In down economy, benefits of internships emphasized

With the economy tightening the job market, students are turning to internships to get their foot in the door for an after-school career.

“Internships are very important because they give an employer the opportunity to see how you function in a work environment,” said David Gaston, director of the University Career Center at Kansas University. “They make you less of a gamble for a prospective employer.”

That has certainly been true for Lynn Bammel, who had an internship as a fund accountant with State Street Corporation in Kansas City, Mo., over the summer. Bammel, a junior in the School of Business, said not only has the internship provided her with hands-on experience managing and accounting for mutual funds, but it also has increased her confidence for finding a job after graduation.

“This internship helps me with my future career not only by exposing me to a corporate business environment and accounting firm, but I am more marketable and better prepared to answer questions in future interviews,” Bammel said.

The tight economy is having some effect on the number of internship opportunities the University Career Center is seeing.

“We’ve seen a decline in internship postings from last year, and a lot of employers are telling us it is due to the economy. But other companies are really utilizing unpaid internships. It seems to vary by industry,” said Erin Wolfram, the center’s assistant director.

Bammel was paid for her work as an intern, and she earned credit as well. But even unpaid internships provide opportunities to create more marketable skills, show employers what you can do and allow students to determine if their chosen career path is the right one for them. Volunteer work counts, too.

“You can frame those experiences so that they apply to a future job,” Gaston said.

Volunteering through the Center for Community Outreach or helping with other events or groups that are of interest can give students an edge.

“The more experience you have, whether paid or volunteer, the more marketable you make yourself and the better chance you have to get a job,” Wolfram said. “Even in volunteer work, you’re doing more than developing skills, you’re building a network, and a lot of jobs come through networking.”

Bammel said her internship helped her build such contacts.

“My newly expanded network is invaluable to my future career path,” she said. “One of my colleagues has a spouse who works at a company I am very interested in working for in the future. It is not only about whom I met at State Street, but who they know as well.”

The University Career Center offers guidance in applying for internships as well as full-time employment, and is also launching a new, comprehensive Web site this fall that will include internship postings, information on obtaining credit for internships and a variety of online resources. The web address for the new Web site is

“It will be a one-stop site that will be interactive with student intern blogs and a communication tool so students can interact directly with me,” Wolfram said.

Students may also make appointments to speak one on one with a career coach at the center. There are also a number of workshops and programs offered through the center, including internship exploration, taught by Wolfram, which is an online course students may take to get credit for their internship.

“Internships are more important today than ever because employers are seeking students with more than a degree,” Wolfram said. “They want students with experience and internships are a great way to get that experience.”