Are Internships the New Entry-Level Jobs?

The world of book publishing is highly insular, highly competitive, and notoriously difficult to break into. Particularly in New York City, the industry epicenter, job seekers often struggle to stand out from a crowded field of equally qualified candidates. In order to get a foot in the door, many aspiring publishing professionals turn to internships, where they hope to gain hands-on work experience and forge connections with established industry pros.

While gathering information for my research paper (a requirement for graduating from Portland State’s publishing program), I surveyed 187 current and former publishing employees in an effort to understand the challenges facing those who hope to break into the industry. Of the 187 respondents, 72.7 percent worked as interns at some point in their publishing careers. Of the respondents who had worked as interns, 69.1 percent had worked two or more internships; almost 20 percent of respondents reported working four or more internships.

Additional statistics paint a bleaker picture. Even with relevant experience, 50.7 percent of respondents who had worked as interns reported taking more than six months to find a job in the industry; 39 percent of respondents said it took them more than a year.

These numbers raise interesting questions. Are these long-term interns stringing together multiple part-time internships out of necessity? Are they unable to find or secure entry-level jobs? Or are internships the only “jobs” they’re qualified for, with so many entry-level roles requiring a year or more of prior relevant experience? More research is needed to answer these questions.

Another finding revealed a possible relationship between the length of an employee’s career and whether or not they had worked as an intern. In my survey, I asked respondents how long they had worked in publishing, to which 36.9 percent answered three years or less; 28.9 percent said four to six years; 15.5 percent said seven to ten years; 7 percent said eleven to fifteen years; 2.7 percent said sixteen to twenty years; 2.7 percent said twenty to twenty-five years; and 6.4 percent said more than twenty-five years.

Of the respondents who had worked in publishing for fewer than fifteen years, 80 percent had worked as interns. In contrast, among those who had worked in publishing for more than fifteen years, only 18.2 percent had worked as interns. The difference is most striking among respondents who have worked in publishing for more than twenty-five years; only one of those twelve respondents reported having worked as an intern at some point in their career.

It isn’t hard to guess what could have contributed to the shift. A decade ago, the Great Recession fundamentally altered the landscape of American employment. Although my research did not specifically look into the effect of the recession on the publishing industry, it would be fascinating to explore that topic further—and to try to piece together why the industry continues to rely so heavily on interns.