Are Internships The Golden Ticket Out Of The Recession?

InternshipsWhat generation has been more devastated by the Great Recession than the one just entering the workforce? Though they have been pilloried for their sense of entitlement, the members of the millennial generation are the envy of no other for the challenges they face in establishing themselves in this professional environment.

There's perhaps no greater illustration of their professional plight than two statistics from a July 16 report in The New York Times, entitled "Growing Up, Then Going Home." Since 2009, 40 percent of 20-somethings have moved back in with their parents at least once. Meanwhile, the median student debt load for the graduates of the classes of 2006 to 2009 is $20,000.

What are these graduates to do? The reality is that by now they are more than accustomed to balancing these gloom and doom reports with the knowledge that a full 60 percent haven't moved back home. There's still room for the lucky few to make it on their own.

What sets them apart? Of course, the traditional attributes that all employers prize still matter but, according to a recent report by Rutgers University, that summer internship you spent fetching coffee might make a difference after all.

"Students who completed internships during the course of their degrees earned a median salary $6,680 higher than those who did not," says a PR Newswire release that accompanied the Rutgers report.

Not surprisingly, it's not just landing the internship, but your performance during that short time under the klieg lights, that can make the difference between preparing for mom's basement or a trip to the local IKEA store to furnish your new apartment.

"Landing an internship and completing it successfully isn't enough, in and of itself, to convert the experience into a job offer," says Mercy Eyadiel, executive director of employer relations at Wake Forest University. She told PR Newswire: "How students end their internship is often the difference between a successful experience and a less fruitful one."

Eyadiel went on to list five important tasks that all interns should complete before their experience is up. Her checklist is in line with the advice given by most experts in the field:

  1. Know where you stand. Be proactive and request feedback from your manager and co-workers.
  2. Communicate your interest. Don't assume that your manager knows you are interested in working for their organization. Let them know!
  3. Stay connected. Use LinkedIn to stay in touch with former colleagues and managers.
  4. Help make introductions. Now that you are familiar with what your employer cares about, find ways to help them make connections.
  5. Show appreciation. Send a handwritten thank you note to your manager and other colleagues who were helpful during your experience.

Historically, internship opportunities are offered through college recruitment centers. But as TheWall Street Journal reports, there have been fewer there in the downturn. In 2010, nearly 78 percent of employers affiliated with the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported conducting on-campus interviews, down from about 89 percent in 2007. And when companies do come on campus they are looking to hire interns in place of full-time employees. As an example, the Journal cited Boeing, which has 1,100 paid interns across the company, up from 900 last year and 600 at the height of the recession. Most are undergrads, and four out of five should expect a formal job offer at the end of their internship.

Filled With Potential

While interns have been known to chafe over their semi-invitation into the dining room of the workplace, many have benefited from the rite of passage. Regis Philbin famously launched his career as an NBC page. But of course it's not just celebrities. Just this past week, a paean to the internship experience was served up on the blogs of the Huffington Post. Entrepreneur Tory Burch sang the praises of her summer internship at Christie's. She credits the experience with giving her the confidence and knowledge to launch her New York-based sportswear line.

"I've always had a strong appreciation for the art world -- it was the reason I studied art history in college. Yet, it wasn't until I interned at Christie's in New York when I gained that real hands-on experience," she wrote. "Being there helped me understand even more about the world of fine art -- creativity, technical skill and business."

Of course, the potential of the internship to launch a career predates the recession. A 1998 report from The New York Times, which came at the height of the Clinton-era boom years, spoke of a "world ... [being an] employment oyster" and companies not being able "to find enough people to fill the jobs" in information technologies. While that digital sector remains among the most secure after the Great Recession, its entrants were nevertheless encouraged to pursue internships even then.

"Internships can provide an important edge," Betsy Collard, director of programs at the Career Action Center in Cupertino, Calif., was quoted as saying in the report. ''You'll be able to demand more and get farther faster when you do graduate,'' she added. "The training also helps build your comfort level with the working world, reducing the chances of falling on your face later."

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