May 21, 2006

The Orange County Register

Hooking the right job

By Michele Himmelberg

photo: terica kindred
Bren School of ICS graduate and SAGE Scholar Terica Kindred '03.

Congratulations, Class of 2006. You timed your commencement just right.

The labor pool is shrinking. Orange County's unemployment rate is hovering near a five-year low, sinking to a point where there may not be enough people to fill all the available jobs. Nationwide, the tight labor market is driving up wages and forcing employers to look closely at all 1.4 million of you.

That explains why bosses expect to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates this year than in 2005, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But here's the catch. Employers remain highly selective. Many expect to see experience on your resume to complement that brand-new diploma. And if you really want to work for a specific company, you might be out of luck if you didn't do an internship there.

Some employers are courting top students before their senior year, placing them in internships where the boss can observe firsthand how they perform. It's a way to hand-pick talent, invest in their development and, ideally, hire them full time at graduation.

"More and more, it's a plus for graduates to have done internships," said John Grauten, a regional vice president at Bank of America, which works with UC Irvine to mentor students through the SAGE Scholars program. "And when they intern for you, it's a double plus."

Conexant, a broadband communications company in Newport Beach, has turned internships into a strategic hiring program, said Debbie Mountford, director of staffing and university relations. Nearly all Conexant interns get offers for full-time jobs.

Terica Kindred and Sarah Khan Ahmad, UCI graduates in 2003, joined Conexant after interning through SAGE, a program that identifies highly motivated students and provides support to help connect them to careers.

photo: sarah khan ahmad
Bren School of ICS graduate and SAGE Scholar Sarah Khan Ahmad '03.

They rattled off numerous ways that internships give grads an edge:

* You understand the company culture - its rules for behavior. * You gain confidence in communicating, with peers and superiors. * You get motivated in class because you see the connection between theory and practice. * You gain material to use in an interview.

"Interviews are not all these hypothetical 'What would you do?' questions," said Kindred, now a consultant for Deloitte, a professional services firm with an office in Santa Ana. "They want to know what you've done. You can tell them about that time during your internship when you addressed a need and came up with a solution. I had done that."

This summer, 62 percent of college students say they will be working in an internship, according to an annual survey from career publisher Vault Inc. (www.vault.com). That's up significantly from last year's 41.percent.

The inside track can be powerful: 64 percent of students said they got job offers from companies where they were interns.

The Walt Disney Co. actively recruits college students and recent high school graduates to its training programs. The "learn and earn" concept offers paid internships or hourly jobs along with college credit for Disney courses, including marketing and leadership.

The program, once exclusive to Orlando, expanded this year to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, which plans to have 200 college students in the program by next month.

Dorothy Stratton joined the Disneyland Resort in 1994 after participating in the Disney College program in Orlando. Her intern training as a lifeguard and her first full-time job as a hotel clerk gave her the front-line experience she needed to advance into management. Today, she manages the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa.

She still remembers the unexpected lesson she picked up in the first two days of the college program.

"I called my mom and said, 'This is the company I want to work for,'" said Stratton, who was impressed that Disney emphasized "making a difference" in people's lives. "I realized the values matched up with mine."

Company training programs and internships also provide unique access to leaders and mentors.

"In class, you get the academic knowledge and then you learn to apply it in the context of a large company," said Stratton, who learned from two key mentors and now has become one. "That's the best part of my job, helping other people to learn and grow."

You don't need a formal internship to get inside a company like Disney, but it's important to look at any work experience as an opportunity.

"Find a place that will take you under their wing, just to be in that industry," said Jay Brillantes, who started as a summer parade entertainer at the Disneyland Resort. He has held jobs in several areas and now works on production of Cast TV, the internal news station for employees.

If you're graduating soon and your resume is bare, don't be blue. Listen to Kindred, who was inspired to start a nonprofit that helps minority students make the leap from college to corporations, www.plan4success.org.

"Network," she said. "You have to let employers know who you are and what you want to do. Go to a job fair and ask three good questions. Now you've started a dialogue, and that can lead to an interview.

"Once you've got the interview, grades and internships don't matter as much. You just have to sell yourself."
Hooking the right job