Web sites help students find internships, for a fee

TAMPA, April 26 -- Internships were once a way for students to earn a little money while gaining on-the-job experience. Then, many internships evolved into unpaid opportunities. Now, for some students, it's a paid-for experience.

TopNotchInternships.com is a website that charges a fee - $769 - but guarantees placement in an internship. The organization works with companies inside the U.S., as well as several other countries, offering internship opportunities that are very similar to study abroad programs.

FastTrackInternships.com, a similar company, charges $799 for placement in unpaid internships, $999 for paid internships and $1,999 for job placements for college graduates.

Chris Chotard, founder of TopNotchInternships.com, said the key to the program's success is that it sends out hundreds of applications at once. The company's staff works behind the scenes to ensure that the applications get into the hands of decision-makers. For every 100 applications sent out, Chotard said, the company typically receives about five responses.

Chotard said that before they send out any applications, they work closely with the candidates to ensure that their applications represent them in the best way possible.

The company is attracting "thousands" of students, Chotard said. He declined to state an exact number.

"But (we) still consider ourselves a small business with a very high level of customer service," he said.

Even as the internship field is changing, the internships are still an essential piece of a college graduate's resume.

“The companies that I’ve talked to said that they won’t even give you a chance if you haven’t done an internship,” University of Tampa student Timothy Groth said.

Internship placement services might be a good fit for some students, said Ali Dunn, an internship coordinator at the University of Tampa.

"However, students that cannot access these services due to financial or other restraints, are not at a disadvantage," she said.

At the University of Tampa, the Career Services office has more than 6,000 contacts and hundreds of internships available each year, Dunn said. Those resources are free to students.

Chotard argues that businesses welcome students who do all they can - including work with a placement agency - to get the best internships.

"Host organizations...are typically very receptive to students who have taken the initiative to better themselves through one of our programs," Chotard said. "(That includes students) who have proactively found them, and who see the value of an internship experience."

Upon signing up for TopNotchInternships.com, there is a $30 application fee, which Chotard said is the company’s way of making certain that each candidate is invested in the process.

"We hold an up-front consultation with every student to be sure we are on the same page," Chotard said. "And (we) also offer a performance guarantee of a full refund of program fees if for any reason we do not locate an appropriate internship."

The company also uses a resume builder and a cover letter and resume quality check system.

“We do everything we can to help (students) win an internship,” Chotard said.

The company encourages personal networking, Chotard said, but with the high demand of internships, it becomes a numbers game for those who do not have the right connections.

Chotard's site offers an option for students that need that additional help, and it has been a success for both parties, he said.

“It’s possible (for you) to do everything we do for you, but it’s just a lot of leg work,” Chotard said. “We know that students have other things on their plate, so we try to ease the burden of finding an internship.”

Groth, an accounting major, disagrees.

“People of high quality and good grades earn internships on their own,” he said. “So who’s left? The (students) who didn’t perform well enough in school or life to get the internship.”

Web sites like TopNotchInternships.com or FastTrackInternships.com might be a good option for students who don't have the connections they need to make their own way, Groth said. But the companies capitalize "enabling laziness in a country that is already having problems with face-to-face communication," he said.

Groth is a member of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors business society, and he has found several internship possibilities through the professional speakers that visit his group.

“Kids don’t have to join an honors society, but there are plenty of ways to build connections without paying a fee," he said.

Business student Brad Lincoln doesn't think internship sites are so bad.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said, “but I feel like I have sufficient network connections to find (an internship) without paying a fee.”

Lincoln, finance major, may not need to use a site, but he said he believe some students who could benefit from one.

“It’s a great idea for someone who may not know someone in their field,” he said.

Students are embracing the companies, despite the high costs. Dan Kuthy, a Michigan State student, said his experience with FastTrackInternships.com was beneficial.

"Fast Track Internships provided me with the opportunity to communicate with a wide range of employers in my field, and get a great job," he said.