When it comes to landing a job, the learning doesn't always stop when a college student picks up a degree.
Internships, even after graduation, are gaining in popularity both for degree-holders and the companies that want to hire them, as employers look to reduce the chances of wasting time and resources in training employees who might not work out.
"Employers are being very smart about their hires, and being very careful not to make mistakes, because it's costly to make mistakes," said Susan Wade, director of the Career Development Center at Baker University. "An internship gives them an extended interview, over several weeks and months. It gives them a chance to orient the student to them : and the student makes a decision about whether it's a fit for them, so they can make a more informed decision.
"It's a win-win for everyone."
As Baker, Kansas University, Haskell Indian Nations University and other institutions turn out graduates this month, the prospects for landing jobs looks better than a year ago, according to a survey.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that employers intend to hire 8 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2008 than they had hired from last year's class.
The projection comes despite an economic slowdown that has cut deeply into the number of jobs available in specific fields, particularly finance, the association said.
Slowdown tempers hiring
In many other fields, the association said, hiring remains robust - although the prospects had looked even brighter only a few months ago. In the fall, employers had expected to boost their college hiring by 16 percent.
"In general, the hiring outlook remains positive," said Marilyn Mackes, the association's executive director. "New college graduates just entering the job market will likely find fewer job opportunities than originally anticipated. It will also mean that graduates who were focused on particular industries, such as finance, may need to adjust their target industries."
Average starting salaries, overall, are on the rise.
The average salary offer to a new college graduate is up 5.3 percent from a year ago, said Edwin Koc, the association's director of strategic and foundation research. But the numbers range, depending on the field.
Majors with the fastest increase: computer and information science, up 13 percent. Computer science grads are getting starting offers averaging $59,873, while graduates being offered jobs in software design and development are hitting $65,379.
Majors with the most minimal increases are in business. According to the association's survey of employers, the average offer to accounting graduates is the same $47,429 as last year; business administration/management grads are being offered $44,195, up 0.3 percent; and for finance graduates, the offers average $48,616, up 1.5 percent.
Dave Byrd-Stadler, employer relations coordinator for the School of Business at KU, suspects that the national survey may be skewed by results from the coasts. Business graduates from KU generally are landing in the Kansas City area, Topeka, Wichita or as far as Dallas or Chicago, where entry-level jobs not only have been available but perhaps more plentiful than a year ago.
Starting salaries also appear to be on the rise, he said.
"We think the market's definitely as strong, if not stronger," said Byrd-Stadler, who noted that the school had record numbers of employers conducting a record number of interviews during on-campus career fairs.
Salaries aside, graduates with the best chances for employment are coming into interviews with experience in the field - often through internships or other opportunities with the employers themselves.
Among employers surveyed by the association, 36 percent of new college graduates hired from the class of 2007 went through employers' own internship programs - up from 30 percent in 2005.
Even more telling: employers say they extend job offers to nearly 70 percent of their interns, up from 57 percent back in 2001.
"Employers consistently name the internship program as one of the most effective tools they have for hiring new college graduates," Mackes said. "Employers see results with these programs."
Many internships are paid, Mackes said, with undergraduate interns at such recruiting-focused companies receiving an average wage of $16.69 an hour, with master's-level interns getting $25.93.
Sarah Martin knows the value of gaining on-the-job experience. The Free State High School graduate spent a couple of years at KU before moving on to Washburn University in Topeka, where she earned a bachelor's degree in nursing last year.
Along the way, she worked as a tech in Lawrence Memorial Hospital's emergency room, and upon graduation was hired on full time to participate in yet another training program - she calls it "E.R. Boot Camp" - in emergency medicine.
The registered nurse knows the experience was important for all parties involved.
"It was really helpful for me, mainly just to learn about the department, the flow of the department," she said. "And it helped them gain trust in me. It's scary for them to hire a new grad. It helped them gain a little bit of trust, having me here beforehand."
Wade, at Baker, said that while graduates often find themselves working a bit harder to find work these days - reaching out to smaller companies, or even nonprofits - they should entertain the possibility of taking on an internship.
"Even after graduation, you can work as an intern for a summer, or volunteer or do whatever you can do to get into an organization that you're excited about," said Wade, who spent 15 years working in human resources before taking the job at Baker. "It's a great way to get your networking : and a lot of employers are taking it very seriously. A lot of employers like that teaching opportunity."