When Megan Corrent went in for her job interview at Advanced Clinical Research, she already had a hefty advantage over her competition. The recent University of Utah grad had already worked at the company for a semester, networking with her bosses and learning the inner workings of the marketing department.
"I looked into it as a way of getting some experience, getting a feel for the real world," said Corrent, who landed the position as marketing manager. "The curriculum does teach you a lot, but there's certain things you can't learn from a book."
Corrent is one of many college students taking advantage of internships to get their foot in the door at big companies that may not hire fresh graduates with only classroom experience. For Corrent, her semester-long internship eventually landed her the job and has now become a springboard into a position at Ivory Homes.
"When you're in class and kids are falling asleep or playing on their iPods, you don't get that professional atmosphere," she said. "You don't learn how to deal with a contractor or when a boss comes in and says, 'I would have done it this way.'"
That real-world experience is invaluable to students trying to get into the job market, said Dana Sowby, associate director of career services at the U. When companies are looking at 10 potential hires, the student with internship experience is going to stand out, she said.
Employers listed internships as the No. 1 place where they scout out potential hires, according to the 2005 Job Outlook report by National Association of Colleges and Employers.
In addition, internships during the summer or even during the school year can help students decide if they are in the right major and on the right career path.
"We want it to be the job that the student can gain practical experience to help them determine if it's the right direction for them or not," Sowby said.
For Wes Brown, a junior at the U., an internship with the Jazz marketing team helped seal in his mind that he wants to go into the business side of professional sports.
During half-time shows and before games, Brown handles promotional games for audience members and sponsors as part of his paid internship.
"It has opened doors. It has given me experience and made me say, 'Hey, this is something I could see myself doing 50 years down the road,"' he said.
His experience has also led to job and internship offers from Real Salt Lake to join their marketing team, as well as possible opportunities with the National Basketball Association.
"Anybody I talked to told me how hard it is to graduate from college and get right into a career working in the NBA," he said. "It's really difficult to get in, so they suggested get an internship, get your foot in the door, get to know some people and that will open more doors."
At Utah State University, about 1,943 students found internships through the school's career services office in 2006. Randy Jensen, assistant director of that office, said the school pushes internships heavily because of the resume and confidence boost they give students.
About 70 percent of those students end up getting full-time job offers with the companies they interned with, Jensen said.
"Employers look at internships as being a job. It's a good job market right now, but on the same token, you find a lot of employers that are going, 'Where's the experience? I want more than just you've been to school,"' he said.
Some majors such as finance and engineering have the highest number of internships each year, but other fields such as art and humanities also have some options, Jensen said.
Although internships are popular among students, Jensen said some students find it hard to juggle a crowded school schedule with an internship. On top of that, some internships are unpaid or only pay enough to cover basic living expenses.
"We think that in the long run the internship will get them further, but a lot of times students have to think about the short term, because they've got to get through school," he said.