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Fighting for the job

A look into the history and significance of internships

Employers expect to hire 7 percent more interns this year than they have in years past, according to a report released last Thursday by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Despite the increase, experts predict students will compete now more than ever to acquire internships, following the popular idea that such work is necessary for students who want a successful career after graduation.

The rise of the internship\nIncreased interest in the realm of internships may be related to growing concern among students about life after college.

"I think students are increasingly worried about what it is they are going to do after college and increasingly want to feel as if there's a professional world out there that they can go into," said Howard Singerman, chair of the art department.

This wasn't always the case, however. Tom Fitch, associate dean for career services and employer relations at the Commerce School said in the past, "it was more acceptable to show that you were spending your summers ... working in a summer job and making money as opposed to feeling the pressure to have a career-related internship."

Fitch estimated that 70 to 75 percent of University students presently acquire one or more internships before they graduate - a significant increase from the estimated 40 to 50 percent of students who participated in industry-specific internships 15 years ago.

710 University students submitted applications to the University Internship Programs this year, Program Director Karen Farber said. UIP is a program which coordinates the "academic and administrative components" of internships for the University's students, according to the program's website.

Internships seem to have become more attractive for employers as well as students.

"I have noticed an increase in both the employers' interest in offering internships, recognizing that it's an excellent way to identify full-time hirers; and at the same time, [an increase in students' interest], recognizing the benefit of having that work experience before committing to an employer," Fitch said.

One indication of this rise in hiring is that on-Grounds interviews began earlier and occurred more frequently this year than in the past, Fitch said. Not only have these interviews replaced the nepotism of the past, Fitch said, but they also have made students more conscious of such prospects.

"Students see the activity of the employers, so from peers and other professionals they hear that gaining that work experience through internships will make them more competitive when they look for full-time employment," he said.

Samer Hamadeh, co-author of The Princeton Review's "The Internship Bible" and co-founder of, a resource for job searching, cited changes on the employer side as well as the fact that "companies are more willing to give interns real work now," as opposed to mindless busy work. He added that the brand name of the internship does not matter. "The reality is, any real work experience in an office or in some real world situation is key; do something even if you're just working in a small little company," he said.

A new generation of interns\nJill Rockwell, assistant dean of student services at the Batten School, said the growing interest in internships also could be explained by the characteristics of the current generation of college students. "Research shows that the millennial generation is both more public service-minded and more experiential," she said. "[They're] more driven by having meaningful tactile experiences and in making [and seeing] the difference themselves."

Rockwell added that while "older generations were more accustomed to and interested in getting the gold watch and staying with the same employer until retirement, this generation doesn't necessarily subscribe to the one-employer-for-life mentality." Instead, the millennial generation wants to "experience all that they can in order to make informed career choices, firmly believing that their first job might not be their last," Rockwell said.

As a result, students are going after internships earlier in their college career.

"Now it seems like people come to college and it's freshmen that are looking for internships," as opposed to the previous prominence of third-year acquisition of internships, said Matt Stewart, co-founder of National Services Group, a business which operates College Works Painting, SMJJ Suites and Empire Community Painting. College Works Painting is a national organization which trains college students to become entrepreneurs through paid internships in which they lead and manage their own painting of houses as branch managers.

The quality of interns also is increasing, which raises the stakes, he said. "When there's a recession, I get better people because other [businesses] aren't hiring anymore," Stewart said.

The pros and cons of internships\nCollege students' ignorance of the range of job opportunities available can be "a pretty scary thing" for them, Stewart said.

Internships can be useful in narrowing down options.

They "offer college students an opportunity to try out what it is they think they want to do for the rest of their lives," so that if they hate it, they can change their path, Stewart said. "It saves them from years of misery."

Third-year College student Aly Searles will work with Altria in Richmond this summer as a brand management intern. Searles accepted the internship offer because "[Altria] was offering a very in-depth immersion into the brand management world and offering a lot of technical training and opportunities for me to get my feet wet in world of brand management," she said. Searles added that she hopes the internship will help her decide whether to pursue a career track in the business world.

Assoc. History Prof. Herbert Braun agreed that internships are useful as a way "for people who are doing pretty well to get into job slots ... and become known - to get some experience to then perhaps get a job right then and there."

Braun said internships are typically available only to the privileged, however. Because they are often unpaid or poorly paid in cities which are costly to live in, internships are not an option for relatively poorer people, he said. "It's a way for those who have to get more," Braun said. "I think what the private sector and public sector should be doing is trying to open [themselves] up at the bottom level to people who do not have many of the opportunities that students at [the University] have."

Advice\nAlthough some companies tend to give interns menial tasks, John Katzman, founder of the Princeton Review and CEO of 2tor, Inc., said smaller companies often give interns more responsibility. "Those are fabulous opportunities ... for the business to get the best thinking out of people who are every bit as smart as they're going to be," as well as "for students to get a tremendous amount of insight into how to build a great company," he said.

As for the future of internships, "they're more and more desirable as jobs get more and more difficult to land for our students," said Andrea Press, chair of the University's Media Studies department. "That little edge that [Media Studies students] get from having an internship is important."

In the internship game, an independent and proactive attitude is what makes the necessary difference.

"It's so clear when somebody has that mindset of 'pouncing on the loose ball,' and sees it and jumps ... as opposed to waiting to be told what to do," Katzman said. "What we're looking for in an intern is someone who is high energy and smart, and proactive."

Because many companies are too large to manage internships effectively, students requiring the least amount of direction will have the most successful internships. Katzman noted that "it's all about mental agility; it's not who's best at calculus or has the fastest CPU speed; it's who approaches problems in an actual way."

Passion is another good guide when it comes to applying to internships.

"Walk into something you can be enthusiastic about, into a business that appeals to one of your passions," Katzman said. "I think your passion will take you from there."

Stewart stressed a need to "do what you have to do today so you can do what you want to do tomorrow," pushing students to search passionately and profusely for internships.

"Getting an internship should be thought of as a job," Katzman said. "If I got out and turn in 20 resumes a week and turn it into a 20 hours week," an internship search becomes a job, Katzman said, insisting this would ensure internship offers. "The finish line is not when you get into college," he said. "The starting line is when you get into college."

To be successful, Hamadeh, author of "The Internship Bible," also urged students to "network and be very persistent in calling and emailing."

It is important, however, to learn how to walk the fine line between pestering and obtaining the desired results.

"It's sort of an instinctive thing," Hamadeh said. "You have to find a connection, find that angle; and know how to phrase" what you wish to say so that the person remembers you.

But it is also important to realize that formal internships are not the only option for students interested in furthering their career prospects.

"[While] some summer jobs are obviously just pure summer jobs, a summer job in a retail store could very well be perceived as an internship, especially if the person was [interested in marketing]," said Jim McBride, executive director of the office of University Career Services.

Katzman suggested entrepreneurship at the college level as an alternative to internships.

"There are a million opportunities to build a small company, and if you do it right, it could actually pay some bills," he said, adding that a student would learn just as much as they would interning.\nIn the end, experience may be important, but it doesn't have to be in the form of an internship.

"It is imperative that students recognize the benefits of spending their time wisely and not automatically assuming that [what they do] has to be labeled a formal internship," Fitch said. "It's developing those skills like customer service, organizational skills, time management that can all be enhanced through a variety of summer jobs"


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