Internships Offer Real-World Experience in Tough Job Market

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As numerous reports point to layoffs and lower salaries, soon-to-be IT graduates are bracing themselves for a tight job market in 2009. Many, it seems, are turning to internships and co-op programs to gain real-world experience before securing their first full-time jobs.

Perhaps as a result, internship programs have become a major recruiting mechanism in recent years, said Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

“The real radical transformation occurred around 2005,” he said. “What happened is that a lot of companies decided that the college recruiting market became very competitive. It became a seller’s market when students got multiple offers. Firms started to place more of an emphasis on trying to get to these potential graduates earlier. Internships became a recruiting mechanism more than just cheap labor.”

For example, Purdue University and TechLift, an Ohio-based firm, have started the Interns for Entrepreneurship Northeast Ohio Program to match students with regional start-up tech firms. The internship program expands Purdue’s successful Interns for Indiana initiative, which launched in 2005. Through that program, 347 Purdue students were matched with internships with 140 Indiana start-up companies.

According to NACE’s “2008 Experiential Education Survey,” the percentage of interns who received job offers resulting from their internships was 56 percent in 2001; in 2008, that was 70 percent. Further, a recent survey of IT hiring managers by CareerBuilder.com found that 82 percent plan to hire recent college graduates this year.

Anand Chopra-McGowan, CEO of YouIntern.com, an internship search Web site, supported that finding.

“From a student’s perspective, from a recent graduate’s perspective, an internship is obviously crucial [and] definitely should be seen as a way into a company,” he said. “Companies are looking to hire many more interns than they have in the past, [not only] to fill bandwidth gaps they’re having because of layoffs, but also to test out any hiring practices that they have.”

Chopra-McGowan offered tips to help students secure an internship that’s a good fit.

“What’s crucial is to find some companies that are under the radar,” he said. “Often the best internship experiences and the most sure experiences that will get you a job happen at the companies that are not the biggest brand names in the industry. So that will be your first step: You make a list, you have all your companies on there, you have your reach ones — the biggest brand names — but you also have your smaller ones that may present a better opportunity.”

Chopra-McGowan also suggested looking beyond HR contacts to the company’s senior management and then seeking out connections between the executives and your own network of peers and professors. He also recommended attending regional networking events and joining professional associations pertaining to your area of study.

“It used to be that people would have an internship as a sort of a ‘nice thing to have’ on their resumes. Now it is very necessary,” Chopra-McGowan said. “[It’s] even more so [in IT] because one of the issues with the IT industry is that schools are slower to adapt their [curricula] to what’s happening in the industry. So a lot of times students leaving school and graduating from school want to be up-to-date. [Students] need to have real-world experience, [and] just a degree from school often doesn’t cut it. So that’s really why internships — particularly in IT, but overall — have become absolutely crucial.”

– Elizabeth Lisican, editor (at) certmag (dot) com

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