9-2-13 7:37 AM EDT | Email Article
 

By Maria LaMagna, MarketWatch

 

1. "You're not giving me enough to do."

 

It's no secret that in today's hypercompetitive internship market, students and recent grads are jostling for a chance at even unpaid stints where they'll do little more than make copies or organize supply closets. Almost two-thirds of the class of 2013 participated in an internship or co-op, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the highest rate since the group started tracking internship numbers in 2007. And nearly 50% of those internships were unpaid.

 

But at the same time, employers have strong incentives to keep these newbies happy. Because of recent changes in the work world (including an influx of 20-somethings who are still struggling to find full-time work), some companies are relying more than ever on these new, untrained hires; and others are relying on their intern pools to find and develop talent that can play bigger roles someday. And that means more mid-career professionals have to learn how to manage, recruit and work with them.

 

None of this means that interns want to sit around, biding their time until they can check "internship" off their resume to-do list. If anything, experts say, the competition for internships has produced a crop of eager workers who are hardly satisfied with coffee runs. Internships that include only menial tasks are unlikely to end up in any rankings of "best internships" or even to get good reviews from former interns. In research conducted by consulting firm Intern Bridge between 2007 and 2012, gaining hands-on experience in their field was the quality potential interns desired most from their internships. Although nearly 84% of interns surveyed said they were satisfied with their internship experiences, more than 65% said there was room for improvement. And more than 68% said they would even accept less pay for more experience.

 

Fortunately for interns with an appetite for hard work, the tide seems to be turning. Lynne Sebille-White, the senior assistant director for employer relations at the University of Michigan's career center, says she has seen employers increasingly give students more substantial tasks in the past several years. Very few internships are 100% grunt work now. Employers, especially those offering paid internships, are able to get a better return on their investment when their interns have more responsibility, she says. When they complete projects, the employers are able to implement some of their ideas or expertise, plus get a better sense of the intern's capabilities. "Now, internships are like a three or four month job interview," she says. "When interns are filing or getting coffee, you're not testing what they can contribute to your organization."

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

2. "I'm here for the food."

 

Perks of high-profile internships, from free gym memberships to subsidized on-site massages to exotic dining options (looking at you, Google), have been glamorized to urban legend-worthy proportions.

 

Internships at perk-heavy workplaces are heavily represented in "best internship" roundups -- and they typically get the most applicants. As the fight for fresh college talent has become more fierce, companies are seeing perks as a way to lure the best and brightest in, says Scott Dobroski, a community expert at Glassdoor.com. It started with tech companies and is spreading to fields like business, oil and energy, he says. Free food, paid travel costs and housing subsidies are some of the favorite bennies among interns.

 

But freebies alone won't keep your intern happy, experts say. Bruce Tulgan, author of the book "Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y," says what many interns care most about are things like control over their schedule, strong relationships at work, choice in their tasks, learning opportunities, desirable location (perhaps the ability to work from home on occasion), money, and, perhaps most important, a job offer. "You have to have a really good free cafeteria if that's how you're trying to keep people in the building," Tulgan says.

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

3. "Your company is raking it in? Then why are you paying me peanuts?"

 

Many studies have shown how cost-effective hiring interns can be. An intern who works for one semester can increase a company's productivity by 7.1 workdays and yield a return of eight to 10 times her salary, says Robert Shindell, the vice president and chief learning officer at Intern Bridge, a college consulting and research firm. And according to one paper by researchers at California State University at Northridge and the University of Tampa, published in the Small Business Institute Journal, recruiting and later hiring a college intern costs about half as much as hiring from outside the company.

 

Yet the average salary for paid interns with bachelor's degrees is $16.26 per hour, according to the National Association of College and Employers' 2013 survey, versus $27 an hour on average for full-time, salaried employees with bachelor's degrees nationwide in 2012. That could be especially problematic for companies hoping to retain their interns, because pay and job satisfaction are particularly strongly correlated for workers at the lower end of the salary scale, says Sean Rogers, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at New Mexico State University who is completing a dissertation on volunteering and internships.

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

4. "I might be cheap, but I could really cost you."

 

Just when you think things with your intern are going great (he's finally coming in on time, wearing an appropriate outfit and has mastered the copy machine) ... scandal strikes. Intern indiscretions have repeatedly made headlines, turning inexpensive labor into a PR nightmare. Recently, there was the case of the National Transportation Safety Board intern who let fake, racist names of the Asiana Flight 214 pilots slip into a live TV news broadcast. And there's the former intern for New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who wrote an article in the New York Daily News saying that many of her co-workers signed on for the Weiner campaign just to get close to Hillary Clinton.

 

But most internships don't make the news, says Katie Smith, an internship coordinator at the College of Charleston's career center. "There are more positive experiences than negative," she says. And just by talking about their experiences, interns can provide some positive waves for a company. When their internships are over (or even in real time, thanks to social media), they'll be reporting back to other students about how the experience went, and that input can go a long way. "Nothing is more powerful than that word of mouth," Sebille-White says. "Good internships can be your best source of PR."

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

5. "I'll get your coffee ... but then trash you on Twitter."

 

Amid the rise of blogging, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, Gen Y has been accused of oversharing as well as of being superficial, self-centered and self-important.

 

Millennials, used to sharing everything online and often tasked with social media duties for companies, sometimes have gotten tripped up for making online choices that reflect their own tastes and opinions and not their employer's. An intern for the office of former congressman Allen West was reportedly fired in 2011 for retweeting a pro-gay message from Rep. West's account, when West opposes gay marriage.

 

But the sharing instinct isn't always a negative. Some colleges are tapping it to give students insight into various internship offerings. Mark Smith, the director of the career center at Washington University in St. Louis, says students can spill the beans about their past internship experiences not only in full-page school newspaper ads the career center buys, but also in an "internship book" subsequent students can flip through. For the past year, prospective interns have been able to search 1,000 student profiles to find out what their peers' internship experiences were like.

 

And the "selfie" generation's desire to constantly say what's on their minds can be a positive in the workplace too, says Shara Senderoff, the co-founder and CEO of internship-matching company Intern Sushi. Because they're comfortable articulating their opinion (for better or worse), advocates says, millennials can help foster open communication and reduce stalemates.

-Maria LaMagna; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

 

6. "I might sue you."

 

There are six standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor that companies are supposed to meet if they aren't going to pay their interns. Among them: the internship must be similar to training that would occur in an educational institution, and it must exist to give the intern experience, not out of financial necessity for the company.

 

But unpaid internships have become more common, especially in the entertainment and fashion industries, and companies and interns alike have been going to court in search of clarification of the rules. Recently, several former MSNBC and Saturday Night Live interns joined the fray, proposing a class action suit against NBCUniversal. They're being represented by Outten & Golden, the same attorneys who in June won a summary judgment in federal court against Fox Searchlight on behalf of former interns on the movie "Black Swan." Fox Searchlight had argued the interns were not employees and therefore should not be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but the judge in the case determined they were, in fact, employees because they provided valuable work to Fox--and thus, deserved to be paid. Fox recently asked the judge to reconsider some of his rulings, but its requests were denied (a judge did however agree to Fox's request to limit the time period during which class action participants can qualify to join

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09-02-13 0737ET

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