PhotoIt's a jungle out there.

An improving economy coupled with hard-to-find talent have driven the number and quality of internship applications higher.

Add to that labor shortages, competition among undergraduates a change change in the work given to interns and you wind up with the growing importance of internships when it comes to finding a job after graduation.

“Internships are more important than ever, but not all internship programs are created equal,” according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Vice President Andrew Challenger. “Many employers do not have any type of strategy when it comes to utilizing and educating their interns. In these situations both the employer and the intern lose. It is critical that young people entering an internship program take a proactive approach to managing and maximizing their experience.”

While statistics about the number of internship positions held each year are difficult to come by, some estimates put the total between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000.

Currently listed on are more than 190,086 available positions from 120,288 companies located in 9,288 cities across all 50 states.

Internships translate to real jobs

Regardless of how many people participate in internships, the importance of these opportunities to career development should not be overlooked. A 2013 survey of graduates by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 63.1% of those who participated in paid internships received at least one job offer.

Another NACE survey revealed that 95% of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions, and nearly half wanted that experience to come from internships or co-op programs.

“Obviously, the internship should appear on the resume and mentioned in the cover letter, but first-time job seekers should also create a complete LinkedIn profile,” said Challenger. “Interns should network within the organization and obtain recommendations from those with which they work directly.” 

“Interns should not just network for recommendations, of course. Networking within the organization can also produce job leads or even an actual job offer,” added Challenger. 

What to do

Be open to anything. Don't be set on interning for companies in your field; open up to many different companies across industries. It's important not to be picky with superficial aspects such as brand recognition. Interning for small to medium-sized companies can give you a chance to take on meaningful work and make a significant impact.

Network, network, network. Ask for informational meetings or coffee with employees that work in the companies or departments that interest you. You can also reach out to employees through LinkedIn or Twitter. If your relationship grows, they may pass your name along to HR or a hiring manager.

Treat your internship as a real job. Think of your internship as a trial period or extended interview for obtaining the position you want.

Be on time and meet deadlines. Keep a positive attitude and show that you are eager to learn and succeed by seeking out feedback to improve your performance and develop new skills.

Take initiative and exceed expectations. Don't be afraid to voice your own ideas, offer solutions and ask questions. Show interest in attending meetings and seek out extra work and new projects. When you go above and beyond the minimum, you demonstrate your commitment level and gain the attention of management.

Follow the company dress code. While you want to stand out from the pack, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons. By dressing professionally you reinforce the impression that you can adapt to and fit in with the company’s culture.

Keep track of your contributions and accomplishments. A tangible record of your achievements with the company is a helpful tool in convincing a manager why you should be hired full time.

Ask about available entry-level positions. Let your employer know that you want a job with that particular organization. Ask about what positions are available and express your interest in them. An employer will be more likely to consider you for a position if she knows you're interested in it.

Stay in contact. If you don’t get hired for a position immediately after your internship ends, stay in touch. Check-in with your contacts and provide updates on your progress. It'll help to keep you in the forefront for the employer’s mind when a position opens.

Jobless claims

Speaking of jobs, the Labor Department (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits headed high in the week ending April 22, rising 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 257,000. The week's level was revised down by 1,000.

The 4-week moving, generally considered to give a more accurate view of the labor market because of its relative lack of volatility, came in at 242,250 -- down 500 from the previous week.

The full report is available on the DOL website. 



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