Internships: A foot in the door?

It's vacation season in America and families are flocking to popular destinations, like Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

They come here for the 18th century experience, but in one respect, Williamsburg is as modern as any 21st century city - the place is crawling with interns, more than 100.

Even Thomas Jefferson isn't sure what to make of them.

"What do you think of internships?" Tracy Smith asked a man portraying Jefferson.

"Internships? Now I beg your pardon, Ms. Smith, but I'm not too familiar with the word internship," he replied, staying in character.

Intern Sam Cady makes tools in the furniture shop, while intern Erica Moses digs for artifacts. And intern Lauren James teaches colonial dancing.

For Lauren, it's a dream job, except for one thing: She's not getting paid.

"I'm getting paid in experience, I feel," she said.

Asked if the experience pays the rent, she told Smith, "It doesn't but family friends have been very nice."

"Now, why not pay your interns?" Smith asked Jay Gaynor, the director of historic trades at Williamsburg.

"I'd like to pay the interns. I mean, it really is a matter of finances. We just don't have the economic resources to do it," he explained.

Gaynor says internships are a win-win. The kids get experience, and the employers?

"The greatest benefit for us is that we get some extra help when we need some extra help. I mean, it's just very straightforward. We get some new blood. Young kids that have a different perspective on things and that's exciting," Gaynor said.

All work, for little or no pay. That's the intern's lot. And today, there are lots of them: From Yosemite to Sea World, to the White House and just about everywhere in between.

"Internships are so popular today, they're almost a trend - everyone wants these internships. I graduated college in 2006. And even then most of my close friends didn't have internships. But since then it has just really kind of caught on," Lauren Berger said.

Berger calls herself the intern queen, for good reason. She talked her way into 15 college internships, all unpaid. "And if I went back in time, I would do it all over again," she said. "Those internships just helped me learn so much about myself and about what I wanted to do. And it was information that I wasn't getting in the classroom."

While most colleges have career centers to help place students, resources vary widely. So after graduating, Berger started an internship information Web site because she knows kids are getting desperate.

"The most common question that employers are asking in that job interview after graduation is, 'Where did you intern?' And if the person next to you even had one internship and you didn't, there's a good chance that that other person is gonna land the opportunity," Berger explained.

In a 2010 survey, 42% of college students who graduated with an internship on their resume received a job offer, compared to just 30% for students with no intern experience. And, those graduates with internships received a higher starting salary, about $42,000, compared to just $35,000 for those without.

How hot are internships? In New York City earlier this month, Berger threw a small party for interns to meet and greet one another and got a lot more than she bargained for: a long line of interns.

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