Interns press firms for faster track

Many now expect time to be filled with more meaningful activities - not 'gofer work'

For Katie Bauer, it's just another day at the office.

Running through the halls at US Marketing & Promotions, she's busy lining up models for an upcoming product giveaway for the company's largest client. With a deadline looming, there's plenty of work and plenty of responsibility.

There's one catch: She's an intern.

That's right. The days of sorting mail, fetching coffee, and spending quality time at the photocopier are becoming things of the past. With companies in a dead heat to find top talent, more businesses are courting interns with work that's challenging and meaningful - and also offers good pay, gym memberships, and dinners with the CEO.

"With the tight [labor market], everybody is scrambling to find new employees," says Camille Luckenbaugh of the National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem, Pa. "That means you don't want someone out there just doing gofer work."

Without a doubt, summer internships have become a golden opportunity for businesses to identify and recruit the best and the brightest early.

IBM Corp., for example, has 3,000 interns this summer - half of whom are expected to sign on full time.

Accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP has 800 interns filling its cubicles this summer - more than double the number it had just three years ago.

And Enterprise Rent-A-Car, has 1,000 interns - some having finished only their freshman year in college.

Of course, today's college students also recognize the value of a good internship. Statistics show that those with internships on their rsums find full-time jobs faster than those who don't.

"Everyone needs experience," says Angela Tomei, a new graduate who just completed a six-month internship with US Marketing & Promotions and was brought on full time. "A good internship is an ideal way to sell yourself. I could make 10,000 copies," but that, she says, wouldn't give her much to talk about.

While students are hungry for opportunity, they're also picky. They expect to work on the important jobs and rub elbows with the big cheeses around the office. They don't want to waste their time doing menial tasks.

"These days, you can be so selective, so it's important to be choosy," says Ms. Bauer, an accounting and film-studies major who will be a senior at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Bauer and Ms. Tomei are among 30 interns at USM&P in Torrance, Calif., which specializes in field-marketing campaigns to advertise products. The internship program is only in its second year. But the agency had some 500 applicants for this summer alone.

Indeed, it's tried to structure the program around more-challenging work. Most interns are assigned to the firm's various clients, with nearly a third working on USM&P's largest client, Procter & Gamble, which accounts for half of the agency's revenue.

Students do just about everything: contact model agencies, screen models, schedule product training, and review customer comments. They're also hitting the streets later this summer to hand out a product or two.

"I never did the same thing twice," says Tomei, who, during her internship, worked on such clients as Coca-Cola, Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits, and Pink Dot (a delivery service).

All the interns seem to agree that the company puts a lot of trust in them. They also wouldn't want it any other way. "We are often the first contact people have with the company," says Anis Bensassi, a University of Southern California international-business major from Tunisia. She is one of five international interns helping to expand the agency's presence in other countries.

While many observers agree that it's beneficial for companies to offer today's young hopefuls big opportunities early on, some worry it may cause a backlash among older workers who have played by the rules and paid their dues.

Still, more companies concede that, for now, taking a chance on young people early is key to surviving in today's high-octane marketplace.

"If you can't take what you do and teach it," says Robyn Bennett, a USM&P regional coordinator who supervises a handful of interns, "then how are you going to grow as a company?"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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