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Disney Internships for College Students – How to Prepare and Succeed

December 11, 2017

For every child who has dreamed of a vacation at a Disney park, there is a college student dreaming of a job at the Walt Disney Company. A few years ago we interviewed Dublin High School Class of 2011 alum Emily Edlund about her experiences in the Disney College Program. As part of our Women in STEM Series we also spoke with a Disney Imagineer about her path to a career in Disney Imagineering. Building on our theme of articles on college internship opportunities we recently spoke with Scott Barczak, Sr. Manager, International Recruitment at Disney Worldwide Services.

MK Overlook2 When students are considering internship options what are the breadth of opportunities offered by the Walt Disney Company?

Scott Barczak: “The Disney College Program offers opportunities at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, with the majority of opportunities available at Disney World due to the shear size of the resort. What we always say to those who are looking for roles is to think about the guest experience. When our guests come to Walt Disney World and Disneyland they want to enjoy our incredible attractions, eat at our restaurants and bring home memories of their visit from our merchandise locations. It’s no surprise, therefore, that most of the roles available are in those lines of business. We’re looking for hosts and hostesses at our attractions, quick service food and beverage locations, and sales personnel at our merchandise locations. These roles are available at both our theme parks and our resorts. We also hire lifeguards for our resort pools and water parks.” What are the opportunities beyond the Disney College Program, specifically professional internships?

Barczak: “We also have professional internships available throughout the company, in Parks and Resorts, in the ABC Television Group, the Walt Disney Studios, Disney Theatrical, Marvel and so on. Professional internship opportunities are more limited and more competitive. Completing the Disney College Program in a guest-facing role gives professional internship applicants an advantage, because they’ve already been employed by the company. Completing the Disney College Program successfully also demonstrates the courage to be away from home and start a new adventure, learn a new role and be introduced to the Disney culture. Competing the Disney College Program is not a requirement to apply for a professional internship, but is an advantage. We’re looking for students with relevant experience and college degrees for the role.” What makes a Disney internship unique?

Emily Disney Badge Dublin California

Emily Edlund’s Disney Name Tag

Barczak: “Students who participant in a Disney internship program can expect three components: living, learning and earning. Our brand is well-recognized and respected so students will learn from the best. Students in the Disney College Program will live in our housing and are provided transportation to and from work, living with hundreds of other students from around the country and the world. We hear over and over in exit surveys that students love the networking opportunities with experts in the field and meeting other students from around the world. We have participants from over 60 countries and all 50 states.

“Students also enjoy events and networking opportunities, and we view those as a differentiator. We provide learning opportunities through accredited classes that enhance the academic experience. We have seminars taught by experts in the field and our own instructors, for example Imagineers, executive chefs, heads of marketing, and so on. These programs are free to participants and we strongly encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Front Desk2 What are the lead times and deadlines students should keep in mind so that the don’t wait to long to apply?

Barczak: “In general we think of the year divided into two seasons: Spring and Fall, with an Advantage option for each. Students can choose Spring, or a Spring Advantage program which includes Spring and Summer if their academic and personal life allows, and there is a Fall or Fall Advantage program. Applications for Fall generally begin mid-January and run through mid-March, with arrivals from May through August. The second wave of Spring applications begin mid-August through late October, with arrivals in the January / February timeframe.” What advice do you have for students as they prepare for the interview process?

Barczak: “I’d like to start with the application process. Something we see frequently is students who do not carefully and thoroughly read the application questions. It’s sometimes amazing that applicants will answer a question incorrectly, not purposely, because they rushed through the application and as a result will be taken out of consideration. I’ll give a really simple example: all of our programs require applicants to be at least 18 and attending an accredited institution of higher learning (a university or community college). It’s amazing how many students answer “no” accidentally to this question because they went through the form too quickly. That “no” will immediately take them out of consideration. We’ll frequently get calls from applicants after they realize their error. We have to wonder why they aren’t taking the time to carefully read the form and as a result you wonder about their job skills.

“My first piece of advice is take the time to carefully and accurately fill out the application. As far as preparing for the interview, not surprisingly for many applicants this is their first big job interview. We know that interviewing with a large company like Disney can make the interviewee very nervous. All of my interviewers are very adept at understanding how candidates feel and we’re Disney so we’ll give candidates a great experience while they are interviewing. All colleges have a career center and many if not all offer opportunities to brush up on interview skills. We recommend applicants take advantage of opportunities to prepare for interviewing. We don’t ask tricky psychological questions, rather we want to get to know the individual. We recommend candidates be themselves and answer honestly. Since most candidates will have experienced our products it’s useful for candidates to think about what they would do if they were the employer.

“We are looking for outgoing individuals who would be great representatives of our brand. Be thorough, prepare for the interview and take advantage of opportunities to brush up on interview skills.” What advice do you have for students who not only aspire to be an intern, but who dream of working full time at Disney after graduation?

Barczak: “It’s all about collecting experiences. Let’s say a student participates in the Disney College Program in a guest-facing role – we know that these roles are hard work. Our parks are incredibly popular with guests, and our guests have very high expectations. Guests expect efficiency and friendliness, and we have an obligation to create the magic we promise. Students in a Disney College Program should take advantage of every opportunity to learn, to ask questions; we look for students who are hungry to learn and to develop. When we are considering someone for a fulll-time opportunity and we learn that the individual has a positive outlook, that they’ve taken classes and seminars, that they’ve networked, that just makes the candidate more attractive for those opportunities.” What are some of the takeaways from students who have participated in a Disney internship experience, what they experienced vs. what they expected?

Barczak: “We’ll hear that students learned the value of hard work, of responsibility, and of being part of a team. Students also talk about the ‘Disney Magic’, the interaction with guests and meeting people from around the world. We hear frequently about the networking opportunities with Disney staff from other lines of business. And we hear about the friendships that develop with students from around the country and the world.”

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