I felt guilty and depressed just sitting at home looking for jobs that didn’t exist.
So says Becki Gibney, a 28 year old who was laid off three months ago. Instead of sulking, she went out and got an unpaid internship.
The Wall Street Journalprofiles young professionals looking for work while simultaneously gaining experience and keeping busy in an internship. An important point to keep in mind if you pursue an internship as a more experienced candidate:
To land an internship after working elsewhere, you’ll need to explain why you’re willing to take a step back, says Constance Dierickx, a management psychologist at RHR International Co., an organizational-development firm in Wood Dale, Ill. “You need to talk early about the benefits of hiring you,” she says. “It works well to say that you’re looking to make a career change or to learn something new. It doesn’t work well to say I lost my job and don’t have anything else to do.”
The charming story of Lauren Jee, a Mississippi University for Women senior, and her experience as a State Department intern in Belfast. She proves that not only can English majors succeed in something other than “reading and loafing” (my dad was rather dubious about my choice of major back in the day), but also that top international internships and positions are not reserved for someone else. As Lauren herself put it:
“They told me it was really competitive,” Jee said. “I didn’t go to Harvard or anything, so I didn’t think I stood a chance.”
During my summers in high school and early in college, I worked in a frozen yogurt shop (Neon Lites), a bakery/sandwich shop (Big Sky Bread), and as a landscaper (Paramount Lawn + Landscape). These jobs were all about earning my spending cash and paying my dues—once I hit upperclass status (and certainly once I was in grad school), I figured that summers would be spent at lucrative and important internships.
As it turned out, none of the internships I had were anything close to lucrative, nor were any of them “important,” at least in the DC sense of the word (as in, “I’m wearing a suit and walking very quickly down the sidewalk: I’m important.”). But at least they looked better on my resume than “Frozen Yogurt Dispension Technician.” And at least I never had much real trouble finding one.
Not so for those for those internship-seeking this summer, says the Times:
School’s out for summer 2009, and instead of getting a jump on the boundless futures that parents and colleges always promised them, students this year are receiving a reality check. The well-paying summer jobs that in previous years seemed like a birthright have grown scarce, and pre-professional internships are disappearing as companies cut back across the board.
This is far from the end of the world, it seems—spending one summer internship-less is, in the grand scheme, not a major career setback. And for all the griping the students portrayed in the article do about “rolling out of bed at 11,” “loafing through the day,” and “sharing a few cheap beers with friends at night,” to me this sounds like a fairly un-horrible way to spend the summer.
What worries me are the grander implications: that those students who actually need summer work to survive (whether a substantive, paying internship or a job running the rollercoaster at Adventureland) won’t be able to find it (the article cites unemployment figures for 16- to 19-year-olds as hitting 24 percent, up from 16.1 percent two years ago) and that those entering the job market right now might see their ability to earn a competitive wage in the long term suffer:
Students who enter the job market during a recession can see their wages lag behind comparable students who graduated in better times for as long as 15 years, according to a recent study by Lisa B. Kahn, an economist at the Yale School of Management.
These are things worth concerning ourselves with. Canceling a road trip to Reno or being bothered by parents who want you to take out the trash? Not so much.
A friend of mine here in DC (a lawyer for a nonprofit that advocates for victims of international human trafficking) tells me that this summer will be a tough market for internships. A friend of hers, whose organization places students in political, nonprofit, and other internships in DC, is “desperately” looking for available positions. According to him, this summer is one of the toughest he’s ever faced finding placements for his undergrad interns coming to the Capitol City:
I regularly encounter tougher-than-normal times getting all of my students placed in internships. Summertime is by far the worst, because DC internships are extremely more competitive in the summer months than during other times of the year. But even given that phenomenon, this summer is proving particularly challenging, primarily for two reasons:
the Obama factor: It’s a brave new world. Everyone wants to be in DC right now. Applications at all of the agencies we work with have shot up by huge factors. When we met with the White House a couple of weeks ago, they said they received no less than 6,000 applications for this summer.
the economy: People who would normally be entering the workforce right now are turning to internships to (a) beef up their resume a bit more and (b) try to wait out the job slump. The result: a ton of people running around with Masters, PhDs, and JDs snatching up the spots that undergrads would normally be viable candidates for.
I post this not to be discouraging but only to present the reality of the situation. There’s no one, right solution for overcoming this reality, but I will say: it’s not going to be enough to rely on your stellar resume and your well-written cover letter to get you noticed (not when there’s 6,000 others sending in a great cover letter and resume too). Rather, step up your networking, your volunteering, your informational interviewing. Work any and all contacts, no matter how obscure (your parents’ dentist happens to know someone who knows someone who works at a great international nonprofit? Who cares how tenuous the connection—pursue it). The best way to get yourself noticed amongst the throng of other applicants is to become a known quantity. Get yourself in front of the decision makers and make it obvious that they can’t live without you.
I recognize that this is not an easy thing to do. But I really believe that making yourself a known quantity and proving your skills and your committment, not simply relying on how they look on paper, is the best way to stand out from the masses.
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