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Companies entice top talent with pricey perks

Companies vie to keep top talent by wooing summer interns with outrageous perks like cocktail  parties, yoga and fancy spa packages.
AOL Music LIVE! Presents Dave Matthews Band
As college interns prepare to jump into the strongest job market since 2002, companies are wooing them with outrageous perks, like tickets to a Dave Matthews Band concert.Scott Gries / Getty Images file
/ Source: Forbes

Some summer interns have a hard time scoring a desk and a telephone. Not Kelly Straub, a summer associate at the New York law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. She was given a desk and so much more.

On her first day, Straub and her fellow "summers," as they're known, were given social calendars that detailed the firm's events for the entire summer. Some highlights: a daylong getaway at a partner's house in the Hamptons, a cocktail party in a private room at the Hudson Hotel and a women's lunch that teaches summers how to do yoga and meditate to manage stress.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a slowdown in spending and a lackluster job market threatened to do away with outrageous intern perks, but now they are back. They're designed to entice interns to come back to a full-time job after graduation. After all, competition for top talent at accounting, consulting or investment companies is cutthroat, and these firms do everything they can to impress potential hires.

Competition for summer internships may be fierce, but once an internship is secured, managers vie to keep that talent by impressing those chosen with weekend getaways, extravagant lunches and over-the-top parties.

At top consulting firms like McKinsey & Co. or Bain & Co., it's not unusual for summer MBA interns to get flown to a resort for a free weekend of rest and relaxation. That's on top of their typical salary: between $15,000 and $18,000.

This year, Bain summer associates in the Boston and New York offices will be taken on a whitewater rafting trip in Maine for the weekend. They'll also spend another weekend at a mountain resort in Vermont.

The tone for their internship is set during the interview process. After candidates make it past the on-campus interview, they're flown first-class to a more formal interview with several firm members. They're picked up from the airport by a limo and taken to one of the city's top hotels.

Each summer, the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore rents the Central Park Zoo for a cocktail party for its summers, associates, partners and their families. The Chicago-based firm Kirkland & Ellis is known for taking its female summers for manicures and pedicures at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, all in the name of bonding.

"A lot of firms are giving summers BlackBerries," says Straub, who will begin her third year at the University of Pennsylvania's law school in the fall. "It's actually a social thing. We can e-mail the whole class [about outings]. That's fostered a lot more togetherness."

“When I first looked at the total package these interns are receiving, my eyes rolled into the back of my head, and I thought, ‘This is insane,’” says Steven Rothberg, founder and president of in Minneapolis. "Then I realized it actually makes sense. Their only real asset is the strength of their talent. In order to land the best talent, they know these candidates require this kind of treatment. The compensation these firms are paying is actually fairly small when you compare it to the type of revenue they're generating for the firms. When you look at it that way, it's actually quite a good investment."

Some perks are unique
The next tier for perks isn't as impressive as those at law firms and consulting companies, but they are unique.

At General Mills, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Jim Lawrence hosts a barbecue for MBA interns, their families and managers at his home in the upscale Lakes neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Apparently, you're never too old to enjoy Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. At PricewaterhouseCoopers, a trip to Orlando, Fla., is the reward for a job well done. Interns who are offered a full-time position at the end of the summer are given a four-day trip to Walt Disney World. They stay at the Grand Floridian Hotel. It's a mix of work and play—seminars and educational sessions are interspersed with a cooking competition and one night where the park is shut down and opened exclusively to the interns. Ninety percent of the company's interns get a job offer. They don't have to accept the offer to attend the trip.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' non-MBA interns were treated to a Dave Matthews Band concert last summer and dinner in the VIP room at the Tweeter Center in Philadelphia. This year, interns will be taken to see Cirque du Soleil.

Jonathan Jones, co-head of campus recruiting for the Americas at Goldman Sachs Group, says, "There's virtually something every night of the week." Last night, June 13, interns were honored with a cocktail party at Battery Gardens, an exclusive downtown Manhattan restaurant with panoramic views of New York Harbor.

Enjoy while it lasts
A word of advice: Enjoy the perks now. After all, these same industries known for wooing talent are the same ones that require employees to work long after even the Big Apple has gone to sleep. It's not uncommon for new lawyers and investment bankers to clock 80-plus-hour workweeks. And consultants often travel so frequently that flight attendants start to recognize them.

"It's definitely fun to be a summer associate," says Erin Conroy, a summer associate at the law firm Ropes & Gray. "There's a lot more work once you start working here."