Make flexibility an internship mantra in the down economy

March 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Posted in Finding internships, Job market | Leave a comment
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by Kathryn Jordan, Ph.D.

There is a new economic reality facing college graduates in spring 2010.  Last year students entered the job market in the worst recruiting season in over twenty years according to statistics cited by the National Association of College and Employers.  More candidates are available for the fewer employment options and salary offers are down.  The new reality is evidence of the rapid changes that have occurred in work environments.  Adapting to change is related to a person’s ability to embrace other options, and flexibility will be a key to success. 

The importance of securing internships has only increased as the economy has changed.  The latest statistics show that employers are anticipating hiring more interns this season. Students and others in career transition this year will want to leverage their internship experiences to enhance chances for full time permanent employment. Following a few key points will lead to success even in a difficult market:

  • Pursue a variety of organizational internship targets
  • Seek opportunities to gain new and different skills or certifications
  • Consider unpaid internships and supplement income with part-time jobs
  • Open the geographic target zone.

We know that internships are now arguably a necessity for students, and many are considering post graduate internships as a way to launch into a permanent employment option. So when setting internship goals this season consider how important it is to complete multiple internship experiences. Employers like to see not just one internship experience but several paraprofessional experiences. Experience is a gold standard in the workplace. 

Explore a variety of internship targets and expand interests beyond those big well known businesses and widen options to consider government, non-profit organizations, and entrepreneurial options.  This is critical in an environment when old reputations are being dashed.   Consider a wider variety of organizations by size.  More opportunities will exist in small and mid-size organizations than at some of the larger businesses that are waiting for market improvement before adding staff.  Also, in smaller organizations you can find richer and broader experiences than in some big formalized internship programs.

If an internship opportunity presents itself where it is possible to learn a new skill, grab it.  In a work environment where job titles and the methods of doing jobs change with the speed of technology, it is advisable to add new skills each year and to embrace these changes.  An internship that can expand skills and provide accomplishments for a portfolio is invaluable.  New skill development may be one of the biggest benefits from any good internship–even more important than the pay scale.

Be flexible when evaluating internships and do not rely on the hourly pay as the single determining criteria for the internship.  While being paid is important, it may be that significant experience, responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments can be found in organizations that are not in a position to pay an intern.  Many interns supplement their incomes by working a part-time job.

Expand the geographic target zone for an internship. Consider local, regional, national, and international options and how a variety of cultural experiences could broaden expertise.  Markets in China, Africa, Russia, and the Middle East are now just a mouse click away.  The ability to work effectively within different social, economic, and cultural milieus is becoming more important each year.  In fact the worldwide recession is evidence of how quickly the world has become closely interrelated.  Interns should look for experiences that stretch their normal boundaries and comfort zones.  

This changing economy is an opportunity for students to push their professional life forward with internship experience. Embracing change with flexibility will allow students to find a silver lining while they grow as professionals.

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