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Internships: The New Entry Level Job

Go to college. Then, get a job.  The old adage may have passed its time.  Now, the meme may be more like, “Compete to get into college.  Go to college; work unpaid internships every semester starting your freshman year, and each summer take more internships, then, hopefully, you’ll get a job by graduation.”

According to a May 18, 2015 Washington Post article:

Companies are increasingly bypassing the spring job market, when they typically interviewed college seniors, and instead are hiring directly from their intern pools, offering jobs and forcing students to commit just weeks into their senior year. More than 70 percent to 80 percent of new hires at big companies like Facebook, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and eBay come through their internship programs now, compared to about half or less just a decade ago.

“There was a time when 50 employers came to recruit for interns,” Patricia Rose, director of the career center at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. “Now we have 180.”

Soon-to-be college students may no longer have the privilege of “figuring out what they want to be for the rest of their lives” for their first three and a half years of college, only to submit a blitz of applications for a career job in spring, just before graduation:

This new emphasis on the internship has upended the traditional recruiting calendar on campuses nationwide. Because more companies are hiring from their intern pools, fewer are coming to campus to hire seniors as full-timers. Employers want to shift even intern recruiting from the spring to the fall of junior year. “They want to wrap up talent before anyone else,” Rose said. 

In addition, today’s “entry level” position is equaling “internship”:

In some industries, including engineering, graphic design, communications, marking, and information technology, the share of internship postings is now a significant proportion of their overall entry-level job openings, the Burning Glass analysis found. That signals internships are increasingly the only way for new applications to get in the door.

Internship opportunities will vary by industry, creating pressures for college students to choose a major earlier in their college years.

At the event, [an internship recruiting event for Goldman Sach’s] I ran into a small group of sophomores who had come to gather intelligence and get a head start for next year. They were barely a quarter of the way through their college years yet they already were trying to figure out how to jump through the next hoop and line themselves up for a full-time job after graduation.

Plus, internships are purposeful opportunities for a company, and a burgeoning professional to flex their talents.  Yet, for many newly legal adults, the preparing for professional work may be a steep learning curve:

Even so, according to the Burning Glass analysis, internships are no longer about fetching coffee and making photocopies at most employers. They are real work.

Employers are demanding that more interns come to the position with specific skills already in hand. Students with technology internships are expected to know programming languages like SQL and Java, design interns need to be proficient in Photoshop and InDesign, and basically every intern needs to know how to manipulate a spreadsheet in Excel.

“A job posting is flagging a set of expectations, and they tell us that even internships are asking for really technical skills,” Sigelman said. “It puts a lot of pressure on students to learn on their own outside their core academic program.”

Although parents and teens may lament that “growing up” is faster than for previous generations, completing internships throughout college may be prudent. Or tempt becoming underemployed, adding to the third of all adults aged 24-35 who graduated from college and moved back into their parents’ home, as well as, join the increasing pool of college graduates delinquent and defaulting on the $1.3 Trillion total student debt in the United States.