With an increasingly difficult job market, college graduates are relying on internships
By James W. Wolf
When people hear the word ‘intern,’ they might instantly think of what they want from the nearest Starbucks. That’s the stereotype, right? Interns = coffee run! But is that all modern-day interns do – get coffee? In these tough economic times, it seems more like internships are simply becoming a necessary way of life for most college kids, because without one, more than likely, a job after graduation is out of the question. And that’s if you’re lucky.
But even for a lot of recent graduates, an unpaid internship is better after college than working at that local Starbucks. “It’s in my field of interest, at least,” is what many might say. Because isn’t getting coffee for people better than serving it?
Due to the economy and the increasingly poor job market for college grads, internships are becoming the new norm, quickly surpassing full-time jobs as the only option after college. According to the New York Times, one of the groups that have been hit the hardest by the recession is youth. “Among workers aged 16 to 24, the unemployment rate is almost 20 percent … some 4.4 million youths are currently unemployed.”
A $60,000/year job, plus benefits and a signing bonus right out of college? That’s so 2003.
Katherine Fernholz had a fair amount of difficulty finding a full-time job after graduating from Wittenberg University in 2010 with a degree in communications, so she did the next best thing by tatking a position as an intern with the Make a Wish Foundation of Illinois.
“I had been applying [for jobs] all through senior year,” she said. “Then I started my internship at Make a Wish … I just decided to take it because I hadn’t been having any luck in the job market, so I decided to intern and keep busy instead of working at a retailer or working an odd job.”
Fernholz continued to struggle in the job market as she kept applying for jobs during her internship. The only position she was able to garner was another internship at a magazine.
“I was excited to start my career and when things weren’t panning out, it was really frustrating because you’re sending in resume after resume and all these cover letters …” she said.
“In the economy right now, not only am I competing against other graduates, but I am competing against people who have recently lost their jobs who are more qualified than I am.”
Fernholz was recently hired for a full-time position in the communications department at a private high school in Chicago, and while she does credit her internships as one of the main reasons for getting the job, she said she got much more out of them in the long run than just a job.
“The opportunity to have real responsibilities as an intern – not just your standard fetching coffee – helped me focus on exactly what I wanted to do and that made me more confident,” she said.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the business world without interns. Many different companies rely on internship programs to recruit and hire high-quality employees. As the marketplace becomes more innovative, things are changing quickly and the best businesses are adapting accordingly. The recent trend for businesses to hire part-time workers or ‘trial-run’ employees isn’t going away any time soon.
According to Sylvie Stewart, a career advisor in University of Dayton’s Career Services department, “A recent survey of 247 Ohio-based companies tells us that 61% of them are using interns and co-ops as a recruiting strategy.”
“This percentage does seem to be higher than in the past,” said Stewart. “Internships are a great way for companies to test talent and are often a cheaper way to recruit.”
“Employers usually look to their interns first when hiring full-time positions,” she said. “They save on the cost of running recruitment ads and on the time it takes to find and interview applicants.”
Equally beneficial for the interns, Stewart said that her students get real-world experience and are able to test the waters in certain fields of interest.
Columbus-based blogger and Wittenberg graduate Sara McKinniss launched YoungProFashionable.com after noticing that a lot of people in college, over the last few years, were kind of unsure about what to do professionally in professional situations, including how to apply for jobs and internships.
“How to dress, or how to be interviewed; what’s appropriate to talk about in the workplace, what’s not …” McKinniss said.
McKinniss herself has plenty of real-life work experience through two internships under her belt. Following a two-year internship with the Miami Valley Health Improvement Council, her internship at SELF Magazine especially helped her realize her overall goal of what she wanted to study and what she ultimately wanted to do.
“They definitely helped me understand how I was applying what I was learning. The internships helped show me what the ultimate goal of my education should be.”
In her first full-time job out of college as the Account Manager for Wilt PR in downtown Springfield, McKinniss had the opportunity to be on the opposite side of internships by having her own interns. She said that interns in many small businesses like Wilt PR can have more of an impact than one might think.
“An intern inside of a small business is a great asset,” she said. “It gives you a perspective and an asset, in that you might think that there’s a way to do something, but they might have a different perspective. That definitely helps.”
One way that many local companies and small businesses tackle internship programs is to focus more on co-op positions than on internships. Co-op positions are loosely defined as full-time positions that can consist of multiple academic terms or rotations, and are similar to internship programs as being a ‘trial-run’ for a temporary employee.
Rick Cartwright, vice president of ITW Food Equipment Group, LLC in Troy, said they mostly hire students for co-op programs through universities.
“Our co-op programs are great for both parties. We get to take a look at potential employees, and [the students] benefit from being able to experience diversity throughout different departments and job functions within the company.”
Bethany Marquis, a civil engineering student at UD, interned this past summer with Innovative Medical Device Solutions in Vandalia. Of her time as an intern in their customer focus and quality department, she agreed that engineering co-ops are a “great way to create a long-stand relationship with a company.”
In her position, she spent her time analyzing capability studies and raising profit margins.
“Being that it was my first internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “Based on things I’ve heard from friends, I thought I’d be shuffling paperwork. But the position really exceeded my expectations. I got into morning meetings and private events, collaborated with project engineers, and had direct involvement with creating solutions for actual problems.”
