overall, the intern will wear multiple hats and while the learning curve may be steep they will have a lot to show for it.

Greater Probability of Being Chosen

Another reason students should intern at a startup is that it is somewhat easier to get a position at a startup than a well-established company. Especially for a student who has not had many previous experiences to add to their resume, it can be difficult to obtain positions at large-scale companies like Google, Walmart, McKinsey & Company, etc. This does not by any chance mean that startups have lower expectations; these companies still require that students meet the necessary academic qualifications and demonstrate a level of leadership and independence through their previous experiences.

In fact, many students are simply unaware of available internship opportunities at startups.

As such the pool of applicants is much smaller, and there is a greater likelihood of being chosen for a position. From a company perspective, start-ups have a distinct culture to large companies, who usually have a model intern in mind by the time interviews roll around. Start-ups are more flexible with their candidate selection and are willing to work with an applicant as long as they leave the impression that they can handle the work given to them.

Ultimately, here at Seedstages, we believe that every student can benefit from interning with a startup.

Having the opportunity to help build a company up from its infancy and take ownership of that accomplishment is something that you cannot find working anywhere else. The environment created by a startup is one that allows students to develop both technical and interpersonal expertise. Regardless of current experience, working with a startup can be a great outlet to discover new interests and develop entrepreneurial skills. That is why we are committed to facilitating the hiring process and creating a platform where students can directly engage with startups and find internship opportunities.

Author’s Note: Hello, thank you for making it to the end of this article. My name is Michelle Garcia-Guevara and I am working as a Business Development Intern for Seedstages. I am also a Junior at Rice University double-majoring in Managerial Studies, Asian Studies, and minoring in Business. If you have any questions about startup internships or working with Seedstages you can connect with me on LinkedIn.

How Smiling Can Boost your Business

Finn Wainwright -- September 4th, 2020

The workplace can sometimes be a rough place for employees. Whether it be the stress of meeting deadlines or seeing another employee get a promotion you deserved, there are many ways employees can become less confident or depressed in their work environment. If an employee loses their confidence or becomes depressed, their work productivity and output will start to diminish. This will then have an impact on other employees and possibly the overall company.

Luckily, there is a free, easy solution that every employee can implant in their day to day work life: smiling.

Sounds good to be true? Hear us out on this. There’s a wide range of benefits that smiling can bring to a company’s workplace. Moreover, the benefits don’t solely apply to the person smiling but rather the company as a whole.

The first and most important benefit of smiling at the workplace is that smiling boosts one’s mood.

When we smile, dopamines, endorphins, and serotonin are released from the brain. Serotonin, a major neurotransmitter, transmits happy signals to your brain which leads to happier moods. A study suggests that these happy moods that come from smiling can then help decrease stress. Psychological scientists divided participants up into three separate groups where each group was trained to hold different facial expressions. Next, they were assigned stressful tasks to complete and their heart rate and self-reported stress levels were monitored. The results showed that the group trained to smile had the lowest heart rate after doing the stressful tasks, suggesting that smiling can help the body respond to stress.

When employees have less stress and are happier instead, they end up being more productive and contribute more to the growth of a company. A study conducted at Warwick Business School proved this when they tracked the productivity levels of participants experiencing different levels of happiness. Half the participants were shown a short film to boost their happiness levels while the other half were shown a boring one to keep their happiness levels low. Economist Andrew Oswald stated that “Happier workers, our research found, were 12% more productive. Unhappier workers were 10% less productive”, suggesting that happiness caused by smiling can lead to better work productivity.

Smiling does not only help the person smiling but others around them too because smiling is contagious!

A Swedish study discovered that we mimic the facial expression of those we interact with due to us having an unconscious automatic respoBlackburn Orthodonticsnse area. When we see someone smiling, it’s only our natural reaction to smile back at them. This then boosts our happiness levels and vice-versa others when they see our smile and smile back at us. Therefore, an endless loop of happiness can be formed if everyone in the workplace were to smile.

