Land the Job You Want With an A-List Internship
Mr. Bordson-Bozzo isn't hoping to land a full-time job. He's a 21-year-old college junior who has been on the hunt for a summer internship. The engineering and business major at the University of Pennsylvania says the competition is intense, and failure to secure a plum position would set his career back before it's begun. The right internship, he says, "is a huge bargaining chip."
The humble summer internship is becoming one of the most sought-after prizes on college campuses. It's no wonder: The link between summer programs and full-time jobs keeps getting stronger. Last year, major employers said 38% of their interns went on to full-time positions, up from 25% in 2001, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Some companies now put intern applicants through a rigorous screening process that rivals their regular recruiting efforts. Boston Consulting Group subjects successful candidates to five interviews each, while General Motors administers a timed online test with logic and ethics-related questions. Yet students who make it through such scrutiny often find the experience can vary dramatically, with Procter & Gamble letting interns pitch ideas to the chief executive and others relegating them to answering phones.
With so much at stake for college students, Weekend Journal wanted to find the internships that stand out on a resume. So we asked the people whose opinions matter: executives with a say in hiring at some of the nation's most prestigious employers. Surveying more than 150 companies in 10 industries, we asked which programs turn out the best prospects. We also sought advice from recruiting firms, college career-services directors and students. Finally, we canvassed all the programs that drew the most praise to find out more about the job, the perks -- and whether they actually help students get a jump-start.
There's more to it than a big name. Microsoft won acclaim for giving interns the opportunity to create products destined for the market, while Apple's program was rarely mentioned when we talked to employers. Apple says its program is competitive and interns do substantive work. Some of the internships employers consider exceptional aren't in the private sector.
High-tech employers frequently cited a government agency -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Langley Research Center in Virginia -- as producing some of the nation's finest engineers. Other programs that sounded pretty cool might seem daunting: IMG, the talent agency for Tiger Woods and other noted athletes, says about three-quarters of its 82 slots last year went to applicants with a connection to the company.
It wasn't long ago that summer internships meant a lot of make-work tasks, at best giving college students some exposure to an office environment. Now they're the latest example of how quickly the career clock starts ticking for today's students. Some companies say they're practically a prerequisite for full-time employment, while college guidance counselors advise that a distinguished summer position is one of the best ways to stand out in a competitive job market. At Vault, which publishes career information online, 90% of 1,272 members surveyed in the class of 2004 reported having participated in at least one internship, up from 63% a decade ago.
Now the competition is beginning even earlier. Students finishing their sophomore year will make up about 10% of the J.P. Morgan Chase summer program after rarely being considered in years past. Procter & Gamble says it has plucked interns just after their high-school graduations. Jennifer DuBois, a junior at Tufts, completed a sought-after internship at NBC News last year but thinks the previous summer spent working at a deli might not look impressive. She's been searching for internships online and has narrowed them down to five. "I'm way behind," says Ms. DuBois, a philosophy and political science major who hasn't decided on a career yet and hopes for a spot at either Physicians for Human Rights or the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
Overall, the application process is similar at most programs. Companies typically include detailed application instructions on their Web sites, and recruiters evaluate students on a number of factors, including their choice of classes and the quality of their recommendations. Application deadlines typically start in November for some media outlets and banks, and go through the spring. Amgen, for instance, accepts resumes through April. Some don't emphasize grades, including Microsoft, which says it has no GPA cutoff. Most expect candidates to make a good impression during an interview.
Resumes and work experience also are important. In fact, it turns out, one of the best ways to get an internship is to have had a previous internship. "It leads the student into a catch-22," says Steven Rothberg, president of CollegeRecruiter.com, a career site for students and recent graduates. "How do you get hired for one job if you haven't done a similar job elsewhere?"
At some companies, an internship is the next best thing to a guaranteed full-time job offer after graduation. Kraft Foods, where intern recruiting extends through March, says 90% of its interns will eventually get an offer to return full time -- but only 10% of internship applicants made it into the program's 215 slots last year. Companies say the internship focus is partly a result of a broader campus-recruiting push and represents a chance to lock up the most promising students long before senior year.
