Post-college Internship Paradox
A step toward a dream job or the life of a perpetual intern
By Monica Worsley
Georgette Eva didn’t expect to spend the first year-and-a-half since graduating as an intern, but she doesn’t really have a choice. She is on her fifth post-graduate internship since leaving Georgia State University with a degree in journalism and English.
“When I first started interning I was kind of just trying it out to see if it was a field I wanted to do,” Eva said. “With social media I liked it at first because the field is always changing, and it kept up my attention span. Then I wanted to blog more. I got more in administrative because I wanted to understand publishing.”
Eva’s internships have spanned social media and promotions, blogging and writing, publishing and administrative assistance. Since moving to New York City in mid-2013, Eva has narrowed her ideal position but admits her next step could lead her to her sixth post-grad internship.
“I really do like the blogging aspect and having to create my voice and the social media aspect,” Eva said. “My ideal position is having my own site and trying to run it. I know that’s thinking far ahead.”
For 20-somethings, post-college graduation plans go beyond just moving back in with their parents. Internships are finding their place on that list — for better or worse.
In recent years, would-be young professionals have noted discontinuity between their graduation requirements and the expectations of employers. They’re having trouble getting jobs in their chosen career path without additional training.
According to the Accenture 2013 College Graduate Employment Survey, almost two-thirds of 2011-12 college graduates reported needing additional training in order to obtain their ideal job.
The 2013 “Voice of the graduate survey” by McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm, echoed a similar sentiment. The survey found that one-in-three graduates from four-year colleges felt unprepared for the career world.
On principle, internships could have the potential to fill this void.
Nathan Parcells, co-founder of InternMatch.com, says internships can be mutually beneficial to unemployed young people and employers.
“Internships are incredibly valuable for recent grads because both sides are trying one another out,” Parcells said. “ … The definition of an internship is that it should have educational experience build into it. … When done the right way the internship should be valuable because it’s essentially commitment by the employer to teach you how to be effective in the workplace within a certain field. Which when you get hired full-time that expectation isn’t there as much.”
Kistie Evans’ post-graduation plans didn’t include a full-time job. She prepared herself to intern for a third time. The 2009 Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate had previously held internships at the White House and Passantino Andersen Communications. Her major in political science and minor in public affairs lent themselves to those undergraduate internships.
“There was an internship I applied for right after college because I didn’t get my offer at Passantino Andersen right away,” Evans said. “I applied for it and probably would have done it if I hadn’t gotten the job, because if you don’t have a job after college everybody tells you that, ‘You should consider getting an internship for experience.’ They say, ‘It’s a foot in (the) door.’”
But these post-college internships create a culture of young people perpetually interning — and waiting longer to land a job. It becomes a cycle. In order to get a job, one needs an internship, but in order to get an internship, that person needs to have previous experience or a former internship.
In the article “The Age of the Permanent Intern” in the Washingtonian Hannah Seligson says the internship-first job pyramid structure is already the norm in Washington, Los Angeles and New York City. It results in educated individuals interning without guarantees of advancement and a pay scale significantly lower than equivalent entry-level positions.
The economy also often pigeonholes promising young people into post-college internships.
Eva, and other interns in the Big Apple, bear the cost of living in one of the nations most expensive cities and pursuing her dream through internships in a couple of ways. She moved in with her aunt in Astoria and has simultaneously worked paid and unpaid internships up to this point.
Parcells says during slow economic times, internships become more common and are a popular mechanism for employers seeking young, talented people who are inexpensive.
“A lot of the time what we do find is grads intern more when they can’t find jobs because they’re looking for anyway possible to get their foot in the door,” Parcells said. “Small employers offer more internships in general because there is a need for hiring young talent, yet people want to try it before they buy it because people don’t have the band width to make bad hiring decisions.”
But internships can only offer so much.
“Interning will only show you the tip of the iceberg in most organizations,” Parcells said. “You’re never going to advance as deeply as a full-time role will give you the ability to do.”
There is no clear path for many college graduates right after commencement ends. Millennials without a job must make the hard decision as to whether they prefer to take an internship with no guaranteed job at the end, wait for a full-time position or possibly join the unemployed or underemployed.
Photo courtesy of Megan Berberich
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