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Corporate giants lay out red carpet for interns

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By The Seattle Times
Friday, July 4, 2014, 8:57 p.m., Microsoft and Boeing sweeten already-lucrative job offers in Seattle with subsidized, furnished housing. Transportation is covered from anywhere in the country, including airport food, baggage fees and taxis. There's free breakfast and dinner, biweekly housekeeping, a private party with Macklemore and Deadmau5.

And that's just for the interns.

“We are all competing for those top students,” said Heidi Dowling, intern-program manager for university recruiting at Microsoft, “and what can we do to make our program stand out and what is attractive for a college student to spend their summer with Microsoft?”

Their strategies are working. More than 3,000 students have brought their talents to Seattle this summer to work at those three companies.

Dan Masi is a Seattle intern veteran.

One visit to a career fair at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was enough to make an Amazon internship in Seattle his first choice last summer.

A computer-science and mathematics junior hailing from a Boston suburb, Masi worried about the challenge of moving across the country, especially for only 12 weeks.

“I think the little things — finding my own housing, dealing with flights, dealing with relocation — would've just been really difficult,” Masi said. “It would kind of push me to find something closer to home. It probably wouldn't have been my first choice.”

But Amazon recruiters were clear: Relocation wouldn't be an issue.

Amazon and Microsoft contract with ABODA, a Redmond, Wash.-based corporate housing company, to cater to interns. ABODA rents out rooms in more than 150 locations in Seattle, including apartment buildings, hotels and spare housing at the University of Washington.

ABODA fully stocks rooms with televisions, bedding, towels, dishes, electronics and more. And it offers house­keeping and catering.

“It's basically turnkey,” said Marci Abinanti, vice president of corporate housing at ABODA.

Interns get quite a break: Corporate housing generally is subsidized.

Microsoft interns who choose housing over a housing lump-sum stipend of about $2,500 for the summer have three options: a studio for $550 a month, a one-bedroom for $900 or a two-bedroom with a roommate for $625. About 60 percent of the company's 1,600 Puget Sound interns choose corporate housing, with the rest taking the lump sum, said Dowling.

Lauren Kuan, a computer-science senior from Cornell University, chose to live in a two-bedroom apartment in Bothell during her internship at Micro­soft.

The 21-year-old interned at Goldman Sachs in New York City last year. There, she said, she received a small housing stipend but very little help finding a place to stay.

“You were completely thrown in on your own,” Kuan said.

As a program manager intern at Microsoft, Kuan opted for corporate housing in part to have a roommate. She drives a rental car courtesy of Microsoft for the freedom of exploring the Pacific Northwest.

“It shows that they really do care about employees and interns and so on,” Kuan said. “They want to make you very happy and make it very easy.”

Amazon and Boeing declined to offer specific details about the costs of their programs.

While Boeing has long offered a housing stipend and search assistance, the company this year began offering managed housing, and about 20 percent of its 1,000 Seattle-area interns have chosen that option. Boeing contracts with Altair Global Relocation to furnish its apartments.

“We absolutely want to be competitive with the market,” said Doug Cisler, global staffing regional manager for the northwestern United States at Boeing. “There's a lot of competition out there that we compete with for this talent. We put in place the program that we have to be competitive with the market.”

Social perks are another draw in the corporate game of intern recruiting. Masi said he's looking forward to Microsoft's annual intern Signature Event; last year, it was Macklemore and Deadmau5 performing for an audience of more than 1,000 interns. Masi also remembers when Amazon interns were taunted by Microsoft interns, who had received free Surface tablets.

“A lot of people say that interns are treated better than full-time employees, and I believe that's completely true,” Masi said.

But the lavish perks weren't a major selling point for Nick Heindl, a computer-science and linguistics senior at University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an Amazon intern, he pays $500 for housing, which includes biweekly housekeeping, breakfast and dinner Monday through Friday, and a free bus pass.

Heindl applied for about 50 internships before selecting Amazon, where he would intern as a software developer. An aspiring video-game developer, he searched for internships that could help him gain valuable experience.

“As long as I get put on a program I'm interested in, I'm happy,” said Heindl, 21. He heard about the accommodations big tech companies offered after his roommate interned at Microsoft last summer but said he wasn't too interested in much other than having a place to live that he didn't have to worry about.

“It's not a make-or-break deal, as long as they pay for it,” he said.

These internship programs, perks and all, are designed to prime future employees and entice them to return to the Puget Sound area.

And for some interns, it's working.

“Without a doubt,” said Wang about the influence of perks on interns, adding that he would consider a job offer with Boeing in part because he saw how well he was welcomed as an intern.

Boeing, for example, has more entry-level job openings than internship positions available.

“It's the right investment to make,” Cisler said. “We're really trying to use our interns as a pipeline for our entry-level positions.”

Some companies, like Amazon, try to lock in interns with a limited-time-only job offer by the end of the internship, giving them two weeks to decide.

At Microsoft, Dowling said, the majority of interns are given the opportunity to receive an offer at the end of their 12-week internship.

“At the end of their internship, they have the ability to leave with the offer in hand,” she said.

Masi said he might return to Seattle for a third time — and maybe for good. He said it's likely that he'll want to work for a big tech company in the area.

“I think it's hard to have a negative experience with all of this support and help and pay and accommodations,” Masi said. “I want to be a professional intern for the rest of my life.”

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