Tech giants dangle cheap housing, free food to lure summer interns
Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing lure students across the country not only with competitive salaries but also with furnished housing, transportation, free breakfast and dinner, biweekly housekeeping, a private party with Macklemore and Deadmau5 — anything to inch out competing offers.
Seattle Times reporter
Amazon, 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 both contract with ABODA, a Redmond-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 also 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.
Housing’s a snap
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 one-bedroom for $900 or a two-bedroom with a roommate for $625 a month. 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 also 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 northwest U.S. 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.”
Boeing doesn’t provide local travel to and from work, nor catering or housekeeping.
Andrew Wang, 21, accepted an 11-week internship in supply-chain management at Boeing. He opted for the housing stipend because he wanted to live in Columbia City, located between work in Renton and the nightlife of downtown Seattle.
“When I saw the stipend they gave out for relocation, that made a big impression on me,” said the finance junior at Indiana University. “That was probably the biggest variable in terms of moving over.”
After Amazon flew Masi out to Seattle in May 2013 as a software developer, he settled into a room at the Springhill Suites in downtown Seattle, where he lived with about 100 other Amazon interns. For the first few weeks of his internship, catering for breakfast and dinner wasn’t yet available for interns in the hotel. So Amazon covered room service.
“It was a bummer when they started making dinner,” Masi said.
Amazon docked his $6,000 monthly salary by $500 for housing and food, mostly supplied by ABODA.
Social perks, too
Now 22 and graduated, Masi is back in Seattle this summer as a program-manager intern at Microsoft.
He moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Redmond stocked with all the necessities, for which he pays $900 a month. He makes about $7,000 a month.
He said he misses the community vibe he enjoyed with other interns at the Springhill Suites last year.
“Pretty much the lounge was just filled with us,” he recalled. “We would just play games and hang out and go in the pool and hot tub.”
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 at 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.
Enticing future hires
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,” said Cisler. “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.”
Colleen Wright: 206-464-2240 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @Colleen_Wright