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The art of getting a paid internship

Posted by Chad O'Connor  August 21, 2012 11:00 AM

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Internships are essential for students who are looking to secure work after graduation. In fact, a study by my company found that 91 percent of businesses think that students should have between one and two internships before they graduate. Internships give students real world experience that helps prepare them for permanent roles upon graduation. Companies aren’t willing to take the risk of hiring a recent graduate who has had no work experience, especially in this economy where there’s extreme competition for jobs. This puts a lot of pressure on students to get internships, whether they are paid or unpaid.

Students who land unpaid internships have to balance those with either paid ones or part-time retail jobs to make ends meet and many hope to get course credit for them. The good news is that the number of paid internships is on the rise. A new study by Indeed.com, a job search aggregator, shows that since December of 2009, the number of paid internship postings has been on average 60 percent higher than the number of unpaid ones. The reason for this growth could be in part due to the unpaid internship regulations as set by U.S. Department of Labor, which lays out six pieces of criteria for labeling internships unpaid. Unpaid internships must benefit the intern over the employer, can’t take the place of regular employees and must gain education out of their experience.

Internships are seasonal and usually last two to three months. Based on the study, they found that the number of paid internship postings is 26 percent higher on average during the winter and spring than in the summer and fall. Furthermore, the number of unpaid internship postings is 36 percent higher during winter and spring. Many students are advised that summer is the best time to secure an internship, yet many of those are unpaid. Paid internships, where companies invest more in students, have a higher likelihood at turning into a full-time job. Based on a new NACE’s 2012 Student Survey, they found that 60 percent of graduates who had paid internships received at least one job offer. Students, who are basically required to get internship experience, should strive for paid ones yet if they can take them. If not, they should take unpaid ones as a backup because they simply can’t avoid them altogether.

I find that internships in certain fields and industries like entertainment, public relations, journalism and even startups go unpaid. If you’re in accounting, finance and in the technology field, there’s a higher likelihood that those will be paid. If you’re really lucky engineering major, you might even be able to get an internship at Facebook that pays $6,000 per month.

In order to land a paid internship, you need to do research to find which ones are paid and then try your best to network your way into one. I recommend that you turn to your family, teachers and friends first for connections and then use your career services representative to connect you with alumni in your industry. You can also create your own internship at a company if you can solve a problem that they have (and prove that by hiring you it will decrease costs or increase revenues) or start your own small business. Either way, students need to be personally accountable for their careers and do whatever it takes to land an internship because it’s the best route to full-time employment.

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and founder of Millennial Branding. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0 and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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