Although young job seekers with only a high school degree are in even worse shape, recent college graduates have entered a grim job market.
The economy is still recovering, entry-level wages have plummeted and recent college grads are competing for jobs with more than 2 million of their educated and jobless peers.
The millennial generation makes up about 40 percent of the unemployment rate in the U.S. Something’s gotta give.
“The most impressive job candidates to employers are those who are both ambitious and have a proven track record through hands-on leadership experiences,” says Matt Stewart, entrepreneur and co-CEO of College Works Painting, a college internship program which, according to internal surveys shows that 90 percent of their alumni find college-grad-level jobs within three months of obtaining their degree.
The key is to find an internship that will help you build tangible, real-world skills. Employers want to know that you’re capable of being in charge of something. To get hired for the job that you actually want, you need an internship in which you’re given actual responsibilities and in which you gain leadership experience.
You won’t gain these necessary skills from an easy internship. These days, the company name on your resume holds little to no weight. It’s not who you interned for. Instead, it’s what you did during your internship that matters.
The challenge is distinguishing an internship that may have flashy bells and whistles but no real job responsibilities, from the rewarding internship that will give you the skills needed to adequately compete in the job market.
Internships are those extra-credit points that ambitious college students can leverage for getting ahead as an attractive job candidate. Stewart asks students the following:
• Will the internship provide you with leadership skills? Internships provide students with all kinds of exposure to business. But just any experience won’t be good for you. Your time is valuable. The purpose of internships is to gain adequate experience. So don’t waste your time on an unworthy internship. When applying for internships, review the job description. Look for job responsibilities that require leadership skills.
“What we try to do is give students a truly entrepreneurial experience,” says Stewart, whose internship program provides practical and life-changing business experience for college students who have shown potential for success. Interns operate their own house-painting business with hands-on guidance from mentors. “Also, and though we don’t require any previous experience – with guidance and mentorship – our interns have mid-level responsibilities,” Stewart says. “Our students manage all hiring, firing, sales, marketing and customer relations. This enables our alumni to land grad-level positions upon graduation instead of competing for entry-level jobs that may not even require a degree.”
• If anyone can get the internship, is it worth your time? While an internship can be considered “free education,” corporations know they have nothing to lose when they see talented young minds willing to work for free. If an internship is easy to attain and isn’t willing to pay you for the work you do, it may be garbage work.
More than 50,000 students apply to intern at College Works Painting annually, yet only 2000 interns are hired. And about half of those hired interns make it to the summer, when the internship resembles more of a full time job.
“It’s an incredibly difficult challenge, running your own business – and that’s what our interns are doing,” Stewart says. “Some of our hires don’t make it through spring training; the program is just too much for them. Yet, you don’t want to be that stereotypical intern who becomes an expert on how the CEO likes her coffee. College summers are designed for hard work, that’s how you’ll get ahead in your career.”