Networking and conducting business can significantly be helped with smiling too.

We appear more attractive and approachable to others when we smile. By appearing more approachable, business clients/partners are more likely to trust you and will want to work with you. This makes it easier to do business with others and leads to more business opportunities/deals. On the other hand, if you don’t smile and show an unhappy face, there can be a loss of trust which leads to a loss in business. Hence, it’s important to always smile.

I know you might be thinking “I’m not going to be in a public workplace for a while because of COVID”, which is a valid thought. However, companies that are working remote right now are probably using Zoom and the act of smiling can easily be applied when Zooming for work.

Since Zoom is so new, some people who aren’t so tech-savvy are having difficulty adjusting and becoming stressed out to the point where their work productivity is being negatively affected. It’s been proven that smiling can help reduce stress, so it can be used as a tool to help these not so tech-savvy employees calm down and relieve their stress. Once their stress is relieved, they’ll be able to understand and navigate Zoom easier and their work productivity can return.

Also, Zoom provides a unique opportunity for companies because employees see each other’s faces more now than ever before. In the Zoom mode called Gallery Mode, an employee can see the faces of all the members on the Zoom call at once. This is ideal because more people will be able to see each other smiling better and happiness levels will increase overall.

Next time you’re in the workplace or a Zoom call, remember that a little smile can go a long way for both you and your co-workers.

Gen Z Needs Startups to Save WFH

Isabel Jauregui -- August 29th, 2020

Between managing remote classes and trying to break into the job market, Gen-Zers have no choice but to glue their eyes to their screens and grapple with the reality of working from home. Often, their schools aren’t doing a great job at planning remote learning, and the job market seems to be stacked against them. Combined, these factors amount to young people growing tired and distracted from the work ahead of them. So much so that 50% of Gen-Zers reported that compared to working in an office setting, they are less productive when working from home.

But if Gen-Zers are so glued to their phones scrolling through the latest social media fad, why can’t they direct that attention towards something “productive”? The problem might not lie with the young people, and instead be the fault of the institutions they’re interacting with. When you get decades-old, even centuries-old schools and industries that try to adapt to the current climate, young tech-born people will call out their shortcomings immediately and not take them as seriously. That’s why working with a startup might be the key into unlocking Gen Z’s untapped potential.

When a college student jumps into a faster paced, tight-knit, mission-driven environment, their surroundings now match their attention span. They can zone in on specific goals and quick-turnaround projects, while a traditional internship would have them studying a market for 8 weeks and have little tangible work to show from it. Especially in comparison to their coursework, college students who work at a startup are likely to be immediately refreshed by the immediate applications of the time they spend building out technical, stylistic, or logistical solutions.

One great example of how students can break the productivity bubble is by finding an internship or microinternship with a startup. With so many students gap years or semesters, or generally having more time on their hands since they’re stuck inside searching for an outlet for their creativity and aspirations, this is the best time to find an internship with a startup. The recently launched app Seedstages is a platform that does just that — instantly connect students with startups that are hiring. Students can even message with the startup directly on the app, matching students’ habits of instantly connecting with others online.

To reach out to Gen Z and break into their world, you need to match their attention span and their excitement, and startups are the perfect environment to make that happen. The immediacy of the deadlines and goals that startups work with match the habits of an average college student — focusing intensely on one project at a time.

Although it may seem like a cause of concern that Gen Z isn’t adapting as well as to remote work, this is a great opportunity for them to carve out careers that actually match their preferences, instead of going along with something traditional because they think that’s the only option. The choice is yours, Gen Z — startup your life or get stuck in the productivity rut.

Tech Startups: Our New Future

By now, it’s no secret that the key to success is strategic planning. For a company of any type or size, the effectiveness of their strategy at each level of execution determines their health, positioning, and likelihood for future prosperity. By aligning goals across the corporate and unit levels, companies can deliver more value. What happens, then, when a disruption as large as a global pandemic effects every virtually facet of a firm? How do they align their goals effectively?

