For months, senior Rachel Morrissey polished her resume, networked with family and friends and diligently applied for dozens of jobs, hoping to snag a full-time graphic design position.
When nothing worked, the studio art major shifted her search and eventually landed a six-month unpaid internship at a Connecticut stationery company.
“An internship seemed like the better route,” she said. “A lot of the firms that I want to work for just don’t have the money to hire and train new people.”
She’s not alone.
As companies slash full-time jobs nationwide and clamp down on campus recruiting, experts say a growing number of seniors are turning to internships to fill the gap between graduation and permanent employment.
Such an arrangement might have been unthinkable years ago, when students had ready access to a slew of job openings, but it’s becoming more common, especially in fields such as journalism, public relations, communications and non-profit management.
“Things have tightened, retracted, so much,” said Ray Clere, director of the Office of Career Services at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “I think students are aware that certainly the opportunities are a bit fewer than they would have been.”
While post-graduate internships remain far from the norm, career services officials say such positions are taking on new importance among employers.
For the first time in three years, for instance, postings for internships surpass those for full-time jobs at the campus-wide Career Development Center, said Justin Grossman, an associate director at the center.
“We’re seeing a lot more internship postings over job postings,” he said. “That’s a huge shift.”
In 2006, full-time job openings outweighed internships three to one in the Career Development Center, Grossman said. Now, that gap has disappeared.
Such a change makes sense as companies look to fill positions in an uncertain economy without committing to a full-time hire, said Steven Rothberg, the president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com.
With internships, both the student and the company can test each other out, he said.
“Both sides have an easy out where they can hold their heads high,” he said. “So, it’s a very low-risk way of getting through the next few months and hoping that conditions improve.”
But for some seniors, taking a post-graduation internship can be downright demoralizing, especially if they’ve already interned elsewhere in the past.
Morrissey, the studio art major, completed three prior internships during college and thought she’d finally accept a full-time position this summer.
Instead, she’s moving back to her home in Connecticut while she completes her graphic design internship.
“I find it very disappointing,” she said. “I thought going to college I’d be able to get something after graduation, but I’m doing the same thing I was doing during college and in between high school. It’s a bit of a letdown to work this hard and have to move back with my parents.”
Yet career counselors caution against thinking of internships as dead-end, temporary gigs.
In most cases, they can be a way into a company, even if the organization isn’t hiring at the time. Internships also provide crucial opportunities for networking and learning
new skills, Rothberg said.
“The vast majority of employers that hire interns want those interns to become permanent employees,” he said. “It’s costly to hire an intern ... to bring somebody on for three months and say goodbye to them is really not very productive.”
Corporate recruiters agree.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car typically hires about 2,000 interns annually, five of which come from IU, but considered dropping its internship program as the economy soured.
“We did have a discussion, from an economy standpoint, ‘Are we going to have an internship this summer and is this something we want to do?’” said Jamie Meyer, an Indiana recruiter for the firm. “And the answer is ‘absolutely.’”
Internships provide a pool of fresh talent for the St. Louis-based company, she said, and let students get a feel for the firm.
“Fortunately, we haven’t slowed down,” she said. “We’re still hiring for full-time opportunities as well as our internship program over the summer.”
But, in some cases, internships might be the only path into a career field.
Susan Simmons, coordinator for the Department of Kinesiology’s Career Center, said it has been common for students to take on multiple internships, including some post-graduation, before accepting jobs in sports communication, sports marketing or exercise and physical science.
The same goes for positions in advertising, public relations, broadcasting and journalism, said Marcia Debnam, career services director for the School of Journalism.
Before seniors can land a full-time offer in those fields, they usually have to intern somewhere, she said.
“It’s always been rare that a majority of journalism students would have full-time jobs secured before graduation because the nature of media and media-related industries,” she said.
But this year, she said she’s seen a strong spike in organizations looking to hire interns post-graduation, often without pay.
“What I am seeing, to my horror, is that a larger number of students are taking not only internships, but unpaid internships,” she said.
While discouraging, some seniors are looking at the positive side of unpaid positions.
Senior Amanda Leavitt, a business major, will head to the environmental firm
Earthwatch in Boston for a long-term internship.
Even though she won’t make money, she said she knows the position will jump-start her career.
“I think it’s a really good stepping stone,” she said. “You’re going to get a huge network from this. Instead of getting paid, that was kind of my big benefit.”