Paying For Internships?

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“I can’t put enough emphasis on the advantage of experience,” says Mary Mahoney, assistant director of Career Services at the University of Tennessee. “It really gives the student a competitive edge.” Internships are an essential tool for student to gain that ever-important “real world experience” that will make them viable employees, despite fierce competition in an economic downturn. Entry level jobs are seeing hundreds of applicants like never before and it takes the truly motivated to get out there and prove they have the interest, the commitment and the desire to move ahead in their careers.

There are many different kinds of internships for those who will work for free, but some wonder if the paying types have gone extinct. “We used to pay, but we’re not doing that anymore,” explained Tom Triozzi, senior VP of BellAtlantic. “We ask them to work for free for a great work experience.” In this economy, even the competition for unpaid student intern positions has become so fierce that the NY Times reported some students are actually paying for their unpaid internship positions! “It’s kind of crazy,” said David Gaston, director of the University of Kansas career center. “The demand for internships in the past 5, 10 years has opened up this huge market.” One student’s parents paid $8,000 to get him an unpaid internship at Ford Models this summer, which was an opportunity, his parents say, he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Some students wonder, “Is it really worth paying for unpaid internships?” Well, positions are sparse. The National Association of Colleges and Employers says that overall, summer internships have decreased by 21% since last year as companies trim their budgets. Competition is so fierce that 9,000 applicants paid the “University of Dreams” up to $8,000 to get a guaranteed internship position this year (which is up 30% from 2008). Even so, students who have to work for economic hardship reasons are finding it nearly impossible to compete in such a market.

Yet the news is not all gloomy, experts suggest. Target, for instance, has held onto their paid internship programs to help them find the best and the brightest workers. “We get a lot of great talent,” comments Target recruiter Victor Rota. “Seventy to eighty percent of them come back to work for us, so the return on the investment is there.” Additionally, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies that do offer paid internships are increasing the hourly wage by 5% on average, which takes the national average to $17.13/hour.

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