Internships suffering with economy

By Ashley Corinne Killough

It's that time of year -- when students tweak their resumes and mail applications by the dozens, all in hopes of landing that perfect summer internship.

But with companies laying off employees by the thousands, paid internships often become the first victims of the cost-cutting axe.

Dr. John Boyd, director of Career Services at Baylor University, said he hasn't seen internship markets this tough in a long time.

"And I think we're going to see this trend continue throughout the year," Boyd said. "Texas has been somewhat insulated, but that insulation is wearing thin."

Boyd points to the decline in the number of companies registered for Baylor's February 18 internship/job fair, which will have around 60 companies, compared to last year, which had 125.

"A lot of companies have backed off. They're uncertain. There's a great concern as to what is going to happen in the short term," Boyd said.

Several financial companies, consulting firms, and banks will be among the missing at the upcoming career fair.

Walgreens Company, the nation's top intern employer, hired an estimated 7,350 interns in 2008, down from nearly 8,000 interns in 2007, according to CollegeGrad.com. On the other hand, the number of the company's entry-level positions increased by about 600 in the same time period.

Coming in at second with the most interns, PricewaterhouseCoopers selected approximately 2,550 applicants, compared to 2,676 in 2007.

Boyd said that while some in the business sector are limiting internship offers, the engineering, science, and technology fields remain the strongest. He also credited the accounting industry as one that's remaining relatively stable.

"But even the Big Four accounting firms are laying people off," Boyd said. "These are tough times, and, personally, I don't think, right now, we're able to see the end of it."

Don't get discouraged, though, Boyd said. Opportunities still exist -- it's just going to take some extra work.

He recommends that students talk with professors in their departments, who might have connections or advice on internships, and start perfecting their resumes and honing their speaking skills in preparation for the internship fair. Professional attire and demonstration of credibility are a must, Boyd said.

"They should be on the top of their game plan and be prepared with an elevator speech on what they could bring to the table," Boyd said. "They must come across as distinctively competent because the competition is going to be severe."

Plainview senior Lindsay Collins spent hours doing research last year while looking for an internship, one that was required for her fashion merchandising major.

"I knew I wanted to intern at a magazine, so I found ones I was interested in and worked really hard to find out who to get in touch with about internships because they weren't advertised," Collins said.

After sending in her resume and work samples, Collins flew to New York for an interview with Seventeen magazine, after which the magazine offered her an internship.

"It was unpaid, but it was worth it because of the experience," Collins said. "And it looks good on my resume."

Despite her high-profile internship, Collins, who graduates in May, said she's not having as much luck job-hunting.

"No one is hiring. Everyone is cutting jobs," she said. "I've applied to nearly 15 companies, and I finally just heard back from one."

Many students are experiencing similar lulls as they seek out internships. And when supply falls and demand rises, the competition stiffens.

Internship placement programs, third-party firms that match an applicant with a company, are seeing a 15 to 25 percent increase in interest over a year ago, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Programs like the University of Dreams and Brill Street & Co. find both paid and unpaid internships for students according to their interests and talents -- but for a price that could range in the thousands.

"I wouldn't rule those programs out, but I'd be very careful and do a lot of research," Boyd said. "There are some reputable placement programs out there, but many of them are costly. Sometimes it's worth the cost. That's a determination each individual has to make."

Fast Track Internships, a consulting firm based in Highland Village, Texas, offers a service that doesn't place students in internships but assists them in finding around 100 internships, mostly unadvertised, at ideal companies. Once a list has been accumulated, the firm helps polish and print internship-focused resumes for the student to mail. Each client is guaranteed an offer for a cost of $799 for an unpaid internship and $999 for a paid one, or they get their money back.

"Fast Track is really invisible to the companies," said Steve Rodems, senior partner. "We're a way of helping the students make contact with those companies."

Rodems said he's seen around a 20 to 25 percent increase in clients this year. He attributes this to an already-rising demand among college students for internships in the last few years, as well as a growing concern over competition.

"I think the economy is very much on these students' minds right now, and they know if there are thousands out of work who have years of experience looking for jobs, then it must be really difficult for students looking for internships," Rodems said.

Fast Track encourages students to first try using university career centers, online searches, and personal connections.

"But if you've exhausted those three things and are still interested in getting an internship, then we can help students go after those unadvertised internships out there," Rodems said.

Boyd said the internship hunt may be more stringent than usual this year, but the intrinsic value of paid or unpaid positions can go a long way for a student's future.

"It's not too late to get started," Boyd said. "But I wouldn't waste another day. The time is fast approaching."

About the author:
Ashley Corinne Killough is a staff writer for The Lariat, a student publication of Baylor University.


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