By the time she started college at the University of Miami in 2010, Chelsea Wortham had two internships under her belt. And by the time she graduated from UM in May, she had four more for her résumé and, most importantly, a job.
A 21-year-old public relations and English double-major and marketing minor, Wortham said work experience set her apart when looking for a job. After a successful internship at Google the summer after her junior year, Google AdWords came calling in September with a full-time job offer. The Atlanta native said yes.
“We all learn the same thing, academically speaking, and it’s up to you to get that extra something to get you where you need to be,” she said.
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As the economy has improved, so have the job prospects for recent graduates. According to the Job Outlook 2014 Spring Update survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, member-employers said they plan to hire 8.6 percent more graduates from the class of 2014 than they did from the class of 2013. Nationally, 27 percent of employers are planning to hire in 2014, making it a strong year for hiring according to the National Association for Business Economics. And starting salaries are up slightly, as well.
Across the board, Miami colleges and universities said students with internships on their résumés are those most likely to get hired.
“Students are more aware of having not just internships, but more internships,” said Alicia Rodriguez, director of employer relations at UM’s Toppel Career Center.
Many employers, she said, will turn interns into full-time hires once they asses a student’s work ethic and their compatibility with company culture.
Her experience is born out by NACE’s 2014 Internship & Co-op Survey, which reported recently that employers plan to hire 1.3 percent more bachelor’s degree-level interns in 2014 than 2013.
Doing it right
The focus on internships has prompted career coaches at Florida International University and Miami Dade College to boost internship opportunities for undergraduates.
Now, many students must look out of town for internships, said Jorge Guerra, executive director of workforce education and partnerships at MDC. “We are trying to change the culture in South Florida so that there are more opportunities [locally].”
Guerra said MDC is trying to better link students to internships suited to their skills through a program that is slated to begin by the end of the year.
At FIU, Director of Career Services Fernando Figueredo said the school is looking to increase international internships to give students a competitive advantage.
One of the goals: to stem the “brain drain” that has plagued the region.
Programs like the Mayor’s Executive Internship Program, he said, are intended to keep the best and brightest of Miami in its work force.
The 15-week program, a partnership between FIU and the Miami-Dade County mayor’s office, seeks to transform 20 to 30 top-performing semesterly interns into employees. Since the program began in June 2012, 15 to 20 percent of its intern participants have been hired full-time, said the program’s coordinator, Lee-Ann Dizon.
One of them was Henry Noonan, a 21-year-old FIU political science and international relations graduate from Virginia, who converted a program internship to a full-time position as a legislative assistant with the Port of Miami. The job offer followed Noonan’s proposal to use global information systems to track cargo shipments and increase routes into the port. After his internship ended, he was asked to finish his project and join the team.
The program “provides more visibility, and it shows that you’re willing to take the ambition to be a self-starter,” he said. “Within the county, it certainly speaks something, because positions are limited and you have to do something to make yourself unique.”
Said Dizon, “Literally, Henry wrote his own job and made the seaport want him and need him.”
Despite their high value, internships have been in limited supply.
During the recession, both the number of internships offered and the hiring rate dropped, according to NACE’s annual internship survey. The number of internships offered has also been affected by controversy surrounding the use of unpaid internships. (The U.S. Department of Labor ruled in 2010 that an unpaid internship must benefit the student more than the employer.)
An improved economy has helped. Since 2010, the number of internships offers has grown by about 21 percent, according to NACE. South Florida schools also report an uptick in employer participation in career fairs.
Rodriguez, of UM’s Toppel Center, said 2014 saw a 37 percent increase in company information sessions and a 20 percent increase in student on-campus interviews. Top industries for recruiting have remained consistent, with accounting, engineering, finance and business pulling the most employers looking to hire, she said.
FIU, NOVA and Miami Dade College also reported an increase in the number of employers attending job fairs.
Diane Klein, associate director for career development at NOVA, said their job fairs also have become more inclusive, involving employers seeking interns and part-timers along with the traditional offerings of full-time positions.
Still, MDC’s Guerra said snagging a full-time job is still difficult.
Nationwide, only 11 percent of 2014 graduates had secured a job by graduation. Nearly half of 2012 and 2013 graduates report they are underemployed and working jobs outside their field, according to an Accenture survey.
John Coker, a 23-year-old marine biology graduate student from Memphis who will graduate from NOVA in December, has yet to land a full-time job in his field. “Students are having to seek higher education to apply for lower-level positions to just set themselves apart,” Cocker said.
Most of his graduate-level classmates, he said, are looking for lower-level positions that will give them more security as opposed to relying on grants to fund research-based positions.
The good news: Those who do snag jobs will earn a bit more than the class of 2013.
The average starting salary for college graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2014 increased by 1.2 percent, from $44,928 to $45,473, according to NACE’s report.
Wortham said her starting salary will be $48,000 when she starts as an associate account strategist in Google’s advertising division in June. About half of her classmates have landed jobs since graduation, and others plan to attend graduate school, she said.
Her work experience helped her stand out, she said. “Being able to really prove what I did at the internship and how I affected the company and the company goals really helped me to get this job,” she said.
“It’s a miracle to have a job these days coming out of college. I can barely believe it myself.”