A Foot in the Door
In a diminishing job market, internships provide the leading edge
By Carol Keochekian '81
Headlines blare it. Commentators scrutinize it. Bloggers blast it. And, most Americans worry about it.
Unemployment in the United States has reached the highest rate in 25 years. But despite the dreary job outlook, California Lutheran University graduates are finding employment.
Surveys of CLU alumni earning bachelor’s degrees in 2008 (the most recent figures available with 68 percent responding) show that 94 percent found jobs or entered graduate school within nine months of graduation.
According to Cindy Lewis, Director of CLU Career Services and a firsthand observer of the job market, the recession has not hit everyone as hard as she anticipated.
“I can only speak for CLU students and alumni,” she explained, “but I thought that there would be many more people coming in last summer after being laid off, and that just wasn’t the case.” She is still seeing people become employed but the job search is taking twice as long.
Internships Open Doors
One of the proven avenues to finding jobs for CLU students, Lewis has found, is through internships. This supervised work program gives students hands-on experience to augment classroom learning, allows them to interact with professionals in their chosen disciplines, enables employers to evaluate students while on the job and, in some cases, helps students discover that they are not really interested in a particular career after all.
Internships have proven to be so effective that most undergraduate departments encourage them, and three – Communication, Criminal Justice and Multimedia – require an internship to graduate. CLU’s master’s degree program in public policy and administration also makes internships a requirement.
“Internships are crucial at helping students to develop the skills that they need to be successful in the world of work,” Sharon Docter, a professor of communication and chair of the department, stressed. “Moreover, in today’s competitive work environment, internships help students to make valuable contacts which may help them secure jobs upon graduation.”
Sean Pelton ’09 of Thousand Oaks is one of several recent graduates who quickly secured a job following graduation because of an internship. He is now a digital media coordinator for SmithGeiger, a Westlake Village online and traditional media research and strategy firm that helps large and small media outlets succeed.
“After interning at SG for a few months,” Pelton recounted, “they talked to me about possibly working there full time after I graduated.”
The multimedia major has found that his job, which extends from creating custom presentations for clients to editing videos, has enabled him to utilize many of the things he likes to do in life.
“Before interning here, I didn’t know how these random interests I had could fit together, but here at SmithGeiger they have,” said Pelton, who credits Career Services for helping him find an internship and ultimately a job.
“The CLU postings list was the only way I would have been able to get the internship that led to my job. It’s great that as a university CLU puts in so much of an effort for the students’ futures after their time at Cal Lu. They truly have the students’ best interest as their interest,” he concluded.
The Right Fit
Accounting major Allison Floyd ’09 interned for eight months at CBIZ, an Oxnard firm that provides financial, employee management, and technology services ranging from accounting and tax to valuation services and business consulting. She began a full-time position in October as Accounting Associate I, which entails both auditing and tax work.
“My internship led me right into the job I have now because they were able to see during my internship if I was a good fit for their company,” the Ventura resident explained. “They were able to see how efficiently and effectively I completed my work ... and my determination to be part of their company.”
Floyd had completed an internship previously at a small accounting firm thinking that was the type of career she wanted. But she was wrong.
“When I did my internship at CBIZ, which is a mid-sized firm, I loved it. A mid-sized firm was the best fit for me, and I wouldn’t have found that out or even appreciated working in a mid-sized firm as much if I didn’t have the other internship experience.”
Both Floyd and Pelton found that they learned much from their internships.
“The most valuable experience I had as an intern was actually working in the real business world and applying the knowledge I learned in the classroom,” Floyd stated. “It was such a great feeling to know that all the hard work I did in college will pay off and benefit me in my future.”
For Pelton, going into an office, seeing how everything is run, and getting to know how the different departments all fit together and what his roles were with each one of them was very informative.
Connecting Theory and Practice
Criminal justice professor Robert Meadows is a strong advocate of the value of student internships.
“An internship provides the student the opportunity to connect theory with practice,” he said. “As an intern, students learn day-to-day duties and may participate in many functions, including various organization/agency training sessions.”
For those students not pursuing employment immediately, Meadows continued, an internship is a valuable addition to a graduate or law school application because it indicates service and learning beyond the classroom.
“As an intern in the Special Investigations Unit, I was able to incorporate many investigative measures that I had learned through course studies, guest speakers, former law enforcement officers and most of all my own instinct,” stated Rene Martinez ’08, a criminal justice major now working as a business systems analyst at WellPoint Inc. in Thousand Oaks, where he interned for one year.
While working as an intern investigative analyst for the nation’s largest health benefits company, Martinez had the opportunity to learn the primary objectives of how an investigator should initiate, gather and obtain vital information in an effort to conduct and carry out solid cases among suspected individuals.
The Simi Valley resident performed his internship well and, as a result, he received an award from the 2009 Harvard Medical School BlueWorks Anti-Fraud judges’ panel. He and another investigator were recognized for deterring fraud and preventing millions of dollars of misdirection of medical funds.
