Best Places to Intern: 2008

BusinessWeek's 2008 list of the companies with the best internships shows college students where to look in this tough job market

When Boston University student Jason Kahn, 21, completed his internship with Microsoft (MSFT) (No. 7 on BusinessWeek's new list of top internships) this summer, the talented prospect immediately received an offer from the tech giant. He'd been the program manager on a team that helped develop a new way to connect people on Windows Live; proof that he'd be a valuable addition to the team. After a few weeks of thought, Kahn, a marketing and entrepreneurship major with a minor in computer sciences, took the position.

"It's a very nice feeling to have a job, especially one I'm interested in," says Kahn, admitting "everyone [at Boston University] seems…on edge" about finding a job in the tough economy. Stanford graduate Adam Widman, 22, puts it more succinctly: "If you talk to the grads coming out of school, it's a wasteland right now." Widman interned at No. 28 UBS's (UBS) leveraged finance group in the summer of 2007 and put his eventual offer from the firm on hold to participate in UBS's unique new deferral program, which has allowed him to take a year at half pay (with a health-care stipend) to work at a nonprofit and write a novel; now he's happy to have a job to come back to this summer.

Kahn and Widman came to an important realization shared by many of their peers: In this extremely tough job market, internships may be more important than ever. For many companies, these summer tryouts are the primary means of recruiting their full-time hires and therefore may present the best opportunity for securing postgraduate employment in this ever-tightening job market. "Many more students are immediately accepting their full-time offers," says Claudia Tattanelli, CEO of Universum USA, the research firm that provided BusinessWeek with undergraduate feedback for BW's second-annual ranking of the top 50 internships.

Leading to Full-Time Work

With this ranking, BusinessWeek has put together a guide to the best internships that, unlike any other ranking, provides information on pay, the number of interns each company recruits, and how many interns are offered full-time jobs. To compile our list, we started out with the nearly 120 employers included in BusinessWeek's 2008 Best Places to Launch a Career, our ranking of top U.S. entry-level employers released in September. Next, we judged the organizations based on three criteria: the internship survey completed by employers; their ranking on Best Places to Launch a Career; and the undergraduate student survey conducted by our partner, Universum USA.

While the number of companies recruiting for full-time hires is down an estimated 15% for his students, according to Mark Brostoff, the associate director for student services at the undergraduate career center at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, internship recruiting has remained steady. "If the economy turns around these are the students who would ready for full-time employment, so I think it serves the recruiters to maintain an intern presence," says Brostoff. "And yes, they are certainly cheaper to hire than full-time employees."

Although the internship picture may be slightly rosier than that for full-time employment, this hardly means that there are a plethora of positions. Of the 26 employers that provided BusinessWeek with data on the number of interns hired in 2008 and a projection for the number that will be hired in 2009, 11 out of 26 plan to hire fewer interns in the coming year.

Goldman Sachs (GS), BusinessWeek's No. 1 internship employer, says that internship hiring will be down but that it plans to keep the program in line with prior years in terms of content and activities. "All the same rules apply this year as in any other," says Jonathan Jones, global head of recruiting and vice-president in the Human Capital Management Division, of the steps students should take in pursuing a Goldman internship. "I don't think our strategy of casting a really wide net and really trying to bring people in from all backgrounds and all nationalities is something that changes. It's a very key part of our strategy." He also observes that thus far there has been strong, even increased, interest on campuses.

Getting to Know a Company

There are also those unusual employers like PricewaterhouseCoopers that are seeking to improve the intern programs—although PwC plans to hire 100 fewer interns in the summer of 2009. In an effort to provide a consistent experience for interns in all of its U.S. offices, PwC revamped its program this summer, stipulating that interns would spend more time working with clients and would also take part in a week and a half of orientation and training at the beginning of the 10-week summer program. As has been the case for more than a decade now, all interns who receive full-time offers will converge on Disney World at the end of the summer for a four-day conference intended to help them get to know the firm better before ultimately making their decisions.

One practice that PwC doesn't endorse, says U.S. sourcing leader Robert J. Daugherty, is forcing students to accept an offer immediately. He says that he has seen other employers do so as the job market has become tougher and employers find themselves in the driver's seat. "I urge students to not get caught up in the immediacy of the situation," says Daugherty. "Students—and their parents—have made a large investment in their education and they need to carefully analyze all potential options."

And for some industries, today's economic turmoil has worked to their advantage in terms of recruiting. "Generally we're seeing a huge increase in interest," says Microsoft intern program manager Caroline Bulmer of the greater number of top-tier students now interested in securing an internship at her company. "Certainly there are industries that are not hiring [so we're not competing with them]. Some of the financial firms are less aggressive."

Competition for internships is even fiercer because an increasing number of graduates are falling back on internships or applying to graduate school when there are no offers to be found. Robert Earl, the director of career development at Barnard College in New York, tells his grads: "If you don't have a secure opportunity, do an internship. Hopefully you're going to get paid, but you might not." But he says all hope is not lost, even in this super-competitive environment. "The person who's very flexible and very creative will be able to weather the storm."

Business Exchange related topics:Recession Job SearchEmployee RecruitmentFinancial Services Industry

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