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What to Know About Internships

Written by Robin Reshwan, Seen on

As “Plastics” were the future to young Benjamin Braddock in the movie “The Graduate,” internships are the future for the students and new grads of today. Hiring managers consider internships important for career success, but they are also one of the best ways to explore potential careers. This brief guide to internships will help you understand what an internship is, how to find one and how they can expand your future career prospects.

What Is an Internship? An internship is “any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession,” according to Internships are short-term roles where an inexperienced person can acquire real world experience. They often last eight to 12 weeks – the length of a summer, a quarter or a semester – but can be shorter or longer.

From the student’s or new graduate’s perspective, an internship offers paid or unpaid hands-on work, allowing them to gain new skills and to evaluate their interests, strengths and weaknesses. From an employer’s perspective, internships introduce up-and-coming talent to their company; in exchange, the employer may receive valuable contributions, a boost in employee morale and possibly convert some interns into career employees. Companies may have one or many interns. For example, a small company might have one summer intern while a large enterprise may run formal programs with hundreds of interns across departments year-round.

Internship Compensation. In general, if the employer receives most of the benefit from the working relationship, the Department of Labor requires compensation for the intern. If the employer gains no or very little business benefit – in other words, the role is more altruistic and the intern gains all the benefit – the role can be unpaid. Increasingly, more college and university academic programs require an internship for school credit. If the student is getting academic credit, those intern roles can often be unpaid.

How to Find an Internship? Most colleges, universities and some high schools offer access to a wide variety of internships through their career centers or online collegiate posting sites like Handshake. You can also find internships on job boards, company websites and social media platforms including LinkedIn. Internships are available in many different industries, including accounting, finance, logistics, supply chain, sales, operations, data science, creative, legal, advertising, scientific, engineering, recruiting, public service, nonprofit and more. Just about any type of business or company could build an internship opportunity.

What Type of Work to Expect? Companies often look for tasks or projects that are easy to learn, safe to perform so that mistakes won't be costly and that are valuable to both the business and the intern. In general, paid internships may be more competitive and require some experience or specific academic accomplishments. Unpaid and less formal internships may have a more open approach to qualifications desired.

How to Get an Internship in an Economic Slowdown? This is the million dollar question facing many college students and new grads. Historically, due to the emphasis on training, intern roles are typically in-person. With the change in work environments, employers and intern candidates alike have needed to shift gears. Many companies have not yet determined the best way to move forward, so they have held off on seeking and accepting interns. But just because a role isn’t formally posted, doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities.

If you are seeking an internship, proactively reaching out to companies or potential hiring professionals is the key to success during uncertain times. If you can communicate your potential value and specific interests, you make it easier for a manager to feel comfortable working with you as a remote intern. Many managers are willing to create a project or an internship if they have a clear idea of how you can contribute and what you would like to learn about. Your clarity is key to making it easier to get hired for a remote or online role.

The Future of Internships. Certainly, the market for internships has changed dramatically this year, but many professionals in companies and in higher education are committed to help students and entry level professionals get access to internships. Many industries are hard at work to reimagine the valuable hands-on experience that internships can offer.

"Relatively little empirical research exists on online internships, but researchers have found that pre-internship orientations, self-regulated learning, sufficient technology, and effective supervision are important for successful experiences," according to a research brief from the University of Wisconsin--Madison's Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions.

As intern candidates, hiring professionals and higher education leaders continue to work together to forge a path to meaningful work experiences in an online or remote setting, interns will gain critical problem-solving, communication and productivity skills that will serve them well for the rest of their careers.

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