In his present position, Martinez oversees local, state and federal pricing regulations through a database network.
Change of Direction
Marketing communication major Lauren Glass ’09 thought she wanted to become an entertainment publicist when she started an internship at Overture Films. During her semester stint there, she interned in both the publicity and marketing departments. In marketing, she oversaw creative, strategic collegiate and “tween” outreach and assisted with new media initiatives including Facebook and Twitter.
For the publicity department, Glass assisted in the planning and execution of the world premiere of Sunshine Cleaning, assisted with the awards outreach and comprehensive academy initiatives on behalf of The Visitor and Last Chance Harvey as well as special projects and national promotions for these three films and Law Abiding Citizen and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
But despite the glitter and glamour of the publicity department, the internship taught Glass that her interests were elsewhere.
“During my internship, I discovered publicity wasn’t for me. I grew a very strong passion for new media. I love ad sales! I wanted to be able to have a lucrative career that did not impede on my personal life, but still work in the entertainment industry.”
Glass was one of 325 job applicants who sought a sales coordinator position at Premiere Radio Networks in Sherman Oaks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, which syndicates 90 radio programs and services to more than 5,000 radio affiliations. She believes that her semester-long internship at Overture Films and the personal recommendation of her supervisor helped her land the very competitive job.
Andrew Brown ’09 completed his internship at Bunim-Murray Productions, an entertainment production company widely credited with creating the reality television genre, when he was halfway through his junior year at CLU. But keeping in touch with his supervisor helped him to secure a full-time job at the Van Nuys company after graduation.
Brown’s internship covered various facets of the entertainment business.
“The first half of the internship I shadowed various departments ranging from pre-production, production, post-production, story and music,” he said. “The second half I was able to narrow my experience down to a specific area and chose to remain in post production.”
Like the other interns, Brown, who lives in Calabasas, found being able to learn in the actual work environment was extremely valuable.
“Television is extremely hands on, and without the experience of working on an actual television show, I wouldn’t have truly understood the magnitude of the television-making process,” he stated.
Now an assistant story editor for MTV’s The Real World, Brown edits scene work pertinent to story arcs (extended or continuing storylines), composes scripts and outlines for current episodes, and assists in finding relevant scene work and interviews to support and strengthen story arcs.
“We have had numerous students participate in internships that lead directly into job opportunities,” related Tim Hengst, CLU’s Director of Multimedia. The professional internships provide students the chance for in-depth immersion into their chosen area of specialty, he continued. “The student has a unique opportunity to learn from industry professionals and also provide valuable contributions to the employer.”
Definitely Do It
Their reasons may differ, but all of the alumni interviewed encourage current students to pursue internships. Martinez counsels students to “take advantage of all the resources that are available to get a better understanding of your field of study and to obtain future work experiences and references.”
“Get as many internships as you can reasonably fit into your schedule,” advises Brown. “You will never regret being able to add another bullet point on a resume when applying for jobs.”
“Definitely do internships,” chimes in Floyd. “You don’t know what career path you will like until you experience it. So apply for any internship in your profession that you might possibly like if only so you can narrow down what will be the perfect job for you.”
“Try and work someplace where there are opportunities for you to learn new skills,” Glass suggests, adding that sometimes it is better to intern at a smaller company and get more hands-on experience versus interning with a larger company and not really getting the opportunity to get your hands dirty.
Once in an internship, Pelton encourages students to observe everything in the business environment because so much can be learned just by watching others.
“Do your best work possible,” he stressed, “because if they want you as an intern, there’s a good chance that if you do well, they’ll want you there full time.”
The Job Market Outlook
In 2009, the job outlook seemed to get grimmer each month. By the end of October, the national unemployment rate had spiked to 10.2 percent, the highest since 1983. However, although unemployment continued to increase, there appears to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Most economic indicators show that the rate of increase will begin to slow down sometime this year and continue through 2011, according to Jamshid Damooei, CLU professor of economics. In fact, he continued, noting a January drop in unemploymet to 9.7 percent, “Some economists are of the opinion that the recovery is well under way and the outcome will be seen much sooner.”
According to Damooei, the consensus is that the recovery in California is likely to come later, similar to the recessions of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Some states have lower unemployment but not much is going on in those states any time of the year,” the economist pointed out. “Others have high unemployment but at the same time their economies are more vibrant (California is a good case).” In Damooei’s opinion although having a lower unemployment rate is a good indicator of economic stability, it is not necessarily a good signal that a state is doing well in terms of creating business and other economic opportunities. However, a prolonged period of unemployment that mostly emanates from structural unemployment brings economic instability and lack of prosperity to a region or state.
By the end of the year, states posting 10 percent or higher unemployment included California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. States that experienced less than 7 percent unemployment are Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont.
As the job market picks up, the economist has no doubt which industries will be doing the most hiring in the near future. Healthcare, education, firefighting, fundraising, lobbying and political campaign specialization, bioengineering and biochemistry, regional planning, energy-related professions and engineering are on the top of the list.