Following her internship experience, Marquis said that it is crucial for engineering students to have internship and co-op positions under their belt before graduation.
“Co-op programs are pretty common for up-and-coming engineers,” she said. “If you don’t have experience when you graduate, you won’t get a job.”
Internships similar to Marquis’ are oftentimes seasonal. In the accounting industry, the tax staff is busiest between January and April 18 and hire extra interns during that time period to handle the extra workload. Dayton firm Battelle & Battelle, LLP hires such interns through local universities for seasonal work through this busy time.
Partner Gary Hunt said, “It gives students a chance to see what public accounting is like and also helps us out in our busy season.” Professional firms like Battelle & Battelle will focus on a certain major (in their case, accounting) but they don’t expect students to understand everything.
“Their real training starts the day they walk in the door,” Hunt said, but emphasized that they continue to learn more effectively and efficiently from that first day on.
Jim Pappadakes, a senior marketing and finance student at UD interned with a Cleveland-based professional services company called Vantage Agora Inc. As a sales and marketing intern, Pappadakes was frequently on the phones.
“My target market was insurance brokers, carriers and large agents,” he said. “I did a lot of cold-calling, which really helped improve my sales skills.”
Throughout the 14-week period, Pappadakes really enjoyed his time working with Vantage Agora.
“I thought it would be a lot of paper-pushing with a larger company, so I wanted to work with a smaller company to be more of an impact,” he explained. “The internship definitely exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot about my strengths and about effective sales tactics.”
On the creative side of small businesses, internships can be the most sought-after, but also the most hard to come by.
“We don’t take on more than one or two interns in the particular areas of our business,” said Ian Lawson, co-founder and creative director at local full-service web design studio Atomic Interactive. “We want to make sure there’s enough people to give [interns] feedback and give them guidance.”
Lawson and his team get a lot of their interns from the marketing department at Wright State University, which they have a close relationship with. They also get some of their great graphic design and artistic interns from an internship program through the School of Advertising Art (SAA).
“That one’s been wonderful,” Lawson said. “We’re always looking for new young talent, so we’ve actually hired a few that have come from the internships [with SAA].”
When it comes to that talent, Lawson said, it just depends on who walks through the door. “I mean, you have some interns that come in here and they’re really motivated, they’re talented, they’ve really got good work ethics … those are the ones who – with a little guidance and help – can be really beneficial,” he said.
Lawson maintained that having interns, no matter their skill level, is still a meaningful part of their business. “Being a small company, there are really highly experienced, really talented [employees] who have to pitch in on what you might consider ‘grunt’ work,” he explained. “Having those interns here helps free-up those talented people and helps them really focus on what they’re good at.”
However, Lawson cited, there have been a few circumstances where some of their interns have been so talented, that they have let them loose on real client work. It is these kinds of instances, along with an intern who works hard and is motivated, that can turn an internship into a dream job.
For many male students, interning at Playboy sounds like a dream. For Steve Mazeika, a former UD student, it was reality. Mazeika recently graduated from DePaul University in Chicago and started at Playboy as a PR intern in corporate communication, monitoring press coverage of different magazines, blogs, events, etc.
He said a lot of his responsibilities at first included ‘busy work,’ as a normal internship does, but soon he began getting more involved with important events. “All I wanted to do was make myself hard to get rid of,” he said. After just two weeks, Mazeika was asked to help with an event at Lollapalooza. “My boss asked me if I would mind picking up some Playmates and said, ‘Sure, no problem!’”
Mazeika was able to score a job with Playboy after his internship and he is currently working as a junior publicist. “Everyone should look into internship opportunities. These days, companies are relying more on interns and pushing them to have more responsibilities than ever before,” Mazeika said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to apply what you already know, learn more and gain experience before being fully committed.”
Teddy Hinnefeld, a recent graduate of Wright State, also was able to garner a full-time position after he interned at local IT company Qbase as a data analyst. Hinnefeld found the opportunity through a Wright State Career Services job search.
“At first, I interviewed over the phone with an HR person, then I met and interviewed in person with two managers … I expected to just get a feel for what a real job is like.”
Ted worked two or three full days each week. He said the position was loosely structured within the company, “The internship had an informal duration.
About every three months they decided to keep me around longer. After about a year, they hired me on full-time.”
Overall, Ted enjoyed his time with Qbase and appreciates the fact that they appreciated his work enough to hire him. “I started my career there,” he said.
“[The internship] was definitely a great thing … aside from waking up early on Fridays while still in college!”
Whether it’s trying to land a dream job, learning a new skill, avoiding being a barista, or just getting some real world experience, getting an internship as a college student or college graduate is a ‘must’ in today’s job market. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Betsey Johnson, Brooke Shields and Brian Williams all started out as interns. Interns in today’s business world can have incredibly bright futures and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. They might still be able to make that coffee run, but hopefully they can learn something when they get back.
Front cover and inside photo by Kevin Schelkun, cover model Cody Achter.
DCP guest writer James W. Wolf is a recent UD graduate and lover of Dayton. He is co-founder of the national entrepreneurship fraternity, Epsilon Nu Tau and runs a promotional company called KegFLY. Reach James Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jameswwolf.