Image courtesy of Clark Construction
Carney turned two summers of interning into a full-time role at a Lansing, Mich., building firm.

Even with some recovery in the job market, obtaining a full-time industry position is not a given for 2012 graduates. But for one brand-new hire, getting a foot in the door through an internship was the way to go.

Jacob Carney, who graduated in May from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich., with a degree in construction management, landed a full-time job at Clark Construction Co., Lansing, Mich., earlier this month after two summers of interning there. "I am now a project engineer," he says. "The connections I formed in Clark and [the fact] that my project manager was impressed with me as an intern got me this position."

Getting the internship wasn't easy. Carney was one of 11 interns hired by the building contractor, which is not connected to Clark Group, Bethesda, Md. "Out of over 100 applicants, we hire only about 10% for our summer internship program," says Loic Couraud, human-resources manager at the firm, which ranks at No. 344 on ENR's Top 400 Contractors list. "Attitude, open-mindedness, drive and energy are some of the main factors we look for in an intern."

Headhunters see the value of internships to industry careers. "About 75% of our degree programs require an internship," says Angela Roman, director of career services at Ferris State. "We offer a career-oriented education and are dedicated to teaching career skills in and outside the classroom." However, Jill Cords, a career consultant at Michigan State University, East Lansing, worries about the media hype surrounding unemployment figures, saying, "Students keep hearing how tough it is to get jobs, and they don't come to career fairs because of it."

Carney credits the internship experience. "I learned more working for three months in the summer than I did during my four years at school," he says, noting the value of building relationships. "It's about who you know."