Paid internships for college students, often considered one of the best ways to achieve full-time employment, have become even more valuable in recent years for both new graduates and companies. Ed Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, doesn't mince words: “Paid internships at for-profit companies are golden.” Indeed, in NACE's 2011 Student Survey, more than half of the interns from the Class of 2011 were paid, and 61 percent of students with a paid summer internship in the for-profit sector received a full-time job offer after graduation. In comparison, only 38 percent of students working on unpaid internships were offered full-time positions. Many of those full-time job offers are coming from students' intern employers. NACE's separate nationwide survey of 266 employers found that nearly 58 percent of interns from this year's class were converted into full-time hires, up from about 35 percent in 2005. As summer nears an end, companies will be starting to convert interns to full-time employment, and some employers clearly are more successful than others. For example, NACE projects that the top employers for bachelor degree graduates from the Class of 2011 will be in accounting services, and accounting's Big 4 firms often top the list of intern conversions, as well. New York City-based Ernst & Young converts more than 90 percent of its U.S. and Canadian interns annually. “We view internships as our primary recruitment tool when it comes to college talent,” says Dan Black, director of Americas campus recruiting for E&Y. “It's part of our structured management program. An internship is the way to show our top talent what we have to offer … to make them seriously consider us for full-time work once they graduate.” E&Y's conversion rate is high partly because it strives to recruit interns with the right stuff for its business and culture. When scouting for interns—who number 2,000 this summer—Black says the firm seeks a well-rounded background with involvement in student government, community or religious groups, particularly in a leadership position. “We want to see: Can you work well with other people from different backgrounds?” Black says. “Can you lead a project and react well when something goes wrong? Can you manage two or three things at once?” Philip Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, says the ideal conversion rate for interns is better than 50 percent but most companies aim for 75 percent. “No. 1 to becoming a full-time employee is having a supervisor or on-site mentor who is in tune with the purpose of an internship—and to work for a company that conscientiously looks at interns,” he says. “When hiring gets tight or senior management hasn't bought into [interns], the intern programs are put on hold. Companies that stick with the intern program always win. Students know they can depend on [these companies]; they have a great track record.” Ultimate Software Group Inc. in Weston, Florida, started its TechStars internship program in 2006 with two interns and has expanded it to 25. Although not based in a high-tech mecca like Silicon Valley, the HR software company has managed to convert about three-quarters of its interns into full-time hires. In fact, every intern who has been offered a full-time job has accepted, according to Greg Miller, the company's director of engineering talent. Ultimate Software seeks interns “who bring wind to the team,” Miller says. “At the end of the internship, you need to know icf they can do the job. We have to challenge the heck out of them.” The company, Miller adds, has interns do the same work they would do as full-timers, so it can see how well an intern performs. Miller says the best way to attract what he calls the “extreme stars” is to “catch these people on the way up. Those rock stars, you want a chance at them.” Whirlpool Corp., the home appliance company based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, sets an annual goal of filling two-thirds of its leadership development positions with interns, according to Jeffrey Beavers, director of global university relations. “We have 90 days to spend with [interns], testing them and leveraging their skills set to make sure they are a good fit.” Whirlpool interns are assigned to one of nine leadership development programs, including sales, human resources and technology, and have the opportunity to work with top managers in each department. “The intern program is keeping us from having gaps in our talent pool,” Beavers says. “We have the successors [to employees who may be leaving] in our pipeline. We've become pretty skilled at recognizing talent.” Ada, Michigan-based Amway Corp. wants to do a better job of converting interns. Kevin Douglas, Amway's manager of college talent and candidate experiences, says the company converts only 31 percent of its interns, but hopes to boost its rate to 65 percent in two years. One strategy, he says, is to begin trying to identify promising college freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on companies that don't offer internships until after junior year. In addition, Amway is reaching out to different geographical areas and offering interns a housing allowance and a free rental car. “We want to develop a pipeline of talent and have students we can bring back year after year,” Douglas says. “We want to develop some branding on campus.” Workforce Management Online, August 2011 -- Register Now!