Will you get an internship this summer? Explaining the labor market demand for interns.

By Jurin Katayama

What are the chances of you getting an internship?
Do you even need one to improve your chances for a job after you graduate?

These were the questions that Prof David Jaeger posed himself after his daughter expressed concern that her lack of attending an unpaid internship in Colorado would hurt her career prospects. While his daughter has nonetheless found success as a PhD neuroscience student, the conversation with his daughter inspired him to reach out to Prof John M. Nunley of University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Dr R. Alan Seals of Auburn University to determine the labor market demand for interns in the US.

There is limited literature on the causal relationship between internships and future job prospects. While the millennial belief is that there is a strong positive relationship, as demonstrated by the growth of college graduates with internships from less than 10% in the mid-1980s to over 80% in the mid-2000s, Prof Jaeger articulates that recent research by his colleagues point to internships not actually having a huge impact on job callbacks.

Nevertheless, if we were to assume that internships determined the success of our careers, what do our internship prospects look like?

Using a machine learning algorithm to scout 28,551 internship ads on a popular US internship website and assign them to detailed occupation groups, Prof Jaeger and his colleagues found that more than half of all internships advertised were part-time and unpaid. However, three major occupation groups (architecture and engineering, sales, and construction and extraction) paid for more than half of their internships. Another interesting finding was that two-thirds of the ads were associated with only three occupation groups: Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media (31.4%), Business and Financial Operations (21.4%), and Sales and Related (14.2%).

The second part of Prof Jaeger and his colleagues’ research was to determine the likelihood that individuals obtained an internship. He created 576 distinct resumés with randomly allocated race-associated names (either black-associated names of Darius Jackson and Xavier Washington or white-associated names of Wyatt Schmidt and Colin Johannson), college major, GPA, previous internship, and work experience, and submitted more than 11,000 internship applications. After tracking firms’ responses, the results indicated that the likelihood of obtaining an internship varied between paid and unpaid internships, as well as with individual characteristics.

Likelihood of obtaining an internship: paid vs unpaid
As paid internships are closely related to regular jobs, the research found that a percentage increase in unemployment rate reduces share of paid internships by 3%. Firms also responded less frequently to applicants for paid internships (4%) than unpaid internships (8%), as firms with paid internships are likely to receive more applicants, and therefore, do not need to interview as many students to find a suitable applicant.

Likelihood of obtaining an internship: individual characteristics
It may sound shocking to St Andrews students, however, the research found that resumés that were randomly allocated with black-associated names, further resident addresses from the internship location, or part-time retail jobs were less likely to receive a positive response (request for interview or more information) from firms. These results may be due to the firms’ perceptions and sensitivity to attain students who are financially able to accept an unpaid internship. Prof Jaeger and his colleagues also found that resumés with better GPAs and majors including Biology, Business Administration, English, Marketing, and Psychology received higher response rates. Most importantly, however, previous internship experience increased positive response by a whopping 30%.

There are unfortunately several uncontrollable variables in attaining an internship. If we assume that internships determine labor market success, the barriers to attaining an internship puts students who are BAME or with financial needs in a substantial disadvantage, even before they enter the labor market. What seems to be even more discouraging is that some students may be perpetually trapped in a cycle of not being able to attain an internship because they lack previous internship experience. Universities must therefore provide as many opportunities as possible for students to gain professional skills that are attractive to employers.

Finding an internship may be challenging, nonetheless, there are always several other ways to attain the technical skills that you desire. For a full read of the study by Prof Jaeger and his colleagues, click here.

If you are looking for internship opportunities, I suggest that you consider the following:

  • CEED provides University of St Andrews students with professional skills workshops. They also offer the Summer Team Enterprise Programme for six-weeks during the summer, advancing graduate attributes for students as they collaboratively work with their teammates on a real-life project for the University Service Unit.
  • Join societies that work with external organizations and companies, as you may be able to seek for opportunities through them. For instance, Castlecliffe Consulting and Playfair Consulting work with real-life clients, from environmentally driven social enterprises to local restaurant businesses.  If you’re interested in policy, the United Nations Association St Andrews works alongside the UN House Scotland and writes briefing papers for the Scottish Parliament. Extracurriculars that build on your abilities, such as the St Andrews Economist itself, is also extremely helpful, as dedication to societies signal to internships that you are passionate about their work.
  • Browse websites such as indeed.co.uk and targetjobs.co.uk as you will be able to explore various occupations, and hopefully, apply for one that you admire.

About Prof Jaeger

David A. Jaeger is a Professor of Economics at the University of St Andrews and instructs the Economics of Migration module with Dr David Escamillo-Guerrero and the Econometrics of Impact Evaluation module with Dr Lorenzo Neri. He is also a Research Fellow at IZA Institute of Labor Economics and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research. His research centers around applied economics, covering a wide range of interests including labor economics, health economics, policy analysis, and applied econometrics. Other current research projects include the econometrics of estimating the impact of immigration in the US and the determinants of monastery locations in 12th-century Germany.  The latter is is joint research with his wife Prof Alison Beach of the Department of Medieval History. A fun fact is that he is studying for a “Diploma” certificate in wine, an advanced qualification of the Wine and Spirts Education Trust in London. To find out more about Prof Jaeger, click here.

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