Student Career Fairs Reveal Trend: Select Summer Internships are Pipeline to Very Early Job Offers

September 28, 2006

Sept. 28, 2006 -- It’s nothing new for college students to do summer internships, and for some enterprising interns to receive a full-time job offer at the end of the summer. But, starting in the past three to five years, in certain sectors such as investment banking, accounting and engineering, it is becoming more common for 80 percent to 90 percent of summer interns to receive an employment offer at the end of their summer internship preceding fourth-year, nine months before graduating. That trend was on display at career fairs held last week by the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and School of Engineering and Applied Science, where many employers confirmed the growing importance of their summer internship programs.

Students are starting to see their third-year summer internship as not just an internship, but a three-month-long audition for a desired job, said a recruiter from IBM Global Business Services attending the McIntire career fair on Friday,

These internships involve challenging, meaningful work, not just photocopying or answering the phone, said James McBride, director of University Career Services. They have to offer real challenges for the employer to be able to evaluate a candidate based on substantive work performance. So the interns are doing work that would otherwise require a skilled full-time employee; and they are, on average, being paid at a comparable monthly rate, according to figures from McIntire. But creating those opportunities is not easy. Even a large business, like the investment company Vanguard, only offers 50 internship positions (half of them in information technology), to be able to offer high-quality internships, explained Laura Newhard, a manager of Vanguard’s internship program. Every Vanguard intern is paired with a mentor, interacts regularly with senior employees and managers, and gets extensive training on skills like how to motivate people and work as a team, and how to rely on hard data for decision-making.

Such mentoring and training suits Generation Y’s desire for supervision and feedback, said McBride. Often mentors help with the more subtle, peripheral aspects of job performance, he explained, like properly handling office politics, dressing appropriately or avoiding unprofessional speech.

The extended evaluation period provided by an internship gives the employer and the intern time to decide if they’re a good fit. In the cases where they are, the student can enter her or his final year as an undergraduate with a job offer in hand. The rates at which interns receive and accept full-time offers “range all over the place,” according to McBride, but it’s “not unusual to hear that 80 percent get offers and 80 percent of those accept the offer.” Last summer, Vanguard extended offers to about 80 percent of its interns, said Newhard, while Deloitte Consulting gave full-time offers to about 90 percent of interns, and more than half of those end up taking a position, according to Sharon Yip, a Deloitte consultant who staffed her company’s booth at the McIntire job fair. A survey by the school of its class of 2006 found that 70 percent (230 students) had an internship during the summer prior to their fourth year at McIntire. Of those students, 42 percent (96 students) received full-time job offers, and 25 percent (57 students) accepted full-time employment with the company at which they interned. Among the class of 2006 from the engineering school, 15 percent of job placements came directly from a summer internship.

Several fourth-year students interviewed at the McIntire career fair had already received offers from their summer employers, and they were looking for other possibilities at the fair. There are no standard guidelines for how long a student will have to decide whether or not to accept a particular offer, said Yip. How long the employer will wait for a decision, she noted, is not a matter of a pre-set timeframe or due date, but is based on how much the company wants that particular candidate, and whether another good candidate is ready to fill the same position. McBride encourages students to seek out alternatives to the first job offer that they receive, which often just confirms that the initial offer was a good one. Students who don’t have more than one employment choice are more susceptible to second-guessing themselves later on, he said, which occassionally results in the detrimental choice to accept a second offer at the last minute.

While some students are feeling more pressure to land the ‘right internship’ as the pipeline to the ‘right job,’ the traditional job search process, resulting in offers in the late fall or spring of senior year, is still in place for many industries, such as marketing, McBride said.

For others, the job search is starting even earlier. This past summer, Valeria Vidri, a second-year pre-commerce student, attended a weeklong program at Goldman Sachs in New York City that introduced minority students to the firm and began laying groundwork for them to pursue an internship later in their college career. The program helped her job-hunting skills, and left her feeling good about the idea of working at Goldman Sachs because the company had made the effort to welcome her and other minority students, which she compared to how U.Va.’s minority support programs have made her feel welcome.

Regardless of whether an internship leads directly to a job offer, career counselors emphasize the importance of interning. “You’ve got three summers here. Use them as wisely as you can, because employers will be looking for evidence of a career path,” said C.J. Livesay, director of the Center for Engineering Career Development.