To Get a Job, Get an Internship. But First, Take a Number.

The New York Times, Education Desk
July 6, 2005
by Marc B. Zawel

Jennifer Tisser, 22, has been working at Kenneth Cole Productions in New York City for almost a year, a job she owes, in part, to a summer internship she held there while a student at Syracuse University.

“The internship was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” recalled Ms. Tisser, saying it had provided “an opportunity to prove myself.”

But getting that opportunity was far from easy.

“There was so me amount of competition, considering many of us were applying for the same internships,” Ms. Tisser said, referring to her fellow students. “Getting stressed out about the process was the last thing I’d wanted, but it was the summer before my senior year and obviously really important for me to get the best internship possible.”

So it goes for many college students, yearning for an edge in a competitive job market in which employers are relying more and more heavily on interns to fill their entry-level ranks.

The struggle for summer internships has never been more intense, according to Mark Oldman, co-founder of Vault Inc., a career counseling company. “In an uneven job market, an internship is, or can be, the deal closer for permanent employment,” he said. “Now, if you don’t have one, you’re at a competitive disadvantage.”

About 82 percent of graduating college seniors have completed an internship, either for pay or school credit, according to a Vault survey this year, the figure was 80 percent last year.

“They’ve moved from résumé enhancer to résumé necessity, and this is reflected in today’s frenetic process,” said Mr. Oldman, one of the authors of “The Vault Guide to Internships.”

Brian Tsao, a 21-year-old government major at Cornell University, said the process of securing an had been quite competitive this year, especially in the investment banking and financial fields. “Sending out your résumé to 25 companies and not hearing back from around 90 percent of them is kind of discouraging,” said Mr. Tsao, who is working this summer in the legal department at Citibank in Singapore.

Although his university offered resources to help him in his search, he said, “You really have to want to do it, dedicate the time and make it a priority.” Mr. Tsao said many students used family connections to better their chances.

“It seems to have gotten to the point that this is the only means of getting something lined up,” he said.

Mr. Oldman agreed. “If you’re lucky enough to have them,” he said, “connections play an important role in the process and really help.”

A 21-year-old student at George Washington University with an internship at a cable news channel, said: “A connection played a very big role in my getting a job this summer. It gave me an opportunity to have an interview when that otherwise might have been very difficult.”

The student, who insisted on anonymity because her parents helped arrange for the job, added, “For many internships, there are hundreds of applicants for a handful of positions, so obviously, knowing someone helps a lot.”

They might even help once an internship has begun: “You’re taken care of a little more at the company if you know someone,” the student added. “They might determine the kind of work you’re doing and make sure you’re staying busy.”

Whitney Fishman, 20, a student of mass communications at New York University, said it was important for her to have real work experience before graduating next spring. She has had a part-time internship at Buzz Marketing Group in Manhattan over the last year, and this summer, it will become a full-time job.

“The more you intern, the more doors you open for yourself,” she said. “If you don’t intern today, you will not get a job.”

And, when internships are so coveted, it takes more than connections, Ms. Fishman said: It takes “a bit of a luck and a lot of perseverance.

“But more than anything, it involves showing an employer that you want this job more than you want just any job.”

“The Web has made many people lazy,” she added. “It’s easy to go online and send out résumés everywhere. Students are overlooking the importance of personalization.”

Mr. Oldman of Vault agreed. “Most people feel that they’re the only ones without connections. In reality, most people don’t have them,” he said.

“In applying for internships, students should remember that less is more. It’s too easy to blast a résumé to 60 places, and the results you often get are proportionate to the work you’ve put in. If you cut the number of companies in half and craft those approaches, it really pays off.”

At General Electric, where 1,800 students annually are offered internships from a pool of more than 15,000 candidates, Steve Canale, manager of recruiting and staffing, offered similar advice.

“It is always beneficial to demonstrate that you know the company that you are applying for a job. It could be the one thing that distinguishes you from the pack,” he said.

And while referrals or connections might help a candidate, Mr. Canale said, they would not guarantee selection. “Each candidate stands on their own merit,” he said.

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