Everyone knows how valuable internships are to long-term career planning and ideation. Employers are reluctant to hire college grads who haven’t had work experience because by graduation time, the majority of students have had at least one internship.
But what about long-term career prospects? How often do interns get offered full-time jobs? I was heartened to see a report by the National Association of Colleges & Employers for 2012 stating that overall conversion rate for interns to full-time hires has hit an all time high of 58.6%.
The high conversion rate is consistent with what I heard from Maria Stein, Director of Career Services at Northeastern, who told me that more than 50% of their graduates receive offers from organizations where they’ve been coop students. Northeastern has the oldest coop program in the country, and all students participate.
Stein told me that every student takes a professional development course as part of the standard curriculum, to identify their skills and interests. Through conducting mock interviews on video and discussing issues in ethics, diversity and sexual harassment in the context of the job market, students are provided a good introduction to working life. But more specifically, as part of their coops, they will be required to perform in multiple interview settings and need to be prepared.
As a result, Stein says, “Students have an earlier understanding about leveraging their skills and negotiating salary. And importantly, they know they are bringing value. By their senior year, they are asking more concrete job and culture related questions, such as ‘How do I fit’ and ‘What’s my supervisor going to be like?’”
To get student input I spoke with Erin Johnson, a graduate of Boston University’s School of Communications, about her internships during college.
Erin had been interested in entertainment since middle school in Brooklyn, and by the time she entered B.U. she knew she wanted to work in television, and casting in particular. The B.U. in L.A. program was offered to majors in communications and marketing. Erin had always wanted to go to California, and entering the program in her sophomore year would allow her to finish college on time. Her major was television.
A core requirement of the program is to have at least 2 part-time or 1 full-time internships. Team leaders in the program provide contacts and students then apply on their own. Erin scored twice–an internship at Fox in Development, and then HBO in the Casting department—both paid internships.
Erin told me that at both Fox and HBO, she worked very hard and did a lot of networking. She says she “did a lot of crappy jobs nobody else wanted to do”. A self-described “pest”, she was always asking if her superiors needed help.
At Fox, she developed a close relationship with one of the assistants in the casting department. When Erin decided she wanted to remain in California, she was in line to take her colleague’s position when she was promoted to coordinator. Today she is the Assistant to the VP of Casting, serving as his personal and professional assistant, plus as administrative assistant for the entire department.
When I asked Erin which qualities she felt had enabled her successful transition from intern to employee, she told me, “I just do whatever it takes; it’s not about the glamour. It’s about laying the foundation. A lot of my friends see my job as someone who gets coffee and does lunch runs—but that’s what gets you noticed because it’s got to get done. People appreciate that. I have no problem getting coffee, doing the errands people think are unworthy of them. It’s the cycle of this business—I’ve talked to plenty of executives about the errands they had to run. Anybody in any industry has to pay their dues.”
One last point Erin made which I feel bears repeating: “There’s a lot of pride in my generation—not to say we shouldn’t have pride—but you need to realize that when you’re just starting out, you’re going to have to struggle.”