Internships and Early Searches Lift Chances for Jobs

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YGBDarnell Stith will graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University in about two weeks with a nursing degree and a job at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J., already secured.

“I guess I’m one of the lucky guys,” said Stith, who also pointed to his early start in bulking up his resume for his success. “My experience had been a deciding factor. Ever since my freshman year, I have always worked in hospitals.”

Stith is one of 1.7 million college seniors who will enter the job market this spring. This year’s graduating class is in a better position to find work than their predecessors from the past couple of years, according to employment data, industry experts and the students themselves.

Employers this year plan to hire nearly 20 percent more college graduates than they did in 2010, according to the spring survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Also, the Department of Labor reported in February the number of job openings reached the highest level since September 2008.

But, despite a rosier outlook, competition will remain high, partly because this year’s alumni will compete with graduates from 2009 and 2010, those who entered the workforce during a recession, or the early stages of recovery. To stand out, students like Stith are starting their internships and work experience earlier ? forgoing vacation plans even as early as freshman year.

“We’re seeing employers who are interested in bringing in students earlier and earlier,” said Mimi Collins, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Among the employers we survey, yes they have students who are finishing freshman year, sophomore year and junior year. So, they’ll definitely look at underclassmen for internships.”

NACE, the Pennsylvania-based organization, last month reported that responding companies converted, on average, nearly 58 percent of their interns into full-time hires, up from two years ago, when businesses converted 53 percent of their internships.

On campus, career directors say the tools are there for students, from help with resume writing and interview skills, to job fairs and other events that bring employer and student together. That process has traditionally been geared to juniors and seniors as they neared graduation, however, students and career officials say those days are gone.

Dhara Patel is a freshman finance major at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business who started her internship search before getting to campus last fall.

“I had approached (the career center) before I went to college, just to get a head start,” said Patel, of Livingston. “It’s never too early to start anything. Getting a job and internship is part of the goals of going to college, and so those are the goals I want to accomplish.”

Patel hopes to pursue a career in accounting and has already secured an internship with Summit Financial Resources in Parsippany this summer. If the economy continues to improve, Patel could convert a future internship into a full-time job, according to Jacquline Chaffin, director of The Career Center at Seton Hall University.

Each year, Chaffin tracks the number of students who are offered jobs after an internship, relying on that data as an indication of what that class may face in the job market. So far, it looks better for students from the class of 2011 than it did a year ago.

During strong economic and job market years, about 55 percent of Seton Hall University business school students are offered full-time jobs after completing their internships. Last year, that number plunged to 31 percent. However, Chaffin predicts the rate will climb back to about 40 percent this year.

The financial sector could help with that rebound, according to Chaffin, who sees a greater demand for financial sales, information technology management and accounting hires.

At least one of the big accounting firms can boast an aggressive hiring plan this year for the Northeast. Deloitte & Touche LLP plans to bring on up to 1,300 “campus hires” this year to staff its offices from Philadelphia to Boston, according to Ron Rickles, managing partner for Deloitte’s New Jersey offices. More than 70 percent of those hires will be for accounting positions.

“When I think back a year ago, we were seeing some stability, so we expected that hiring would be up (this year),” Rickles said. “I frankly think the growth is a little more than we what we anticipated.”

The Deloitte push is one example of why John Challenger, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based executive outplacement company Challenger Gray & Christmas, would have preferred to graduate from college this year, as opposed to 2010.

“This year, for sure,” he said. “We were still in the middle of the jobless recovery last year. The economy was coming out of the recession, but there were not a lot of jobs being created.”

As of the end of May 2010, the economy has added just over 1 million jobs.

Jessica Hoffman of Totowa, N.J., recently landed a job with Deloitte in Parsippany after receiving her master’s degree in accounting from Fairleigh Dickinson in December. She started her job search in the fall of 2009, during a time when she was competing with recent graduates who had master’s degrees.

During that search, she had five, on-campus interviews with accounting recruiters, which produced just one follow-up, second-round interview.

“I was actually very disappointed,” she said. “I didn’t expect there to be as much competition.”

Using that experience as a gauge, Hoffman decided to take the certified public accountant exam early, as a way to stand out from other candidates ? while also working part time for a small firm.

A year later, Hoffman sat through five on-campus interviews, which produced four job offers. Recruiters seemed more optimistic during the second-year of her search, Hoffman said.

“They were seeing much better business and they knew they would take on more people,” she said.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.