What is the most important factor for success in the job market for a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree?
Internships, according to 26 interviews conducted by Patch with people two years removed from graduation in 2008.
The results were staggeringly in favor of graduates who interned during their school years, easily outpacing grade point average. The 13 people who did intern, on average, were happier with their careers and $12,300 a year richer than their non-interning counterparts. Four people who not only interned but found actual work experience in their major during college were particularly successful, with their average salary at $70,000 per year.
Beyond the salary was that almost all of the people who didn’t intern were working in fields unrelated to their major, and almost all the people who did intern were working in fields directly related to their major.
Take Steve Artale from Salem, who personifies the typical experience of a graduate who did not intern. Artale graduated UConn with an English degree in 2006 and no real idea of what to do next.
“I finished college prepared for the real world, but I had no real concept of what I wanted to do,” he said. “My classes taught me how to work, and do things on my own, but I didn’t really know where I wanted to go.”
Artale worked as a bank teller, a job he had since he was a freshman in college. He continued to search for a job for more than a year before finding one at Pfizer with help from a friend.
“I was hired because I had a college degree, not because of my major,” Artale said. “It’s a major accomplishment to graduate, and employers see that, as college taught me how to learn. However, do I use anything I actually learned in college in my current job? No, not really.”
Of those interviewed, he was the second most successful of all the students who didn’t intern, with his job at Pfizer paying him $50,000 a year to start. Many of the others had little direction in their careers and were unhappy with their current jobs - if they had a job at all.
Four of the 13 students could not find work after college and went to graduate school, still with little idea of what they wanted to be.
Meanwhile, people who did intern had different experiences.
Andrew Bourdeau, also from Salem, graduated from UConn with a degree in engineering in 2006.
Bourdeau interned for a summer in college and was hired immediately after graduation. After two years, he made $65,000 for his base salary, with enough overtime opportunities to push him over $80,000 annually.
“When I graduated college I had an exact idea of what I wanted to be and how I wanted to do it,” Bourdeau said. “And actual work experience always teaches more than school, although school is important as well.”
“Your results do not surprise me at all,” said Christine Peterson, who has been working in human resources at The Hartford since 1992. “Those resumes that have credible paid or volunteer corporate work experience on it have a much higher chance of moving on.”
The Hartford generally looks to hire from within its own summer interns, Peterson said. This is a common practice among most large businesses because it is cheaper to keep talent then to recruit it from outside sources, she said.
“I think we are doing a real disservice to students who we send to four to five years of school and do not show them what their career is going to be like,” she said. “I do believe that internships or some sort of work experience should be required for all students.”
Jim Sherrard, chairman of the nuclear program at Three Rivers Community College, which has a heavy emphasis on interning, agreed.
“In a perfect world, I do believe all students should have an internship,” said Sherrard. “They let people see what the industry is about and more importantly they let the industry see who they are.”
Not just grades
Students who had little idea of what they wanted to do for a career did not intern in school and did poorly in the job market, no matter how well they may have done in college.
Asia Bajor from Monroe received a 3.4 GPA in marketing at Central Connecticut State University. Despite the strong GPA, she worked at a job she didn't like making $28,000 a year and “really doesn’t know what to do.” She has since left the job.
“I didn’t know what to major in in school,” said Bajor, who did not intern in college. “I wish while in school I did some sort of internship or job training, I think that would have helped.”
Same for Jennifer Simard of East Lyme, who earned a 3.94 GPA at Suffolk University, yet remains unsure of what she wants in the future.
“I’m basically getting jobs because I have a college degree, and these jobs pay well and are not bad to go,” said Simard, who did not intern in college but didn’t think it would have made much difference. “I think some people know what they want to do, and the rest of us just wander around doing whatever forever.”
Internship Changing A Life
Simard's skepticism was refuted by Jesse Stamford, who spent four years at Eastern Connecticut State University. Stamford also did not know what he wanted to do for a career, and majored in English because he was “good at it.”
In his senior year, he took up an internship at a publishing company, only to realize he hated it. Knowing he had to do something, Stamford applied to graduate school to become a teacher.
“I’m really happy I took that internship, because otherwise I would have had to spend a year or more of my life in a job I hated,” he said.
Stamford went to graduate school and took an internship student-teaching in Hartford, and when he graduated the Hartford school hired him.
“Getting that experience really made all the difference,” Stamford said. “I went basically from a career I would have hated to a career I actually like.”
Sometimes a Requirement
Some majors and some universities require internships. Twenty-four of the 26 people interviewed felt internships should be required in every major at every university.
“I think it’s a good idea to make everybody do them,” said Ryan Gernat, who did not intern in college. “I think colleges should be about job training and shadowing so you can be prepared for what you’re going to do.”
College graduates who interned
GPA – 3.3
Job Satisfaction – 7.2 out of 10
Average Salary - $50,000 annually
College graduates who did not intern
GPA – 3.1
Job Satisfaction – 4.2 out of 10
Average Salary - $37,700 annually*
*does not include four who went back to school
Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this story three years ago, and then updated it in 2010. I submitted it to a variety of news sources over the last three years, and none of them ever ran it. I believe the message is important; and the story took more than a month of interviewing to write.