Categorized | Student

Is the Internship Dead?

Posted on 03 November 2008

It’s your junior year in college: Can you find the campus career center? Are you interested in an internship? Knowing how and where to land a good internship before graduation could be your ticket to professional success. But some soon-to-be graduates–particularly those majoring in critical skills professions like nursing, teaching, and information technology–are passing up internships. They don’t think they need internship experience because of the great labor market, because the world is full of 20-year-old millionaires and eager recruiters.

Are Internships Becoming Obsolete?
In fact, a recent study conducted by the International Journal of Manpower found that many college graduates see little correlation between internships and future workplace success. Yet a small school of naysayers, career counselors, and workplace consultants believe internships are still alive and well. “I think internships are here to stay,” says Todd Raphael, an HR consultant. “Employers place just as much value in internship experience now as they ever have. After all, it is the Information Age, so knowledge and skills are more important than ever. Education–even higher education–doesn’t always provide the right amount of either. On-the-job training is left to pick up the pieces.” Raphael believes that internships are getting a bum wrap due to the supply and demand of certain high-profile industries.

“In Silicon Valley, companies are finding it tough to bring on college students as unpaid interns when they’re hiring a lot of young people for well-paid positions,” says Raphael. “As a result, unpaid internships may be on the decline overall in IT. In Washington DC, however, where there’s a huge supply of people who want intern jobs on Capitol Hill, senators and congressmen can get by paying nothing.”

Despite a small school of naysayers, most career counselors and workplace consultants believe internships are alive and well.

An Individual Basis
So, how do recruiters feel about recent grads with great grades and extracurricular activities, but no internship experience? Raphael believes that an internship may or may not matter to recruiters–it all depends on their client’s specific job need. “Do they want someone they can train?” he asks. “Or who has a solid work ethic, enthusiasm, and works well with others? Do they need someone tonight who knows Perl and can help fix the Web site? In the latter case, they’re more apt to go for someone with an internship under his belt.

“If a company wants a management consultant to boost the bench–someone who can learn the ropes and move up–they don’t necessarily need an experienced applicant. On the other hand, if they need someone to meet with a client the next day, they’ll probably look for some internship or co-op experience.” For the recent grad with little or no internship experience, Raphael advises they prove themselves by putting together a concrete set of ideas and suggestions on how they will help the company. “It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong. What matters is that you’ve shown you can think like a CEO. People in control will see that you’re not thinking in abstractions, but dealing with real business problems, developing solutions, and getting business results.”

The most rewarding internship experiences may be found in small, growing businesses. “In a fast-paced environment,” Raphael adds, “they’re going to need you to fill in the gaps. You’re probably going to receive greater opportunities at a smaller company than you would at a large firm.”

Looking for That Career Boost
Raphael knows that an internship catapulted his own career. “I did internships for the governor of Ohio, Senator John Glenn, and a lobbying firm in Washington DC. I was basically acting as a full-fledged employee–a lot of the people at some of these jobs barely knew I was an intern.”

The tight labor market, he says, is no excuse to shun internship and co-op opportunities. In fact, the right kind of experience could be the one factor that moves your resume from the “maybe” pile to the much leaner “definitely” stack.

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