Monday, October 21

Internships provide a competitive upper hand

Despite the hassle of applying and lack of pay, many students seek what may open future doors

With the start of the new year and a new quarter, some students are beginning to stress about the dual rigors of their hefty academic curricula and the approaching deadlines for summer internships.

Many third- and fourth-year students, along with ambitious underclassmen, are having to worry about the additional challenges of vying for coveted internship positions.

Most students who apply for internships hope to gain rudimentary experience in the working world before graduation to ease the abrupt transition to a full- or part-time job.

Corporate recruiters have become a visible presence on college campuses. In the past few years, competition among representatives for undergraduate interns has become much more dogged, said Kathy Sims, director of the UCLA Career Center. This fact is especially visible from the increasing number and caliber of recruiters at career fairs and from the UCLA Career Center Web site.

The annual Internships for Bruins Fair was held on Wednesday.

The fair was designed to give students an opportunity to introduce themselves to corporate representatives eager to bring young, fresh minds into the fold, Sims said.

“(The recruiters come) looking to engage students and get them on board with corporate culture and their business models, grooming them for future full-time employment,” she said.

According to Sims, many companies have over a 50 percent success rate of matriculating their interns to permanent positions after graduation.

A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that 62.5 percent of new college hires in 2006 did an undergraduate internship. It also indicated that 83.8 percent of companies have recruited interns in the past.

The recruitment process, Sims added, has become very intense and highly competitive, as recruiters look for the best, brightest and most committed interns.

As a testament to the growing corporate market for interns, the fair, which was originally designed to accommodate only 30 companies, hosted 47 on Wednesday, Sims said.

Many undergraduates, such as Lydia Kim, a third-year psychology and political science student, are hoping to get an internship to make sure they’re in the correct major.

“I think it will help me see if my major is really suited to what I want to do for a living,” Kim said.

Working with older, experienced professionals, she said, helps you navigate potential career paths.

But the application process is extremely difficult. Many students complain of economic problems with internships.

A student’s existing income or family background often dictates what kind of internship they are able to apply for, said Kimberly Ayala, a third-year English student.

Many low-income students say that they have to find paid jobs to help defray the high expenses of housing and education. They simply can’t afford to take unpaid internships.

However, Sims said that many companies are starting to diminish this problem by adapting to students’ needs.

“A lot of organizations that relocate students actually accommodate them and subsidize their housing,” she said.

Kim, who is currently applying, is one student who will be helped by these courtesies.

“(The ones I’m applying to are) very accommodating,” she said. “Most of the ones I’m looking at pay for air travel and cover some of the costs of housing.”

Students like Kim say that it’s very important to get early experience in some kind of job. When the time for applying for a real, post-graduate job comes, companies want to see that the applicant has a genuine interest in their field.

But many students, like Ayala, say that it’s tough to complete the applications because they are due in the middle of an academic quarter. “There’s a lot to deal with during that time,” she said.

Besides the problem of family income, the challenge of finding people willing to write letters of recommendation stands in the way.

“It’s tough to ask a professor or anyone else for a letter. It can be chaotic, hectic and very intimidating, especially if you don’t know them well,” Kim said.

Robert Benkeser, a first-year political science student, was lucky enough to evade this problem. His applications, he said, didn’t require him to submit a letter. For many people, however, letters are obligatory, and getting them can be hard.

For Sims, the students who are able to get pre-graduate internships are ahead of the pack. People without job experience, she said, will have to display something pretty special in order to contend with those students who already have experience in a corporate environment.

Kim said she thinks her summer internship will give her invaluable practical experience, enabling her to test the waters of the working world.

“It’s difficult to juggle my academic obligations with all of these applications,” she said. “But it’s worse if you graduate without any job experience.”

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