With a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s from Cambridge and a few years of work experience, Bill Brower, 26, thought he would have his pick of offers in Washington when he began the hunt for a job in his chosen field, sustainable development.
Nine months later, Mr. Brower is working alongside college students and living off a small stipend as an intern at the Washington-based nonprofit GlobalGiving.
Mr. Brower is just one of many job seekers in Washington who have had to settle for fetching coffee and making photocopies as low-paid or unpaid interns. In these hard economic times, young people hoping to find full-time entry-level jobs on Capitol Hill or with nonprofit groups are settling for much less.
“I was really thinking I would make it to the interview stage, and once I was in an interview I would represent myself very well,” Mr. Brower said. “But I wasn’t even getting to that stage. I wasn’t even getting the ‘We’re reviewing your application.’ ”
Many organizations are reporting that highly credentialed applicants are accepting internships as a way to cope with tough economic times. Many see the interns as future employees, and the interns envision the same thing. But for many, working for little or no money is the only way to get a job.
In January, after nearly five months of searching for a job, Mr. Brower was offered an internship at GlobalGiving, a charity that allows donors to target funds to small, locally run projects around the world. Although the internship is usually unpaid, the organization offered Mr. Brower a small stipend because of his impressive background including studying in England at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
“Luckily, I could defer my loans for a year,” he said. “If I had to pay my loans right now, then I don’t know if I would be making enough money to live.”
GlobalGiving has made exceptions to an internship program that typically was offered exclusively to students as it received more applications from graduates and people with years of work experience.
“We have definitely seen a number of intern applicants that are overqualified,” said Joan Ochi, director of communications for GlobalGiving.
She added, “In the past, we haven’t got a lot of engineers and people with those backgrounds applying for our internships, but this year I’ve seen a lot more of that.”
Another GlobalGiving intern is a former stage actress who performed in “Les Miserables” on Broadway and served on the board of trustees for the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
Many local organizations and intern placement programs report feeling the fallout from the tight job market.
“We definitely have an increase in the number of recent grads, one or two semesters out of college,” said Patrice Lee, media relations director for the Fund for American Studies.
The program, which offers academic instruction and places students in internships in Washington, has had an 11 percent increase in intern applications overall and a record 400 candidates this summer.