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How to find summer jobs and internships in an uncertain market

Get useful, timely tips and advice from fellow students and the Stanford Career Education office.  

News about inflation, a possible looming recession, and tech industry layoffs make this an unsettling time to be looking for a summer internship or job.

However, the reality is current indicators suggest that the job market for interns and new graduates is not as bad as the layoff news might make it seem, and opportunities remain available.

“Because we’re in a tech-focused area, we’re sort of in this bubble,” said Xiaotang Huang, director of employer relations and outcomes for Stanford Career Education. “People are seeing these layoffs making big headlines, but compared to the national data, it’s a small percentage” of the total job market.

Still, she said, “there’s uncertainty there, which points to a need for students to stay informed and explore a wide range of options.”

Strong hiring forecasts, amid recession concerns

Data so far does not indicate a big drop in internship and job opportunities for university students and those about to graduate. In fact, the number of internships posted on Handshake that are open to Stanford students and alumni increased by 40 percent from 2021 to 2022, said Huang, and the number of jobs posted increased by 48 percent during that time.

Portrait of Xiaotang Huang

Xiaotang Huang (Image credit: Stanford Career Education)

On a national level, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found in an employer survey released in October that employers were planning to hire 14.7 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2023 than they did from the Class of 2022.

When NACE completed another employer survey in mid-January, 35 percent of employers said they expected to have more recruiting activity in the spring of 2023 than they had initially planned. Only 16 percent of employers said they were going to have less. About half said they would have the same amount of recruiting activity as initially planned.

January responses to NACE’s question about whether organizations were planning for a recession in 2023 illustrate the uncertainty: 25 percent of respondents said yes, 30 percent said no, and the remaining 45 percent were not sure.

While the details of university recruiting settle out, Stanford students can look at a broad range of employers and opportunities for summer or post-graduation employment.

Looking beyond big tech

Although the large tech companies that are making news with layoffs may be a less certain source of jobs than in the recent past, many smaller and mid-size companies are just starting their recruiting cycles. Those companies still have a strong recruiting presence on campus, Huang said. “Smaller companies could provide a more comprehensive work or internship experience,” said Huang. “It’s worth checking out those companies.”

Students who are still looking for opportunities for summer are using a lot of different strategies in their search.

“I’m doing a lot of scrolling through job boards, Handshake, Glassdoor, LinkedIn,” said Anders Luffman, Class of 2026, who would like to find a paid internship in engineering or sustainability that he can do from central Oregon, where his family will be this summer. He is also using newsletters – from CareerEd and from departments and clubs that match his interests – to find job leads.

“One strategy I’ve used has been cold emailing firms that sound interesting to work at,” Luffman said. Although he has mostly heard no’s, he does have some promising leads, he said.

Search strategies

Two students talking to a potential employer inside a crowded room.

Students meet a prospective employer at the Civil Engineering, Sustainable Design & Construction Management Career Fair held Feb. 9, 2023 at Tresidder Memorial Union. (Image credit: Micaela Go)

Students who don’t have an internship, summer job or post-grad job lined up yet should consider these strategies:

Connect with employers.

Megan Lee, a management sciences and engineering major in the Class of 2024, started thinking about internships during her first year at Stanford.

“I remember getting advice from upperclassmen that freshman year, I should go to the virtual meetings that companies were hosting to get an idea of what I wanted to start working toward,” Lee said. One event she attended was for consulting firm PwC, who then notified her when their next recruiting cycle began. Almost a year ago, she applied for and was offered an internship at PwC – for the summer of 2023.

Not everyone gets offered internships over a year in advance. But making connections with employers can pay off.

In all interactions with employers — from informal talks to resumes to interviews — students should emphasize the skills that employers want. For example, the two attributes that top the list of what employers tell NACE they’re looking for are problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team.

Build – and use – a professional network.

Student wearing a suit and tie, leaning over a table to listen to two people sitting behind the table, which is covered with brochures.

Students and prospective employers meet at the Civil Engineering, Sustainable Design & Construction Management Career Fair held Feb. 9, 2023 at Tresidder Memorial Union. (Image credit: Micaela Go) (Image credit: Micaela Go)

A professional network can help in numerous ways with a job search: Networking contacts can let students know about opportunities, give advice about what types of jobs to look for, and get their resume in front of the right person.

“Some companies will create opportunities when they meet the right candidate,” said Jennifer Rowland, assistant dean for Stanford Career Education and associate director for experiential learning. “Students should absolutely be searching for posted opportunities, but they should also be doing informational interviews and networking in hopes that an opportunity could arise out of that process. It’s not too late to start doing that – and it’s also never too early to start.”

Students looking for their first internship may feel that they don’t have a network — which is where Stanford alumni can help. Stanford Alumni Mentoring connects students with graduates who want to help them build their careers.

Broaden the search.

Internships are a great way to explore different types of jobs.

This spring, for example, may be a good time to think beyond large tech companies, both because of the layoffs and because many of these companies have finished most of their summer hiring. But although large tech companies, big consulting firms and the finance industry recruit early, employers in the nonprofit, public sector and creative fields tend to hire later.

Portrait of Jennifer Rowland

Jennifer Rowland (Image credit: Stanford Career Education)

“There are a lot of industries that haven’t even started their recruiting for internships or jobs,” Rowland said. Keep in mind that companies in those late-recruiting industries hire for a wide variety of roles. For example, a student who is interested in finance but didn’t get an internship in the finance industry may be able to find an internship in the finance department of a company in another industry.

There are also companies in every industry that hire opportunistically, adding positions late in the cycle if they realize they will have extra work. And even within the industries that generally recruit early, smaller organizations may recruit later.

Design your own internship.

It may be possible to suggest an internship to an organization that hadn’t planned one — especially if they don’t need to pay for it. The CareerEd Fellows program can provide money for unpaid internships.

Sarah Sackeyfio, a pre-med physics major in the Class of 2023, made connections with public health professionals and designed her own internship last summer working for the Ministry of Public Health in Ghana in West Africa. The internship was funded by the CareerEd Fellows program.

“In the field, people were always willing to let me tag along with them for a day,” Sackeyfio said.

Make a Plan B.

Although it’s important to continue building skills and work experience, there are ways to do that beyond formal internships.

“Think about what skills and experience you’re interested in getting, and then think about what you could do that would help you gain those skills,” Rowland said.

Among the alternatives to an internship:

  • Project work. Reach out to alumni and ask if they have project work available rather than a full-fledged internship.
  • Independent project. Independent research shows initiative and will build skills and knowledge. Grant funding may be available to finance it.
  • Non-professional summer job. Hospitality jobs teach customer service and relationship management skills. Retail jobs build those skills, too, as well as marketing skills.
  • Learn something new. An aspiring writer could work on developing a portfolio. LinkedIn Learning offers skill-building classes. The website Forage offers simulated job experiences.
  • Take a break and recharge. It’s important to get work experience and build professional skills while at Stanford. But that doesn’t have to mean filling every minute with activity. “Students don’t have to do an internship – they can also take a break,” Rowland said. “No matter what they’re doing, we hope students will take care of themselves and find time to rest and recuperate before the coming year.”