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Hiring picks up, but not for just anyone

May 16, 2011

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It’s true – the job market is showing a few signs of improvement.

Because discouraged workers are rebooting their job searches – and therefore have to be counted in Labor Department statistics – unemployment is still sitting at a very high 9%. But there is evidence to back CEOs’ claims that employment is picking up. In April, the U.S. economy added 244,000 jobs – its best performance in five years.

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The employment picture seems to be improving,and employers are showing a preference for hiring former interns for their entry-level positions.

But you might be confused when you don’t see a big wave of new listings on job boards. That’s because 40% of  entry-level positions are now being offered to current or former interns – which is actually great news for those of you who were ahead of the game.

If you haven’t had an internship before, your chances of being able to jump directly into a full-time job after college are still not very good. Why? Though employers generally say they’re willing to hire now, not many are willing to take risks with their money. They’ll expand the payroll, but as is often the case after a major economic downturn, they’re starting with the safest investments.

And the bottom line is this: No matter how high your potential might be as a young person entering the workforce, inexperience leaves a major question mark. College grades might have some correlation to eventual work performance, but there’s nothing like getting a chance to prove yourself in real work situations.

So what can you take away from this news?

  • Start the internship process early. Not sure what you want to do with your life yet? It doesn’t matter – if you expect to be hired full-time somewhere after graduation, you should still try to do an internship before your sophomore year begins. Internships are just as much about gauging your own interests as they are about making connections in a specific industry. And if your first couple don’t thrill you, you’ll still have time to explore other options later on.
  • Take your internships seriously. Even if you feel very comfortable in your work environment, you’re still auditioning for a role. Don’t be satisfied with just fitting in with full-time co-workers and not screwing anything up. They’ve already earned their positions. You need to win people over.
  • … Even if you don’t love the one you’re in. Internships are only temporary. But the impact one can have on your career can last many years down the road. Maybe you don’t want to work for this company – or even this industry – after your internship is over. But persistence, attitude and work habits are transferable qualities that should be interesting to anyone who is considering hiring you for your next internship, and certainly for a full-time job.

Remember: Strong businesses can’t be run on the power of inexperienced interns. Employers know they’ll have to pay up for quality workers – but they’re asking for solid proof that demonstrates that’s what you are.

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