UW-L economist studies what employers look for in college grads

headshot of John Nunley.

John Nunley, Economics.

Summers are a time for students to kick back and relax — or not?

A new study co-authored by a UW-L professor shows just how important it is for college students to use their class breaks wisely.

A college graduate with internship experience in the same field as the job they were applying for had a significantly higher chance of getting an interview than a college graduate who did not. And an internship was more important than grades or major, according to the study.

John Nunley, UW-L assistant professor of Economics, co-authored the research with his former student Adam Pugh,’13. Other authors were Nicholas Romero, of the University of Pennsylvania; and Richard Seals, of Auburn University in Alabama. The research was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

The rate of underemployment of college graduates — or employment below a graduate’s skill level — was exacerbated by the last recession. Nunley and his co-authors aimed to capture how bad the job market has been for students graduating during one of the worst economic periods since the Great Depression. They also wanted to know what factors were most important in helping them land a job.

From January-July 2013 the team sent out 9,400 resumes of fictitious graduates who completed their degrees in May 2010 to more than 2,000 online job openings in a number of major metropolitan areas. They applied for jobs in banking, finance, insurance, management, marketing and sales.

They found that graduates who had an internship in their field were 14 percent more likely to get an interview than students who did not.

Students who became underemployed after completing their bachelor’s degree had a harder time landing a subsequent job in their field than students who didn’t bide their time in a more menial job. But the study also found that having an internship during the summer before graduation cut the harm from becoming underemployed in half.

Nunley says the big takeaway is for students to differentiate themselves from the pack and gain whatever pre-graduation work experience in their field that they can. Internships are one way for students to gain valuable work experience while completing their degrees. Not only do internships improve employment prospects, it is likely that they reduce the odds of becoming underemployed after graduation, which, according to their data, has a more harmful effect on subsequent job opportunities than unemployment, says Nunley.

Internships at UW-L:

UW-L’s internship program through the Career Services office is nearly 40 years old.

Career Services helps students find between 800-900 internships each year. The number does not include internships offered through various academic departments in fields such as education and health-related programs. Career Services also assists students in finding part-time jobs in fields related to their major.

“Not only does an internship give students a competitive edge in the job search, but it also allows students to explore different areas of interests,” says Karolyn Bald, senior student services coordinator in Career Services. “We provide a program that allows students to explore different career fields in order to make an informed decision about their future.”
To learn more about UW-L internships.