In today’s competitive job market, internship experience isn’t just a bonus on a resume for college graduates entering the job market; it’s a basic requirement. Though the idea of being an “intern” may conjure visions of adolescents delivering coffee and filing stacks of paper, this image couldn’t be further from the truth for companies on the Eastside.

In 2014, Eddie Bauer launched its new internship program, called Igniters. The company brings on nine interns who are split into three teams and given company projects to complete by the end of the summer. Each team presents its project to the entire company, and each member of the winning team receives top recognition as well as a $1,000 “Start Your Life” scholarship prize.

“We were really purposeful in designing the program so that it was competitive and it was real life,” said Tami Bumiller, Eddie Bauer’s SVP of human resources.

Emerging leaders within the company serve as mentors to the teams, offering a learning opportunity for both parties.

Interns are encouraged to follow the company motto of “Live your adventure,” and participate in hiking and paddle boarding trips, where they test Eddie Bauer products.

One of the most unique features of the Igniter program is that Eddie Bauer hired all of its interns for full-time positions after they graduated from college.

Symetra frequently hires directly from its intern program as well, employing an estimated 30 percent after graduation. There are 33 interns, with 14 IT interns, 7 actuarial interns, and the remaining 12 in various departments. Students applying to the actuarial department must be uniquely qualified, having passed at least one actuarial exam. Symetra’s program has interns working alongside staff, and aims “to supplement the intensive on-the-job learning interns get from their daily work, internship projects, and business interactions,” Diana McSweeney, media relations manager at Symetra, said.

Concur’s large program has approximately 100 internship positions, which became highly coveted in the past year when the number of applicants jumped from 400 to 9,000. Interns tend to learn a great deal about the specific job they are interning for, although the company encourages them to explore many professions within the company.

One main feature of the program is “Lunch and Learns,” weekly talks given by employees and executives. Interns spend most of their time working with a team consisting of professional staff within their department. At the end of the summer, interns make presentations showcasing what they worked on, and a winner is chosen.

Concur’s program also incorporates social activities, such as Mariners games and team lunches.

On the other end of the spectrum, Inrix has six software engineering interns who work together in a collaborative environment. The intern program was created to explore projects and ideas that the company might be interested in developing, such as a mobile app currently under development. Interns have their own office, adjacent to supervisors.

Inrix’s Kirkland-based headquarters is fully stocked with free food, snacks, and candy, as well as Xbox gaming systems, and a pool table. Though other offices have similar entertainment options, Inrix also has a speedboat, which interns and employees have access to.

Although each program is unique, there are four constant features that are key to the value of an internship, to both employers and interns.

Supervisors ensure they are taking advantage of having extra hands on deck by having interns work on company projects. No idle busywork or coffee runs for these interns. Instead, they have their own work that provides first-hand experience.

“Both the hands-on experience and the conceptual listening-in provided a lot of help for me,” said Torey Bearly, who is completing his second summer as an intern at Symetra’s. “One of the things coming out of last summer’s internship was just that extra context to things that you aren’t going to learn in school unless you get hands on experience.”

Unlike learning in the classroom, the interns gain practical, applied knowledge that goes beyond just the theoretical concepts.

“[The internship] provided extra context, so now sitting in class I’m wondering ‘so what does this actually mean,’ with greater context, actually in a business example,” Bearly said.

Tristan Riddell, a software engineer intern at Inrix, said his internship is providing real work experience. “For us, it’s an enormous learning process,” Riddell said. “We’re a ragtag team of newbies that are trying to imitate what a real software company does.”

Though staff members serve as mentors and are available to offer advice and help, autonomy is a major part of each program.

“If we need help, everyone is willing to, we all have mentors we can talk to,” Riddell said. “We can go to him and he’s happy to talk to us and help us, but they’re not walking us through the process of making an app or anything. We have to figure all that out, figure out how to use the technologies, and how to do it the way we want to do it.”

Interns are encouraged to ask questions and must report to their superiors, but are far from micromanaged.

“We plan it, the architecture, split up the tasks and all the organization, and the leadership, they leave that all to us,” Riddell said. Like professionals, they are given jobs and deadlines, and are responsible for getting the work done on time.

Internship experience is essential — Each company said previous internships are valued because of the way they prepare the interns for the actual job.

“I can tell you that from our viewpoint, it’s definitely valued, and it’s not necessarily the type of internship, so much as it is the willingness to try and to be experimental in what you’re trying to learn,” Marja Moore, Concur’s senior customer success marketing manager, said. “An internship is important to know they’re being progressive and thoughtful with their knowledge.”

All of the companies look for students who are involved and hard working.

“The big thing I look for are projects,” Inrix VP for Mobile Products Jeff MacDuff said. “There are some resumes that are just too empty, to be honest. There needs to be something on that resume that just shows a spark of proactiveness or ‘go-get-em.’”

Companies seek out people who exhibit leadership and strong work ethic for both full-time positions and internships. When Eddie Bauer narrowed down its applicant pool of 300 people to nine interns, recruiting coordinator Hannah Exner said she looks for leadership and participation in particular.

“Any involvement and club experience is where we got a lot of great applicants, people who were really involved in their school and community,” Exner said.

Editor’s note: The number of Symetra interns was corrected.