The short answer is that not all of them do. The hotel, cruise, airline, and hospitality and tourism industries have arguably taken the biggest hit since COVID-19 swept the world. Entertainment and dining facilities come in as a close second. Depending on their preparation and willingness and capabilities to adapt, these sectors are not only struggling from a lack revenue. They’re suffering from a loss in confidence in their strategy and uncertainty for the future. However, in a market environment where they’re encountering frequent threats, other industries are finding expansive opportunities that have the potential to come full circle and lift them up.

There is a difference between companies that are doing well because its executives prepared for this kind of disruption with contingency plans and adapted and companies that are doing well because they were ahead of the curve from the beginning. In The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, Harvard Business Review’s Roger L. Martin emphasized the importance of a company’s strategy in giving them a competitive advantage. The idea isn’t to just maximize performance with the resources you have, but rather to put in a consistent effort to expand your capabilities and potential. Martin sums it up best when he asserts that “The objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success”. Intuitively, this seems like something executives and managers should think about after they’ve reached their targets and goals for the period. However, Martin argues that breaking boundaries should be at the forefront of their strategy in order to be successful. After all, from an operational perspective, the companies that are the most ahead of the curve are the least disrupted by COVID-19.

As it turns out, tech startups fall into the category of those companies that are increasing their odds of success. Companies like Zoom, DoorDash, Plaid, and Snowflake are making business and personal services accessible during a period of devastating inaccessibility.

It is likely that some companies will inevitably overreact in response to the disruption caused by COVID-19. In trying to readjust and normalize their options and strategy again, they might undergo serious structural and protocol changes. This becomes a challenge for firms that deliver tangible products in particular because their productivity is dependent on space and in-person operations, especially after considering that no one truly knows how long the effects of this virus will last or the residual public health challenges it could potentially introduce. An article recently published in the New York Times highlighted the reality many students faced this summer when large firms cancelled their internship programs. Resourcefully, a new tech startup swept in just in time with a response to this issue. Seedstages is a mobile app that allows students to find exciting tech sector internships while giving startups easy access to new and diverse talent to boost productivity in the post-pandemic world. Similarly, startups quickly realized the potential to gain student team members without having to implement costly and time-consuming traditional recruitment processes and are sweeping into the scene to hire new, optimistic talent. In this way, the technology sector is rapidly churning out solutions to unprecedented problems, and it’s up to us to take advantage of them.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call tech startups our future. Their adaptability and creativity combined with a capacity and willingness to innovate gives them an unavoidable competitive edge. Many industries are suffering during these tumultuous times, but tech startups are beginning to provide serious support to both consumers and businesses worldwide. And who knows? Within the next few months, maybe we’ll witness a new venture emerge to bring the most COVID-disrupted industries back to where they want to be.

Why Every Employee Should Perfect Their Presentation and Speaking Skills

In 2013, a study was published in Iran that highlighted the effect of communication skills training for hospital staff on job satisfaction and quality of care. The results demonstrated a positive correlation between communication skills and job performance as well as satisfaction. Staff who took the most advantage of increased training displayed a better potential for administering patient care and maintain better relationships in the workplace. The broader implications of these findings imply a similar dynamic in work settings across industries.

In delivering presentations and speeches regularly, employees become more organized, reliable, and approachable. They are also perceived as more capable and, therefore, fit to be good leaders. However, it should be noted that not all professionals give presentations or speak publicly. In fact, only department heads, managers, and executives are typically expected to. Excluding frontline managers, this constitutes less than 20% of the workforce. Not everyone has the opportunity to present or speak publicly, but research has shown that simply possessing the proper qualities for it result in better work habits. According to Speakers and Artists International founder Eric Stone, being a good speaker is synonymous to being an exceptional worker and leader in any capacity. He asserts that perfecting presentation and public speaking capabilities leads to an increased likelihood of promotion or stronger standing within the work environment.

