Paid or unpaid, students seek advantage

Janette Neuwahl

The Daily Northwestern

Last spring break, Communication senior Priyanka Khatri headed for Hollywood. But she didn’t go to gander at movie stars — Khatri was interviewing for a summer internship.

The self-funded trip bode well for Khatri. A few weeks later, Universal Studios called Khatri to offer her a position in their marketing department. It was an unpaid opportunity, but one that the Indian native just couldn’t decline.

“Being an international student, (U.S.) positions are difficult for us to break into, and the entertainment industry is difficult to break into for everyone, so for me it’s kind of a double problem,” said Khatri, who worked with production companies in Bombay during past summers. “I’m glad I did this before I start looking for full-time (jobs) next year because this summer taught me what I’m good at and bad at.”

Khatri is one of about 77 percent of graduates who leave school with at least one internship on their resume, said Beth Lundberg, one of University Career Service’s intern coordinators, citing statistics from a 2004 job outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Sixty percent of college graduates tend to have two internships, according to the poll. Numbers are not available for Northwestern graduates because most do not report job gains with NU, administrators said.

“My assumption is that Northwestern’s statistics are the same if not higher than 77 percent,” Lundberg said.

UCS Director Lonnie Dunlap agreed.

“More and more, students by their senior year have solid internship experience,” she said.

Dunlap noted that both internships and co-ops — temporary jobs — are crucial to build experience in industries from law to engineering.

“Business, finance, consulting — almost every area you can think of has some type of internship now,” Dunlap said. “They are of growing importance to professional development.”

In some NU schools, including the Medill School of Journalism and McCormick School of Engineering, specific career services are available to impart pre-professional advice on students.

In recent years, Lundberg said companies have expanded their pre-professional focus to shift from recruiting just juniors and seniors to hire freshman and sophomores.

“Companies have realized that to really get exceptional candidates, they have to look for students earlier than their junior year,” she said.

Companies also are coming to campus earlier — often during Fall Quarter — to firm up interns for the next summer by winter, Dunlap added.

“Students need to know the hiring cycle for internships in their own industry area and we can help them with that,” Dunlap said. “The main thing is for students to look early.”

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Mark Robinholt, president of Internships.com, said that internships have become a more prevalent part of life for college students during the past nine years.

So why are internships such an important asset for college students today?

“It shows a student interest in their career field as opposed to working at a minimum wage job,” said Robinholt, who created the Web site in 1998.

Internships also help students receive job offers. During the 2002-03 academic year, the 360 businesses that responded to NACE’s survey hired more than 38 percent of their interns and nearly 51 percent of their co-op students. NACE sent surveys to 1,085 employers.

The demand for interns is obvious.

Robinholt said Internships.com has more than 7,500 non-profit listings, whereas corporations and companies make up only 5,000 of the site’s internship postings. At NU, Lundberg said she and her co-coordinator Aimee Clum had at least 1,000 face-to-face appointments last year, not including walk-in consultations. This year the two are expecting even more students.

NU job placement experts say the development of the internship experience has helped make the process more beneficial for students.

Internships help students narrow down what’s desirable when they pursue actual employment. It also gives students a chance to make contacts that can guide them toward full-time positions. Khatri said her summer internship netted a wealth of contacts in the film industry.

CASH QUANDARY

But a problem some students encounter is that many internships do not pay, forcing them to get another job to pay for housing and food.

Typically, unpaid internships are offered at non-profits that don’t have the money or marketing internships where liability fears and corporate red tape make paychecks difficult for a company to offer, Lundberg said.

Medill Career Services Director Loraine Hasebe said that magazine and broadcast internships often are unpaid. In these cases, Hasebe urges students to intern part-time, then find another job.

“In our industries, the students need the internship for their resume so they are kind of in a Catch-22 if they choose to work out of the industry (for pay),” Hasebe said. “If they do that, it’ll be difficult to find a full-time position after graduation.”

This summer, Khatri had to rely on her parents for money because it was too hard to get another job, she said. Khatri said she often questions whether film marketing is right for her because of the pay cut during the summers, but her passion for the industry keeps her focused.

“I have no clue what my next step is going to be,” she said. “I’ll probably just pack up and go back to India — but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope something will come out of this.”

JUSTIFIED EFFORTS

Despite the often rough financial positions for students, the demand for internships will stay powerful as long as the job market stays soft, said Robinholt of Internships.com.

“Companies know students are banging at the door to get an internship, so they don’t have to offer much as far as a big hourly rate,” he said.

But the intense effort is still worth it, said career service counselors.

Said Lundberg: “(An internship) may not be necessary for every job, but it’s definitely going to make you more appealing.”

Reach Janette Neuwahl at [email protected],