It's cost-effective, too. In some cases, the cost of recruiting one full-time position can be as much as $30,000 (factoring in travel, labor, marketing and background checks), while an intern can be tried out on the job and then hired permanently at a minimal cost. "We can't go back and find full-time hires every fall; we've got to develop a pipeline," says Amy Van Kirk, director and national campus recruiting director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is looking to fill 2,070 internship positions this year, up from 1,834 last year. Resumes are accepted through early May for the summer program.
Students, in turn, like the opportunity to try out potential employers before making a long-term commitment. After interning at Lockheed Martin one summer and at General Motors the next, Alexandra Nelson isn't yet sold on a career in mechanical engineering. This year, she's going back to GM, but trying out a different job in the structural development lab, and hoping the experience will help her decide. "I need to find my place," says Ms. Nelson, a junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But finding the right place can be difficult, and not just because some internships involve grunt work. More than half of undergraduate internships don't pay. Those that do vary widely. Kennedy Center interns receive $800 a month (working out to $5 an hour for a 40-hour week), while some big pharmaceutical and consulting companies pay up to $20 an hour. The Kennedy Center says its program is educational, and the stipend is untaxed and meant to defray housing and transportation costs. Smith Barney recently posted an internship opening in its retail brokerage division that gives college credit but no cash. The brokerage firm says it offers both paid and unpaid internships, and all unpaid positions meet strict criteria and provide college credit.
Paid vs. Unpaid
Human-resource experts say labeling a job an internship -- instead of "part-time" or "temporary" employment -- can exempt companies from paying, so long as programs meet certain criteria. The Fair Labor Standards Act says that for an internship to be unpaid, it must meet six criteria. Among them: Interns must be closely supervised and can't displace regular employees. "Some companies think, 'Why do we have to pay, they'll do it for free,' " says Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of New York University's career center. "Our students will take those internships and work as waiters on weekends. That's the reality."
It's a sensitive subject. Though most programs contacted by Weekend Journal supplied details of training and perks, most declined to share compensation details, saying it was competitive information. They also said pay varies depending on a number of factors, including the student's year in school and the department they're assigned to (at Amgen, a chemical engineer can earn more than a communications major interning in the publicity department). For programs that declined to provide specific figures, our survey compiled estimates based on interviews with college counselors who work directly with employers as well as former and current interns.
Salaries at investment banks, accounting firms and retailers tended to be higher than most, with interns at Wal-Mart earning up to $2,880, and consulting internships at Deloitte & Touche paying close to $4,000 a month. And while most government internships, including those at the White House and the State Department, are unpaid, there was one notable exception: The Central Intelligence Agency pays between $7,000 and $11,000 for a summer -- nearly as much as Goldman Sachs.
Some internships are particularly arduous. Participants in IBM's "Extreme Blue" program spend the summer working in teams to develop a product. Last year, one team designed software to help energy companies avoid blackouts. L'Oreal interns must develop a marketing strategy for a product line, and then present their plan to the brand president at the end of the summer. Others have some popular perks, including after-work mixers with executives and subsidized housing. Disney has 50% discounts on Caribbean cruises, while General Mills gives sales interns a company car and Target takes them on trips down the Mississippi River.
Paras Shah says he valued his experience as a Procter & Gamble intern last summer, especially the day he got to share his ideas for expansion into the baby-care market with chief executive A.G. Lafley and other top executives. He also enjoyed the extracurricular activities, including a tour of the company jets and a Snoop Dogg concert. "It was the best summer I'd had in my life," says the University of Texas at Austin senior, who will be returning to the company as a full-time interactive marketing manager after he graduates this spring.
As for Mr. Bordson-Bozzo, the University of Pennsylvania junior, his months of hard work paid off this week. He was accepted as a summer intern at a boutique investment bank in Manhattan. "It's going to be amazing," he says.