Presentation and public speaking skills are familiar to anyone who has participated or worked in higher education. Whether through research, writing, business, humanities, or STEM courses, presenting and communicating in a collaborative setting are oftentimes an integral part of curricula. Though not all professionals utilize these skills post-graduation, there is a long-term benefit to mastering the art of storytelling that can help employees be more successful in the workplace. According to improv actor Jimmy Carrane, storytelling binds together elements of both intense preparation and improvisation. As rehearsed as a compelling message needs to be, there is no escaping the intensity of delivering it alone. However, being forced to voice your ideas entirely on your own with conviction leads to a better ability to improvise and think intuitively in conversation. This magnified confidence also inherently helps people become more eloquent speakers and have more assertive opinions in group settings. The listening and vocal skills nurtured through presenting to an audience also paves the way to being a better negotiator. Not only are arguments framed better, but better decisions are reached because the scenario feels more like a conversation and less like a transaction.

So, whether you work at home, in a cubicle, or out of an office with a secretary, being a well-versed presenter and storyteller has invaluable benefits. Not only will it shape you into a better improviser and more eloquent conversationalist, but it will also strengthen your voice in public settings, give you more confidence, and condition you into a better negotiator.

How Startups Challenge Long-Standing Power Distances in the Workplace

Giacomo Di Pasquale -- August 8th, 2020

Power distance is the degree to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally. In very high power distance cultures, the lower level person will unfailingly defer to the higher level person–and feel relatively okay with that as it is the natural order.

For example, the United States has a 40 on the cultural scale of Hofstede’s analysis. Geert Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist and Professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who is known for is work on cross-cultural groups and organization and father of the concept of power distance, together with other popular frameworks for measuring cultural dimensions in a global perspective.

Now, back to the main track. Compared to Arab countries, where the power distance is very high (80) and Austria where it is very low (11), the United States is somewhat in the middle. The US suffers from large gap between the wealthy and the poor, but, at least in theory, there is the strong belief that all Americans have the opportunity to rise in society. However, as the years go by, it seems that the distance between the haves and have-nots grows larger and larger. Then, how could startups change the status-quo and contribute to the reduction of power distance on the work place and the gap between wealthy and less wealthy?

Startups, for the way they are structured and for the culture they promote, inherently have low power distances, which is quite revolutionary, especially in countries that traditionally experience high levels of power distance. Furthermore, the startup sector has become more and more popular in recent years, representing probably the most interesting work environment for the future, with many young talents interested in either internships or permanent contracts at both established and emerging startups.

Startups are generally known for their innovative ideas and high tolerance for uncertainty. They can more easily maintain and integrate cross-cultural relations within the workplace, a workplace that is usually friendly and informal, other factors that contribute to lower levels of power distance.

How about a quick equation?

better cross-cultural relations = more diverse models and feedback = more innovation

If the equation is right, then it means that startups are well-equipped to fully integrate and motivate diverse teams with multi-cultural leadership and employees, hence reducing power distance and stimulating innovation and success across all levels.

In many startups, due to their flexibility and the promotion of an informal flat structure that values the voices of each employee and increases retention, workers from a wide variety of backgrounds can easily acknowledge their differences in expertise/interests, therefore everyone feels interdependent and valued. For instance, Seedstages, the startup where the authors of this article work, makes no difference and promotes a positive environment where multi-level feedback is constant and where a diversified culture ensures low levels of power distance.

Startups are challenging the long-standing ideas of power distance in the workplace, from both sides of the spectrum. Power distance is an idea that belongs to a past that does not represent anymore who we are and who we should be in the future; working in an environment that appreciates you for who you are and what you can bring to the table every day is a truly unique and rewarding experience that we all deserve to live.