It is no secret; the nation faces a staggering unemployment rate – 9.1 percent in general and 16.7 percent specifically for Blacks according to the Department of Labor. That is not good news for the job-seeking college graduate. But, while the job market is tough, there are plenty of opportunities for the well-prepared and educated who enter the market.

Whether a student decides to pursue a career or an advanced degree after undergraduate studies, she must understand that college is a twofold journey.  Those who simply get the education miss out on connections that move them from scholar to selected professional. For students who capitalize on internships, co-ops or speak a foreign language, the harvest is plentiful.

“I would encourage students to find meaningful internships during the school year and  the summer,” said J. Veronica Biggins, C’68, managing director of Diversified Search, one of the nation’s top 10 executive search firms.  “Internships expose people immediately to what you can do. If you do a great job as an intern, and do a lot more than is required of you as an intern, it will really set you apart.”

Setting yourself apart

Shevika Mitchell, C’2013, saw that Spelman College’s Office of Career Planning and Development sent out a lot of internships, but none of them seem to be for first-year students  and sophomores.  “I was enrolled in the FRESH program and when I told Ms. Toni Ireland, C’77, there were not a lot of opportunities for freshmen, she advised me to attend one of their career fairs to make my face known,” said Mitchell, a psychology major who was born in Guyana and raised in the Virgin Islands.  “A few weeks after the career fair, I got an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Interior for their Career Discovery Internship Program.”

Mitchell spent her summer working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island in Virginia.  The internship included all expenses plus a salary.  Calling it her “most amazing summer ever,” Mitchell’s responsibilities involved public speaking about the environment and endangered species; and creating brochures and newsletters.

Touted as the best public speaker who ever interned at the department, Mitchell was hired after her internship to become a U.S. Department of Interior ambassador.  Her job is to inform her classmates and Atlanta University Center students in general about the opportunities the department has to offer to all majors.

Get in the game

“These are the premier internship opportunities that are offered through our services,” said Harold Bell, Spelman’s director of Career Planning and Development.  “It is important that our students get in the game to get these offers.  We can get them on the interview schedule.”

Bell said students should begin their preparation for a career as early as their first year, so they can be train in the mock interviews and get their faces known to recruiters.  At the Sept. 28 AUC Career Fair, there were more than 140 companies recruiting interns of all majors.  “Whether they seek a career or go to graduate school, these are premier opportunities that add value to the resume at the end of matriculation.”

J. Veronica Biggins

With the market in its tumultuous state, it is to the advantage of every student to capitalize on the resources available to make her a top candidate for a profession or graduate school.  “Life is not a dress rehearsal; every minute counts,” said Biggins, who ran her own executive and board search firm, Hodge Partners, before it merge with Diversified Search in June.  “So, in this tough market, students should stay focused; do well in the courses they are taking; think carefully about those courses; and get an internship to show on your resume you’ve had meaningful experience.” – Renita Mathis is director of Interactive Communications for the Office of Communications.

Share your career moves and win! Be sure to join Inside Spelman’s Tweet Chat on Wednesday, October. 19, from noon to 1 p.m. to share how you landed your dream job, internship or career opportunity. The best tweet wins!