College grads look to internships in competitive job market

Go to college, get an internship, graduate and then take a job – the process has been pretty standard for decades. However, these days a lack of job openings has created a competitive market for internships, some of which are being claimed by college grads.

Collin Howell, who graduated from the university in May, said he tried the traditional methods of finding work, but they failed.

“I went on CareerBuilder and FrogJobs and all of those kinds of things to see if there was any full-time work needed,” Howell said. “Really after about a month of looking at that, I realized that jobs are very hard to come by with limited experience.”

With the economy taking a toll on bottom lines and employers looking to cut costs, positions that would normally be entry-level jobs are now unpaid or low-paying internships, said John Thompson, executive director of Career Services.

“Students should not stop looking for an internship when companies say, ‘We’re laying off,’ or ‘We’re not hiring any full-time people,'” Thompson said. “They need somebody to work as a replacement for them. Sometimes the companies that are laying off are better opportunities to find work.”

When local advertising firm Range Online Media turned down another May TCU graduate, Thomas Scibona, in favor of one of their own interns for a full-time position, Scibona looked to gain more experience.

The job market didn’t have much to offer, so he took a door-to-door sales job to get experience.

In 2008, Scibona had an advertising internship in Milwaukee. He credits that experience with getting him in the door for interviews. But he said he began to look at internships as an option after graduation.

Thompson said Scibona’s path is becoming normal in a bad economic climate.

“We’re still seeing some paid internships, but there are companies that are trying to take advantage of the fact that there are not as many internships now as there were last year, and if you really want to do one, you’ll work for free,” Thompson said. “And in some cases that is really not a bad option if you want to get experience.”

A recent article in The New York Times highlighted services that are sprouting up around the country to place students or graduates into high-profile internships – for a fee.

Thompson said the Career Services department had not received any calls from those types of services to his knowledge. He said he was skeptical of how necessary the programs are.

“What’s unusual about some intern placement services is that they’re demanding the money before they start taking a look,” Thompson said. “My advice is that I wouldn’t pay somebody to do that, because there’s a lot of companies you can write a letter to and send a proposal for an internship … and they’re going to hire you.”

Business Education Compact is a non-profit internship placement service based in Beaverton, Ore. Tamra Busch-Johnsen is the executive director of the service and said placement services are necessary because of the value of internships to today’s student.

“The internships tell students why school is valuable, because they can see how what they are learning in school is applied in the workplace,” Busch-Johnsen said. “And for college students in a degree program, it helps solidify their career path in college.”

Scibona said he learned the value of an internship from his previous experience, but he also learned to temper his expectations heading into the workforce from another intern in his department.

“She had just graduated from Marquette business school at the top of her class, and she was stuck with an internship just out of school,” Scibona said. “So I understand that sometimes you’ve got to humble yourself and go to an internship before you can get promoted … That’s what I’m willing to do.”

Howell said his post-graduation internship at Zag Integrated Marketing Communications is rewarding.

“While it is an internship, there are only five of us here,” Howell said. “So as far as experience goes, I’m lucky to have actual responsibilities.”