In today’s job market, internships are about more than developing skills and glimpsing a specific industry or company. Interns now want something tangible from their work experience – namely, a full-time job. And employers seem to agree.
Many companies recognize internships as one of the most effective recruiting tools available to them, positioning interns as trial employees. Training a pool of interns the same as entry-level employees and offering positions to the best of the lot costs much less than a failed hire. In short, an internship can be a win-win situation for all involved.
The best-case scenario
According to a poll conducted by InternsNet.com, “full-time-job access” is the number one offering students would like from an internship (over mentor programs, team building, and training programs). “I accepted my internship knowing that 99 percent of the people get offered jobs after the internship,” says Mark Rosen, 24, who interned at Arthur Andersen the summer before his senior year at the University of Vermont.
In college, many of Rosen’s professors stressed the importance of internships as a route to full-time jobs. Sure enough, on the last day of his internship, the consulting firm offered Rosen a permanent position – plus a $1,000 signing bonus if he accepted before November and a promise that his salary would keep pace with the market over the course of the school year. He signed on the spot.
The real bonus for Rosen, however, was bypassing the aggravation and time commitment of conducting a job search during his senior year. “I saw my friends, especially my accounting friends, have to go down to Boston and New York for interviews all year,” he says. “Meanwhile, I just kept getting letters in the mail telling me I’d gotten another raise.”
Is that your final answer?
Many consulting, accounting, and investment banking firms design internships to snag permanent employees, but these aren’t the only industries that provide interns access to full-time jobs. Jason Landstrom, 25, took an internship at a leading global agricultural and financial company and was the only intern at his location. A week before his internship ended, he too received a job offer.
Unlike Rosen, however, Landstrom held off on accepting. “I wanted to think about both the job and the industry. I didn’t want to commit right away because I had a sense that maybe there would be something else out there that would be better for me,” he explains. So Landstrom spent the majority of his senior year job searching. In the end, though, he accepted the original offer. “I think if I hadn’t looked, I would have questioned my decision,” he says. “When I actually graduated, I had shopped around and was much more comfortable with what I was doing.”
Both Landstrom and Rosen maintain that internships are the best way to know what you’re getting into with a full-time job. “I trained the same way and did the exact same things as I would as a first-year [employee],” says Rosen. “When you’re working full-time, you don’t get pampered like you do as an intern, but [an internship] is definitely a taste of what’s to come.” Rosen’s firm took him and his fellow interns to Red Sox games, comedy shows, and lavish dinners throughout the summer in hopes of recruiting them post-graduation.
But if your internship is more about grunt work than grand social outings, fear not. It will still give you the chance to know the people you work with and the company culture – two of the most valuable pieces of knowledge for any job seeker. Use this knowledge to honestly evaluate your internship. Just because you get a job offer doesn’t mean you have to take it. If nothing else, mentioning the pending offer will impress other employers, as will your experience-based reasons why another company would be a better fit for you.
Everyone’s a winner
Employers benefit from this deal as well. “One of the big goals is that you hope these people like the internship well enough that, unless they screw up in some way, they get an offer when they graduate,” says Marty Barrett,* an analyst at a boutique management consulting firm in Boston. “At the very least, you hope they spread the word to their friends when they get back to campus, saying, ‘It’s a great experience if you’re looking for this, this, or this.'”
Each year, Barrett’s company offers full-time jobs to approximately 75 percent of its summer interns, but Barrett describes the internship program more as a “feeder process” than a screening process. “Interns are buttered up in a lot of different ways, by the events that they’re taken to, by the way they’re not crushed with work. Most know that they’re getting wined and dined in hopes that they’ll have a positive impression of the place and want to join it.” In short, companies are looking not only for strong candidates, but a little brand recognition back on college campuses as well.
How to play the game
Haven’t received a job offer yet? This may not be a bad sign. Publishing companies, nonprofits, start-ups, etc., often can’t hire full-time employees well in advance of a start date. Not securing a job offer at the end of your internship, then, doesn’t mean you won’t land one down the road. Keep in touch with managers, both through periodic email updates and by sending a resume and cover letter stating your interest in a full-time position.
But you also need to be a savvy employee. Barrett says that interns need to be diligent about all of their tasks, large or small. “Since you’re not given the same amount of work [as full-time employees], you have to do the little things right, like showing up for meetings, finishing tasks on time, and communicating effectively.” He adds that interns should be on their toes during company social functions. “It’s kind of weird because you’re in college and probably less mature, but you’re actually held to a higher standard than regular employees. Be professional, even if the company culture is casual.” This means watching how many beers you throw back at a company outing, as well as how appropriate for the workplace some of your weekend tales are.
With many companies, you’ll have to be proactive about making a good impression. Build relationships with as many employees as possible by taking advantage of mentor programs or asking higher-ups for informational interviews or lunch dates. It’s also a good idea to ask employers to write you letters of recommendation at the end of the internship. If they leave the company, you’ll want their support documented, and the letters will certainly help you land another job-or another internship. With all of these internship benefits, why not?
*Name has been changed.