Press Releases

Internship Experience the Top Differentiator in a Competitive Job Market

BETHLEHEM, PA—College students who want to stand out to employers in a competitive job market can do so by gaining internship experience and highlighting it on their resume and during interviews, according to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Employers responding to NACE’s Job Outlook 2023 survey indicate that when considering two equally qualified candidates for a job opening, employers give the edge to the candidate who has internship experience. While employers rate internship experience with their organization as the most influential attribute, any internship experience in the industry is also a top deciding factor. (See Figure 1.)

“This is another example of the importance of internship experience for college students entering the job market,” explains Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director. “Not only do interns gain key experience and insight into an industry and the company’s culture, but they enhance their value to employers recruiting them.”

In large part, this value is tied to students developing skills and competencies—such as professionalism; problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills; and more—during internships that will smooth their transition to the workplace and be beneficial on the job.

But not all internships are created equal, adds VanDerziel. On average, paid interns get more than twice as many job offers as those who participate in an unpaid internship or no internship at all.  

“There is no substitute for the on-the-job experience and competency development that opportunities like internships provide,” VanDerziel says. “These survey results help prove that for college students entering the workforce, internships—especially those that are paid—are indeed difference-makers.”

On the other hand, employers are less likely to use GPA as a screening tool. Just four years ago, nearly three-quarters of respondents planned to screen candidates by GPA. However, in the Job Outlook 2023 survey, just 37% of respondents plan to do so.

“Increasingly,” VanDerziel says, “employers are more concerned about competency and skills. So, candidates who can demonstrate experience, knowledge, and ability through their resume and applications will have the competitive edge.”

Figure 1: Choosing between equally qualified candidates: influence of attributes

Has completed an internship with your organization
2023 Average Influence Rating*4.5
Has internship experience in your industry
2023 Average Influence Rating*4.3
2023 Average Influence Rating*3.7
Has general work experience
2023 Average Influence Rating*3.7
Has held leadership position
2023 Average Influence Rating*3.5
Attribute 2023 Average Influence Rating*
Has completed an internship with your organization 4.5
Has internship experience in your industry 4.3
Major 3.7
Has general work experience 3.7
Has held leadership position 3.5
*5-point scale, where 1=No influence at all, 2=Not much influence, 3=Somewhat of an influence, 4=Very much influence, and 5=Extreme influence.
Source: Job Outlook 2023, National Association of Colleges and Employers

About Job Outlook 2023: Data for the Job Outlook 2023 survey were collected from August 3, 2022, through September 16, 2022. Of the 246 total respondents, 150 were NACE employer members, representing 17.4% of eligible member respondents. The Job Outlook 2023 survey was also distributed to nonmember companies, from which an additional 96 responses were received. NACE updated the hiring projections in its Job Outlook 2023 Spring Update.

About the National Association of Colleges and Employers: Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects nearly 11,000 college career services professionals, more than 3,600 university relations and recruiting professionals, and more than 400 business solution providers that serve this community.

NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness, the employment of recent college graduates, and the college-to-career transition. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.

NACE offers its members unparalleled research, networking and professional development opportunities, guidance on standards and ethics, and advocacy on key issues. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.