It’s the American dream. Hotshot college and high school kids are scouted and courted by recruiters with offers of unheard-of sums of money and perks, and go on to fame and fortune when they graduate.
No, we aren’t talking about professional athletes. We’re talking about tech interns.
It used to be that most interns were unpaid, working instead for the privilege of learning the ropes in a particular field and, hopefully, impressing the company enough to land a position when they graduated. There are a handful of industries that still don’t offer interns a paycheck, but those tend to be the supposed glamorous gigs in fashion or entertainment. (Cue the joke about the person shoveling elephant manure at the circus: “What? And give up show business?”)
In the computer industry, it’s the tech companies that are wooing the interns—the hope being that these talented young people will be impressed enough by the company to go work there when they graduate.
To that end, tech companies are offering increasingly higher salaries to interns. The median household income in the U.S. is $53,046; in contrast, interns can earn the annual equivalent of $75,000 or more, writes job search site Glassdoor Inc. Of the 25 highest paying companies for interns, 18 are in the Bay Area and 19 are in the tech industry, with some paying more than $7,000 per month.
Layered on top of the salaries, there are the perks. Microsoft puts on a free concert for summer interns, while Dropbox pays for interns’ parents to fly to San Francisco. Google provides all its standard workplace benefits to interns, including onsite massages and laundry service, writes Sarah Frier for Bloomberg.
Surprisingly, internships are not just for college kids anymore. With the increased competition for the brightest young minds, a number of companies are recruiting interns from high schools. Facebook is hiring interns before their freshman year of college, while LinkedIn started hiring high schoolers two years ago. Startups such as Airbnb Inc. have also hired interns as young as 16 years old, Frier writes. “For the companies, it’s all about keeping up with Silicon Valley’s youth-oriented culture, especially as the young and technically inclined are sometimes encouraged to create their own startups instead of joining large organizations,” she writes.
So once you get interns, what do you do with them? (In between the parties, concerts, and socializing, of course.) You don’t really want to waste this person on fetching coffee and making copies, do you? In fact, particularly if your internship is unpaid, you should not have them doing menial tasks, say legal experts, in response to a flurry of lawsuits from interns contending they were doing the equivalent of paid work for less than minimum wage.
Google has clearly outlined the roles of a number of its internships, including engineering, business, and data center positions. (Google’s program also “starred” in the 2013 comedy The Internship.) And companies considered to offer the best internships (Facebook is ranked #1 and Google is #2) typically provide challenging, real-world projects and the opportunity for networking as well as high salaries and nice benefits.
Here are some ideas on how to get the most out of your interns, from Nellie Akalp in Mashable:
- Make mentoring interns a priority, ensuring that they have at least one person they can go to with questions and that everyone is aware of expectations.
- Be transparent about whether they can expect a job offer after graduation. Either way, make sure interns are learning new skills they can take with them to a job.
- Give them a long-term project that lasts the summer, with regular milestones.
- Keep them busy. Offer a list of jobs they can do independently whenever they need something to do.
- Provide frequent feedback.
- Give them closure, such as a luncheon or other event, as well as an exit interview.
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