Plight and Necessity of Intern Uncertainty Until Economy Fully Rebounds

Q.   Almost a year ago, I moved to Chicago, leaving behind a full-time job and taking an internship in a large PR agency with the hopes that I would be hired after proving myself for four months.  My internship was extended due to the inability to hire because of budget/need constraints.  I then took another internship with a different agency, with the same hopes.  My internship has again been extended and I am going on four months with the second agency.  I am told by many HR managers that they only hire for entry-level positions from within their intern pool.

  1. Do I take another internship, broaden my experience with different clients, prove myself to more people in the field, and of course continue to hope for the best or do I continue to stay through an extension with no guarantee of placement or do I start to explore other career options?   
  2. Do agencies ever hire even when there isn’t a direct/immediate need because they don’t want to lose a valued member of their team (and fear the person moving on to a competitor agency)?  
  3. How do I prove to HR managers that I am more than qualified for the positions and to look outside their own department intern pool when hiring entry level?
  4. Does it always take so long to find permanent position in the PR world, is it the economy, or is it me?   -AJ

A.  Your situation is not unusual due to the lackluster economy that makes agencies gun-shy about taking hiring risks.  Over the past three years, multiple internships often have become the norm due to uncertainty about client assignments, budgets and the anemic economy.   But as my recent post suggests, there is light at the end of the tunnel which should position you well for full-time employment in 2011.   

Nothing makes agencies and their HR departments happier than to extend full-time opportunities to interns.  Not being able to find opportunities for them is difficult for everyone and puts a strain on account teams — colleagues and supervisors — that agencies would prefer to avoid.  However, business models of most agencies prevent them from hiring full-time employees when projected long-term workloads don’t financially justify the position.  Most major agencies are owned by large public corporations that must focus on margins and returns on their investments.  Some small and independent agencies take a longer-term view and would hire top intern talent rather than risk losing them, but even those agencies have turned more cautious during the economic downturn of the past several years. 

Besides financial considerations, most agencies are taking increasingly longer periods of time to assess candidates for full-time openings.  They want to carefully consider experience, talent and skills as well as cultural fit.  Main reason:  No one likes laying off employees; it’s costly and emotionally draining for the entire organization–not just the individuals affected. 

As for your fourth question, the frustrating length of time for job search affects almost all professions, not just PR.  Since you’re just starting out, you have the luxury to all your options open.  Due to the overwhelming number of people entering the PR profession, competition is stiff.  An earlier post encouraged people to consider other career options that might allow them to return to PR when the situation improves. 

Finally, there is no magic number of internships that land the full-time position.  I’ve talked with young professionals who landed jobs after their first stint as interns, and others who are on their fourth and fifth internships.  The one thing I can assure you, a full-time job will happen if you truly want to be in PR.   Impress your supervisors with the quality of your work and willingness to go the extra mile, and you’ll be the type of employee they’ll fight to make a permanent part of their teams. 

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