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New interns join job market

With the condition of the economy today, even as unemployed college students, we seem to be in a rather advantageous position. The pressure to find a high paying, secure job is not upon us. Rather, we are encouraged by our advisers, our professors and even our parents to work for free.

It is no wonder that taking a summer internship instead of throwing ourselves into the devastating job market is looking like the right way to go. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones who have come to that revelation.

Not too long ago, your toughest competition when searching for a summer internship would have been the classmates hogging all the elbow room in the lecture hall you have been desperately wanting to escape all semester. Today, however, that is not the case. Internship seekers this summer will find themselves in a pool of applicants just slightly smaller than the one reserved for unemployed professionals. This is because some of those unemployed have made an unpaid internship, and not a full-time job, their target.

Rather than wait out this financial downturn or struggle to find another job, many laid-off employees, both those who are long out of school and those who are not, have decided to take this opportunity to make a career change or learn a new skill through an unpaid internship. They have adopted the internship as a way to receive hands-on training and keep busy in between paying positions. Older adults lacking computer or Internet proficiency have found the internship as the perfect method for amassing that knowledge. Professionals unwilling to compromise on their criteria for the perfect job or unable to get a position in that company they have their sights on, might choose simply to take an internship in the field. Working, even if it is simply as an intern, will provide an opportunity for these job seekers to set themselves apart from their competitors and prove exactly how qualified they are to prospective employers.

Adult internships are not an entirely novel concept. For several years retirees have been using the typical internship model to do non-profit work or get their feet wet in careers they had always imagined having, but never pursued, according to the New York Times. Nonetheless, the retiree internship of the past was not nearly as threatening to our future as the modern adult internship. Less oriented toward keeping busy and focused primarily on building an even more impressive resume, adult interns are likely to be competing directly with undergraduates like ourselves.

Once won on grade point average or who had the most impressive list of extracurricular involvement, internships were the primary means in which undergraduates gained a sense of the working world. But how will our GPAs compare to an internship applicant with a decade's experience on Wall Street or in a Fortune 500 company?

Optimists say that adult interns will not affect our prospects this summer because of the fact that they are too qualified to fill entry-level positions. The intern's role in the company hierarchy may not typically be the place for laid off financiers or other business people; yet, the idea that desperate times call for desperate measures might qualify in these circumstances.

Former misgivings surrounding adult interns, including the concern that they will disrupt the natural order of the working environment, seem no longer to apply. Not only are the unemployed more than willing to work for little or nothing in an internship, but employers themselves may find it beneficial to bolster their own staff in these tough times with the most experienced interns. If employers can get hold of an individual who exceeds the criteria expected of them and will likely surpass the expectations of their in-office duties as well — all at the low salary of a college-age intern — why would they not?

Our situation appears dismal. Employers affected by the recession themselves are likely to be sympathetic to the plight of the unemployed, and it is difficult to blame them for that. I certainly would not hire myself in place of a middle-aged, superbly qualified, former executive. But we still have one thing going for us that cannot compare to adult interns — we are uniquely eager. No matter how prepared they are to work for no pay or gain a new set of skills, they cannot disguise the fact that they have been beaten down, even slightly, by the working world. Their behaviors and ideas have been shaped by former experiences. Preconceived notions will guide their actions in a way that employers will not find in the classic intern. Maybe recognition of these factors will allow us to have a fighting chance.

While the job search that the graduating class is dreading will certainly still be harder than our own hunt for a way to build resumes and pass time, internship seekers do not have an easy road ahead of them. So put your best foot forward, perhaps with the intention to sell yourself a little more aggressively than past applicants may have and reclaim the internship as a poor college student's position. 

Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column "Definition of Insanity" runs on alternate Thursdays. She welcomes feedback at larisk@eden.rutgers.edu.

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