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Internships Offer Solid Pay, Experience

* Booming economy has created a seller's market. Tech firms offer bonuses, great odds of landing full-time job.

October 20, 2000|BOB WEINSTEIN | KING FEATURES SYNDICATE

Internships have always served as steppingstones to good jobs. Lucky interns received a stipend to cover lunch and tolls. More often than not, you were saddled with grunt work--fetching coffee and running errands. Those were the dues interns paid to gain experience.

But that describes the way it was a few years ago. Although plenty of unpaid internships still exist, especially in the humanities and arts, the great news is that more and more internships are paying decent salaries. Many even offer perks such as sign-on bonuses--and great odds of landing a full-time job.

This is especially true in the technology field. The reason? An incredible economy with the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years has created a seller's market. Employers can't find enough qualified bodies, and they're willing to pay decent dollars to find them.

Naturally, job-seekers are holding out for the best offers. Even though meaningful work rates high on most job candidates' priority list, money still talks--make that screams.

Contradicting commonly held perceptions about internships, they are not just for the Gen-X crowd. Virtually any qualified candidate, regardless of age, can conquer one, according to Donna Sizemore Hale, executive director of The National Society for Experiential Education, an Alexandria, Va.-based membership association encompassing all forms of experiential education.

And you don't have to be attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college to land an internship, either. Recognized and credentialed online schools are doling them out as well.

"Companies can't fill tech positions fast enough," observes Joan Stoia, director of the campus career network at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Employers have to stand on their heads to get these kids into paying internship programs."

Stoia cites a recent study of job vacancy rates at 312 Massachusetts companies conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. The average vacancy rate at all firms was 11%.

Consider these striking numbers among high-demand firms:

* Computer scientists/programmers: 15%

* Web designers: 25%

* Software and telecommunications: 8%

* Computer manufacturing, telecommunication hardware and medical devices: 7%

Bear in mind that vacancy rates vary regionally. But virtually all cities with high-tech industries are feeling the pinch.

Salaries also vary by region. The states paying the highest salaries, according to www.Computerjobs.com, are California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

Regardless of location, most firms are paying decent salaries to lure interns in to the corporate fold. Hewlett-Packard offered one intern $16.50 an hour, or $2,640 a month. Technical interns at Sybase are getting $18 an hour, and programming interns are being paid $2,700 a month at an Arkansas computer-design firm.

Margaret Roosevelt Haas, a spokesperson at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration (part of the University of Virginia) in Charlottesville, Va., said companies such as AOL, CNET, Dell Computer, Diamond Technology Partners, EMC, Intel, Mainspring, Proxicom and Viant are some of the technology firms recruiting at the school. "The monthly median salary for high-tech and telecommunications jobs is $6,300."

Teddi Roberts, a senior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., was paid $19 an hour during her Hewlett-Packard internship. Her principal responsibility was developing a Web site. She's already been offered $50,000 a year plus benefits for a full-time position at Agilent Technologies developing computer-based training and knowledge solutions.

Eyrique Miller, a graduate from Rutgers College of Engineering in 1998, received a scholarship and internship from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) sponsored by Lucent Technologies. The internship, which he filled during his sophomore year, paid $30,000-$35,000. When he graduated, he returned to a full-time job at Lucent paying $45,000-$55,000.

Despite the plentiful number of internships at technology companies, Stoia warns that older students (ages 35-50) still have a harder time landing internships. Often it requires addressing stereotypes about older workers not being on top of technology trends and lacking the energy of their younger counterparts.

Stoia's advice: "Stress skills and accomplishments, and highlight concrete examples. Avoid the age issue, which should not even be raised because this violates U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws. But older intern candidates can tactfully drive home that they bring additional skills younger interns don't have, such as maturity, flexibility and experience."

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