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Seltzer, Rick - 4/6/2012

Companies looking to attract summer interns might want to work on job descriptions with a little spice of life - variety. "The variety of the internship is usually what attracts the best talent from the student side," says Robert Nealon, metro market manager for Robert Half International Inc. (NYSE: RHI. "The big thing for any student looking for internships is, your goal is to do as much work as possible."

Nealon, who is based in Robert Half's office in Braintree, Mass., oversees the company's Syracuse office at 500 Plum St. Robert Half is a specialized staffing firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. In addition to using variety to attract top-quality interns, Nealon recommends finding a unique role that an intern can fill. That role will vary depending on the type of business, but it shouldn't be something simple like making copies or coffee.

"A lot of interns really look for some type of opportunity that has something unique," Nealon says. "The ability to do something that's not standard or cookie-cutter across the industry is the number-one thing we hear from students." There will be more competition for top-level interns this year as the job market improves, according to the results of a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The 2012 Internship &Co-op Survey by NACE found that employers plan to increase internship hires by 8.5 percent over last year. NACE conducted the survey from Nov. 11, 2011, to Jan. 13, 2012. The organization sent surveys to 952 of its employer members and received responses from 280 organizations. The survey results showing increased interest in intern hiring aren't surprising, according to Nealon. Many of Robert Half's clients are returning their staffing levels to normal after employment cratered during the recession, he says.

And when staffing levels go up, so does interest in interns, he adds. "Intern use is really a big driver for clients to do a lot of projects," he says. "Most of it is supplemental to help the staff with different projects." Many firms are trying to attract students to internships by offering pay, according to Nealon. He pointed to the NASE survey, which found that 99.6 percent of internships are paid. That is up from 2011, when 97.1 percent of internships were paid, according to the survey. And this year, just 4.2 percent of survey respondents said unpaid positions are at least part of their internship hires, down from 7.1 percent last year.

"The number-one thing [for students] certainly isn't the compensation side of it, but it's an extra benefit," Nealon says. "Not only does a paid internship give you theexperience, but it gives you some help with some of the costs associated with commuting to the internship." Nealon recommends embracing interns as part of the company once they are on board. Interns value being involved in meetings and seeing how their work fits into a business, he says.

Keeping interns satisfied can pay off for a company, Nealon says. Students often look to turn their internships into permanent work with employers, and businesses can benefit from the chance to hire a former intern, he says. "It's certainly a cost-effective way for employers to get a head start on the hiring process in general," he says. "It's a great way to get a sneak peak of somebody coming out of school, to get a look at their work ethic."