Back-To-School Report: Internships Critical

As the roughly 12 million students enrolled in four-year degree-granting colleges and universities prepare to begin their fall semester over the coming days and weeks, many will attempt to supplement their classroom education with real-world lessons gained through part-time internships. Internships have never been more important, according to one workplace authority, but he warns that landing one has never been more difficult.

“The job market will continue to be tough for college students graduating next spring. Chances are good that it will still be tough in four years for those entering their freshman year this fall. Getting on-the-job experience through internships will be critical. Unfortunately, the number of internships nationwide has not returned to pre-recession levels and competition for those spots are fierce,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 42.3 percent of graduating seniors with internship experience received at least one job offer when applying for post-college employment. Meanwhile, only 30.7 percent of seniors without internship experience who applied for a job received an offer.

“As far as employers are concerned, what you learn in the classroom is not nearly as important as what you can learn on the job. When an employer sees an internship on an applicant’s resume, it immediately signals that this person has experience working in a professional environment with deadlines, objectives, expectations and with people of varying personalities, skill sets and at different levels of an organization,” said Challenger.

“College internship seekers can greatly improve their odds of success by going through their school’s career center or finding opportunities through professors. Many colleges and universities maintain close relationships with companies in their communities, so these will be natural targets for openings,” Challenger advised.

“Students seeking internships also should not hesitate to approach companies that are not officially seeking interns. Many smaller firms are so focused on day-to-day operations that establishing internship programs fall off the radar. However, if approached by an enthusiastic student about creating an internship position, many will acquiesce,” he added.

“Once an intern is on the job, it is critical to treat each day like a job interview. Internships frequently lead to full-time positions following graduation, but you must set yourself apart from your fellow interns. With the job market in recovery and employers slow to add new workers, it is critical that interns exceed expectations. Those who merely meet expectations probably will not get the full-time job offer,” said Challenger.

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