You may be earning less than a 20-year-old Silicon Valley intern

Key Points
  • Silicon Valley is offering astronomical salaries and benefits packages to woo young, talented interns, and the trend is starting to spread across the U.S.
  • At Facebook, for example, the median monthly pay is $8,000, or $96,000 annually — nearly double the average annual base salary for the U.S. worker.
  • But recruiting them is not easy. They want to work for employers who incorporate elements they value, like diversity, a cool culture, mentorship and the chance to work on meaningful projects.
Northeastern University student Madeline Wolf, an intern at ServiceNow in Santa Clara, California, says her hourly wage is more competitive than almost every internship and co-op in Boston and New York.
Madeline Wolf

When Madeline Wolf began researching internships, she was enamored by all of the positive student testimonials she was reading about cloud computing company ServiceNow. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, the company offers interns a competitive wage, high level of professional development, health benefits and a bevy of perks, like a company laptop, free breakfast twice a week and participation in company outings.

"I was ready to challenge myself professionally and personally while having fun along the way, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to do so," said Wolf, a fourth-year student at Northeastern University's D'Amore-Mckim School of Business. She immediately applied through her college's career center and landed the internship.

Now in the third month of her six-month-long stint, Wolf said she is thriving. "My manager understands I am here to learn and develop skills, and she made sure to set those in our initial one-on-one. [She] trusts me working on higher-level projects that go to top leadership — no filing papers here. In fact, coffee runs are extremely frowned upon by intern program coordinators."

Besides her hourly wage — "It is more competitive than almost every internship and co-op in Boston and New York and was a huge selling point," said Wolf — she's enjoying the vitality reverberating throughout ServiceNow's modern campus, which features, among other things, fire pits, a game room, gym and meditation rooms. "It's also dog-friendly, so there's always wagging tails," she said.

It's all about giving Gen Zers 'the full package'

Today all bets are off when it comes to recruiting Gen Zers, and nowhere is the frenzy so pronounced as in Silicon Valley, where tech companies are offering astronomical salaries and benefits packages to woo young interns. At Facebook, for example, the median monthly pay for interns is $8,000, or $96,000 annually, according to Glassdoor. That's nearly double the average annual base salary for the American worker, which is $52,943, reveals Local Pay Reports.

That doesn't even include the bevy of benefits some companies are offering — from paying off student loans to subsidizing rent for housing. Facebook has taken this to a whole new level: Besides giving interns housing, it also gives them access to many of the benefits of full-time employees, including a laundry service, on-site gym, access to company shuttles for transportation around the Bay Area and complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on the company's campus.

High pay scales are becoming more the norm in the Valley. Median monthly pay for interns at Microsoft is $7,100 and $6,400 at Amazon, reveals. At Google and Apple the median monthly pay is $6,400.

It's easy to see why this trend is percolating in the heart of the nation's innovation epicenter and spreading throughout the country in this tight job market. This contingent represents 61 million people, and studies from the Center for Generational Kinetics show they are willing to work hard and learn.

But recruiting them is not easy, HR experts say. In fact, According to career site WayUp, some of the best internships are being offered by companies that students might overlook. They want to work for employers who incorporate elements they value, like diversity, a collegial work environment with a cool culture, mentorship, the chance to work on meaningful projects and a path to a great job after graduation.

They no longer are just "a part-time job with a fancy name," said Robert Shindell, Ph.D., and president and CEO of Intern Bridge in Austin, Texas, a research and consulting firm that helps companies like Best Buy, Johnson & Johnson and Verizon create meaningful internship programs. "Companies are spending much more time on the front end thinking about what the overall experience for the student is going to be."

[Internships are no longer] a part-time job with a fancy name. Companies are spending much more time on the front end thinking about what the overall experience for the student is going to be.
Robert Shindell
president and CEO of Intern Bridge

It's now about giving Gen Zers the "full package — a more well-rounded experience that includes interactions with senior leadership, social opportunities, soft skills training and philanthropy, all which showcase the company's culture," said Courtney Freaney, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management and head of University Recruiting at Edwards Lifesciences, a medical device company in Irvine, California.

For companies like hers that are in the tech industry, competition for Gen Z talent is daunting, since they have to compete with companies like Facebook and Google for many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Since recent college graduates are more likely than senior professionals to have expertise the company is seeking in the burgeoning new field of artificial intelligence, many companies are enticing them with higher pay and appealing outside-the-box offers.

The latest incentives that are paying off

To get ahead of the curve, Edwards Lifesciences is offering internships to STEM majors earlier — after their freshman and sophomore year. "Interns will come back multiple times to intern over their college career," and each summer, they are provided different types of experiences, Freaney said. The hope is that they'll then become more attached to the company and accept full-time roles upon graduation.

Her company has also hiked pay, especially for computer and electrical engineers, increasing some hourly rates as much as 30 percent over the past few years.

Edwards Lifesciences, located in the pricey area of Orange County, California, added housing to its list of perks, either fully paid or subsidized 80 percent, to remain competitive. These perks are paying off: Of the 65 percent of interns who were offered full-time employment this year, 90 percent have accepted the offers so far.

Yet wooing interns goes beyond the tech industry; nearly every sector, from finance and pharmaceuticals to entertainment, are retooling their internship programs.

Take Nickelodeon. According to the company's program manager of people and culture, Amy Wu Casler, Nickelodeon has seen an explosion of internship applications, from nearly 5,000 in 2015 to about 14,000 in 2018, primarily by making the internship part of a larger company strategy "to find, grow and keep top talent," she said.

In November 2018 Vault ranked Nickelodeon's Animation Studio Nickternship Program No. 8 on its 2019 50 Best Internships list. More than 13,000 interns from 400 organizations responded to Vault's survey, rating quality of life, compensation and benefits, interview process, career development, full-time employment prospects and diversity.

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The Burbank, California-based internship program hires around 30 interns for full-time positions each year. Interns can develop relationships with world-class working animation professionals and learn about post-production. Casler said Nickelodeon is also expanding its recruiting efforts beyond college campuses to attract top talent by scouting at conventions and festivals like Comic-Con.

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Michelle Hantman was a summer intern with Nickelodeon in 2016. A film and TV production major at the University of Southern California, she was interested in working in children's media and was hired to work in the Original Movies department, where she was responsible for script coverage, research and compiling newsletters of entertainment news. She selected Nickelodeon over other offers largely because of the internship's focus on mentorship.

"The Nickelodeon internship provides classes and panels that allow you to further hone skills you'll need in your future career," said Hantman, now 24. She pointed to internship panels that covered topics like screenwriting, networking, polishing resumes and professional etiquette. "Interns are not grabbing coffee; they are treated as members of the team." She also appreciated the philanthropic opportunities and the game nights. Three days after graduation, in May 2017, Hantman was offered a full-time job there and just recently moved into a script coordinating role, which more closely aligns with her goal of writing for television.

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