An internship can sound like a golden ticket for job seekers.
With many companies struggling to hire and retain employees in the current job market, they have looked to promote their own interns and young staffers who show dedication and passion rather than outside hires.
While intern retention has been trending slightly down in recent years, the one-year retention rate for an internal intern was 67.7% in 2021 and for an external intern it was 51.7%, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The five-year retention rate was 41.5% for internal 32.1% for external in. In comparison, the retention rate for those with no experience interning was 35.7% over one year and 26.1% over five years.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a massive effect on the job market, which is currently favoring people looking for work instead of the employers. In October 2021, there were three job openings for every two unemployed workers, according to Business Insider. Company costs are at an all-time high due to inflation and shortages of materials, so they are forced to make cuts. One way to save money is to promote a worker from within the organization.
“It’s hard and it is getting super expensive, for every company we talked to, to recruit help, and everything is getting more expensive,” said Gerald Pinotti, director of career services at Concordia University Chicago. “An internship is like a win-win thing for them.”
Employers are under pressure to bring in young talent in order to build a team for the future. Internships and volunteering at companies help them put a face to a name and can give a young job seeker the upper hand among the competition.
Understanding the purpose of an internship can help to maximize the value that you get from working as an intern. Even some employers are not fully educated on what an internship is supposed to be. “When you are on an internship you should be mentored, they should be teaching you things, they should be working with you,” Pinotti said. “You are not a glorified cheap employee as an intern.”
Part of Pinotti’s role is to educate employers on how they should view internships in order to capitalize on what the intern makes of their time in the program as well as what the company can get. An intern that is mentored the right way can end up being one of the best hires a company can make.
While some entry level jobs require years of experience, businesses are more willing to train and mentor young workers who show that they want to be there and who buy into the company’s culture.
“Companies are looking for a candidate who will fit their culture well, and they are willing to train and teach,” said Jacqueline Boatman, the director of internships at CUC and a former marketing director for the Kane County Cougars. “That was always something that I looked for. I looked for somebody that was going to fit our vibe and fit the role that I needed well, and I could kind of help them along the way. They didn’t have to be the best writer or marketer, but if they fit what we need it all falls into place.”
The process starts with the job seeker doing the work to get their foot in the door. The teamwork skills, technical skills, and becoming familiar with the culture of a company are all valuable assets that one can gain from an internship or even volunteering. When employers see these skills on a resume along with the experience gained from an internship, it makes that candidate stand out more than others.
“Once you get in, as a volunteer, intern, or part-time, if they like you, you’re in,” says Pinotti. If you are part of a cattle call of resumes submitted online through a job platform, what have you done to set yourself apart from the others?” Having an internship with that company and getting to know the people and the culture is really a pass to the front of that line.
An important part of the internship process and experience is finding one that leads to growth. An internship should be molded for the intern to help them and guide them into this new experience. “My main advice for all candidates is to look inward and ask yourself what you hope to gain from an internship,” said Ronald Pelgram, vice president and general manager of Federal Signal Inc., and an adjunct professor at CUC. “They can be very valuable but also need to be structured appropriately for the intern to gain useful experience.”