Every Friday morning like clockwork, Ken Keeley, executive director of career services at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, runs a program on his computer that tracks job and internship placement figures for students. His end-of-the-week ritual has been especially gloomy this spring. Out of the 210 MBA students in the first-year class, only 55% had landed a summer internship by mid-April, leaving nearly half of the class scrambling to land internships before the end of the school year. It's a sharp change from last year, when 81% of students had secured summer jobs by this time, says Keeley.
"The biggest surprise to all of us in the industry has been how huge an impact the economy has had on internships," says Keeley. "We all knew it would hit graduate students hard, but I think we were caught off guard."
Sensing the growing desperation among students, career-services officers and deans at top schools are stepping up their efforts to help them find summer employment, coming up with creative alternatives. Some schools are creating a dozen or more paid internships for students within the university, in places like the dean's office or the endowment department. Administrators are encouraging professors to post openings for paid summer research assistants on school job boards. Meanwhile, career-services officers are aggressively pushing their staff to reach out to nonprofits and small to midsize companies that haven't recruited before at business schools, asking them to create new positions for students. A handful of schools are even launching pro-bono consulting summer projects, led by faculty.
The school year is wrapping up for MBA students, but for many first-year students there is no clear end in sight. Internship hiring is down significantly at many top business schools, with a sizable number of students still scrambling for a paid summer job. In a survey by the MBA Career Services Council, an association of business school career officers, 50% of schools said banking internships were down significantly this winter, while some 62% of schools expect internship opportunities to decrease. The situation has not gotten much rosier this spring and internship postings across most industries continue to be down, says Kip Harrell, director of the Career Services Council.
For Some, Panic Sets In
The dearth of opportunities poses a serious problem for MBA students, who typically depend on their summer internships to either help them land a full-time job or test out a new industry.
"I have some friends who are panicked. One of my classmates came crying to me last week," says Ritu Jain, a first-year student at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. Jain is president of Opportunity Consulting, a student-run consulting group that is trying to find summer internship opportunities for students with nonprofits in the Charlottesville area. For Jain and her friends, she says, "It is all this built-up emotion."
At Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management, where about 40% of the first-year class is still looking for internships, career-services director Joyce Rothenberg is trying out several new strategies. She organized a "how to hire an intern" workshop this winter for a number of national midsize companies that have not hired interns before, which has so far yielded six new paid internship postings. She's also helped launch a project called "The Brand Group," where marketing faculty and students will do branding consulting work for companies. The only catch? Students will receive credit for the internship, rather than a salary. Rothenberg says.
Even with all these new possibilities emerging, many students are still feeling nervous, she says. "Most of my job has been managing panic more than anything else," she says.
"Mindset Shift" in Career Services
For some career-services officers, the internship crisis has presented an opportunity for them to change the way they run their offices. One example of this is the large whiteboard that stands in the career-services office of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Every afternoon Jeff Fischer, the school's career-services director, marks up the board, noting the number of calls his staff has made that week and the number of new internship and job opportunities they've created for students. His team has made almost 200 calls to new businesses they haven't worked with before, creating about 52 corporate internships for students. About half of the opportunities were unadvertised internships his staff found, while the other half were created by his team.
"We're running the office the way you would run a sales or consulting organization," says Fischer. "It's a complete mindset shift."
Deans at a number of top business schools also are stepping in to help, leveraging their connections as never before. Sharon Oster, dean of the Yale School of Management, has committed $100,000 to a special internship fund this year that will create between 10 and 12 in-house university internships for Yale MBA students. She's reaching out to the school's endowment office, the Yale Press, and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, all of whom have said they are interested in helping her create jobs for MBAs. The internship postings will be listed on the school's job board shortly, she says.
"We want to figure out what kind of opportunities we can find at Yale that are the most attractive to students in terms of helping them develop their careers," Oster says. "I think that we will sell out, there is no question about that."
At Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, Dean George Daly is also scouting out university jobs for students. He estimates that about 25% of first-years are still looking for internships, so he's asked each of his associate deans to create a paid summer job for students, he says. One of these internships will be housed in his office, where he plans to ask a student to spend the summer compiling a report on how the business school can best go about creating an international programs office. He's also hoping to hire an intern who can look into what it would take to create an undergraduate business minor at the university.
"Our goal is that all of our students will have an internship," Daly said. "For some, it may be a consolation prize, but they have to deal with the reality they're facing."
Interning…at the B-School?
Another tough reality dawning on students is the possibility that they may not get paid for their summer internships. The Tepper School's Keeley is putting together a rÉsumÉ book of students who are willing to take unpaid internships for the summer, which he plans to distribute to the school's alumni. The book will be distributed a month earlier than normal this year, and he hopes employers will be receptive, he says.
"Some of these companies have laid off so many people it would almost be, at best, embarrassing to bring in an intern," he says. "Their employees can say, 'You're bringing in interns and you laid me off?' These are huge issues these companies are dealing with."
At some schools, faculty members are hoping that they can lend students a helping hand. At Darden, a half-dozen faculty members have expressed interest in creating paid research assistant jobs for students. Jack Oakes, Darden's career-services director, says he expects students will take them up on their offers this year, especially because nearly 40% of the class was still looking for internships as of late March.
"In years past, some students have scoffed a little bit at the prospect of working at their own B-school," he says. "But now students are expressing interest in these types of internships."
Peter Boatwright, an associate professor of marketing at Tepper, recently posted an internship on the school's career-services job board, asking for an MBA student to assist him with a textbook on pricing he's writing this summer. While he is hopeful that he will get a response, he expects it will be a last resort for most students.
"I'm still not viewing my textbook internship as exactly what they would want," Boatwright says. "If they come to talk to me, I'll suggest that they might want to wait until they are pretty confident they are not getting an opportunity."
The Search Continues
Amanda Ott, 25, a first-year master in computational finance student at Tepper, says she is still holding out for the right job opportunity. She's been looking for a position in quantitative research or financial modeling at a financial firm since December, and has had about six interviews with companies all over the country.
"I was hoping that it wouldn't take this long," she says. "I knew this year would be a little bit harder to find something, so I'm just putting myself out there and trying to get some hits."
Damast is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com.