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Forget paid internships - they pay to get them

In a competitive market, companies will place students in summer jobs for a fee. College experts say it's unnecessary.

Associated Press
Published March 8, 2007


MILWAUKEE

Claire Richardson knew this summer would cost her money.

Whether she chose to take an unpaid internship, study abroad or stay at Southern Methodist University and take summer classes, she and her parents would have to pay.

So that's why Richardson, a 20-year-old sophomore who will intern this summer at brokerage Smith Barney, didn't mind spending thousands of dollars to land an internship, plus more for housing and food, to spend a summer in New York.

"When you look at it you're going to be paying money wherever you are or whatever you're doing," she said.

Hunting for an internship takes time, and as more students realize their value competition is getting fierce.

A slew of businesses have popped up to help match students with internships, charging hundreds to thousands of dollars to help them write resumes, identify potential employers and find summer housing.

About three-fourths of college students have had internships or some type of professional work experience by the time they graduate, said Phil Gardner, director of Michigan State's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

When he started following such trends 25 years ago, 35 to 40 percent of college students interned.

"It's just one of those things you have to have before employers will even consider looking at your resume," he said.

But students shouldn't pay to find an internship, he said, because most universities have career centers where students can search for free.

"A student doesn't have to do that, in my opinion," Gardner said. "It just tells me that they're not going and using their resources."

Pay-for-internship companies

University of Dreams

What it does: Uses its staff's personal contacts at 500 companies, such as Paramount Pictures or MTV Networks, to get students internships with employers they couldn't otherwise get into, said CEO Eric Lochtefeld.

How it does it: An admissions team reviews applications and makes an offer. Students who are accepted pay a deposit of $500 to $1,000. Then they work with a placement agent, who finds a matching company. They're guaranteed an internship in the field of their choice or their money back.

What it costs: $6,499 to $8,999 to have the company find an eight-week summer internship, plus housing in dorms at universities, some meals, transportation to work and activities for a summer. Financial assistance, including loans, grants and full scholarships, is available.

Fast Track Internships

What it does: Works with students to identify companies that suit the students' goals but don't have formal internship programs or don't advertise them, so competition will be less. "We go about it the same way we would if we were back at a corporation or an advertising agency marketing a product," founder Steve Rodems said of tweaking resumes and playing up students' strengths.

How it does it: The company writes and prints 100 to 300 copies of resumes and cover letters, addresses envelopes and buys stamps before giving them to the student to sign, stuff and mail.

What it costs: $799 if a student wants an unpaid internship and $999 if they want a paid one. Both come with a two-offer guarantee.

Skills you need

Skills and traits employers have in mind when looking at candidates for internships:

Communication skills: Candidates should be able to speak, write and listen well. Presentation skills are key, as is the ability to respond to criticisms and questions.

Teamwork: Candidates should work well with different people while being in control of some of their assignments.

Interpersonal skills: Employers want candidates who relate to others, inspire them to participate or quell conflict among co-workers.

Personal traits: Candidates should have initiative, be motivated, adaptable to change, industrious, honest and be able to juggle tasks.

Computer/technical skills: Expectations for proficiency continue to rise.

Leadership: Candidates should be able to take charge but know when to let others take over.

Source: Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute: www.ceri.msu.edu/