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What Is an Internship (and Why Should I Do One)?

students at an internship

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There’s a buzz around internships for good reason. Internships boost your chances of getting hired, build job skills, and show you what you might want (or not want) from a job. Yet finding and applying for an internship isn’t easy — and you might wonder whether it’s worth the stress and effort. 

I remember making a giant spreadsheet of all the companies I was interested in, types of roles I wanted to apply to, and tracking their deadlines and whether I’d gotten accepted. It was overwhelming, but my internship experience working for a small business helped me get some writing clips, learn about starting a business, and meet peers and a mentor who I learned a lot from. 

In this guide, we’ll go over what an internship is, how it matches up to other work-based opportunities, and why you might consider doing one. 

What Does Internship Mean?

An internship is a work-based learning experience at a company where you do entry-level work. It’s basically like a job, in the sense that you do real work that professionals might do, but the focus is to learn about the workplace and build skills. Internships can vary in length, location, and time of year, and take place in various industries and at different types of companies.

For example, you can do an investment banking summer internship at one of the country’s top banks or pursue a marketing internship for a small company in your hometown. Some companies have very formal internship programs and start recruiting over a year and a half before the internship starts; these kinds of companies often aim to hire successful interns for full-time positions after graduation. Other companies might have less formal programs, or don’t have a public program at all (but if you’re interested in working there, it doesn’t hurt to ask for an internship). 

It all depends on what you’re interested in and what kind of experience you’re looking for. 

What Do You Do in an Internship?

What you do in an internship can vary greatly depending on which type you have. Some involve more hands-on work on company projects, while others include more basic administrative tasks. 

At my part-time internship, I worked on a mix of tasks, from ones that helped the business expand, to creative work I was interested in, to administrative tasks to keep the business running. Every day was different, and full of various tasks. I wrote articles for the business’ blog, helped create social media posts, organized intern meetings, and helped launch the business’ podcast. I was really lucky to work for a manager who valued not just giving me experience, but giving me experience that I was interested in — specifically creative projects.

To understand what kind of tasks you’ll be working on, you can look at the job description, read reviews (if they’re available online), and ask the hiring manager or recruiter directly during your interview.

Some examples of internship tasks include: 

  • Researching company competitors
  • Performing data entry and entry-level data analysis
  • Updating the company’s social media 
  • Drafting internal communications, such as company emails or announcements
  • Contributing to team meetings and brainstorming sessions
  • Coordinating or helping plan company events
  • Performing basic customer service or outreach

You might also perform tasks related directly to professional development and growth, like:

  • Job shadowing a team member, either in their day-to-day work or in client meetings
  • Attending talks or presentations from senior leadership
  • Participating in mentorship sessions

Once a month during my internship, my manager had a meeting with the other interns and me to explain more about business strategy. This was really eye-opening, and taught me a lot about how a workplace functions! That’s what an internship should be all about. 

What’s the Difference Between Internships and Other Opportunities?

Internships are just one type of work-based experience you can pursue. Other opportunities include externships, co-ops, volunteering, and research.


Externships are shorter experiential learning opportunities. You shadow a professional to see what working in their role is like. 

>>MORE: Learn about the differences between an externship versus an internship.


Short for “cooperative education experience,” co-ops are typically full-time, paid positions with a company that alternate with full-time academic experiences. You may work for the company full-time for a few months, then attend school full-time for a few months.


Volunteer positions can vary in length, and typically involve working for an organization with a social mission. Volunteers are not paid.


Professors may hire students to assist them with academic research during the school year and summer. You may receive payment or school credit. 

Why Do Companies Offer Internships?

Internships don’t just benefit interns, but the company, too! While a company has to put in the effort to source, hire, and train interns, organizations get entry-level employees who can do basic tasks that more advanced employees might want to spend less time on. 

Yet it’s more than handing over work that may be below current employees’ pay grade. Many companies use their internship programs to source employees for their entry-level positions. It’s enticing to hire an employee who is already familiar with the organization’s mission, values, and goals, and who already has the skill set to do the job.

“[Internships] demonstrate that the candidate has some practical experience in the company’s field and is better prepared to succeed in a professional setting,” says Matthew Warzel, certified professional resume writer and former Fortune 500 recruiter.

Internship Benefits

An internship requires time, effort, and professionalism — not just to apply for one, but to successfully complete it and make it worthwhile. So, why do an internship? There are numerous benefits.

Professional Experience

Internships are a great way to get hands-on work experience at a company you’re interested in within a short timeframe. 

“They provide firsthand experience that is not offered in the classroom,” Jennifer Lennox, certified human resources executive and vice president of people and culture at AutoCanada, says. “Additionally, internships provide students with the opportunity to learn from professionals in the focus area of their choice, rather than professors who have teaching experience, but may not always have practical experience in the subject area.”

Two Sigma Professional Skills Development Program

While I thought my college classes were great at teaching me foundational skills — especially when it came to my writing skills! — an internship was an opportunity for me to apply them in a practical environment. 

Two Sigma Professional Skills Development Program

Build the skills you need to be workplace ready and crush your internship.

Avg. Time: 5-6 hours

Skills you’ll build: Project planning, communication, relationship management, presentations, explaining analysis

Explore What It’s Like to Work at a Company

“Internships can help students transition from academic to professional life, by providing them with a taste of what to expect in a work environment,” Warzel says.

Jumping into the professional world can be daunting if you’ve only had academic or non-professional work experience. Internships allow you to see firsthand what working at a company — and working in general! — is really like.

“[You] should gain valuable insight into the inner workings of an organization, as well as processes and procedures implemented to support business decisions that reinforce the foundation of the organization,” Lennox says.

It also gives a good idea of what kinds of companies you might want to work for. I worked for a very small company, which showed me that I like working in an organization where I get to know most of the employees and my voice, even as someone entry-level, can make an impact. I had some friends, however, who worked at companies with thousands of employees and loved it — they loved the formal structure and the resources. Everyone is different, so it’s important to learn what works for you!

Learn What You Like (and Don’t Like)

Internships also give you a glimpse into what working in specific roles at different companies is like. Even if your internship is only a few weeks, you’ll get an inside view of the company culture, mission, processes, and daily work life. This experience can help you understand the realities of everyday work and help you decide what you want and don’t want out of a job. 

>>MORE: Disliked Your Internship? 5 Things to Do ASAP

“For me, the primary goal of an internship is to learn more about a particular field and determine whether it’s something you’re interested in pursuing,” Sharon Belden Castonguay, executive director of Wesleyan University’s career center, says. “Even if you pivot later, you’ve got a new experience on your resume and new professional contacts.”

Networking Opportunities

Everyone you meet during your internship — from your hiring manager to a cross-functional teammate — can be a valuable connection, especially when starting your career.

“Internships allow students to meet and work with professionals in their chosen field, providing them with valuable networking opportunities,” Warzel says. “These connections can be beneficial when it comes to finding a job after graduation.”

Even if you don’t find a job from the connections you’ve made in your internship right away, they’re now a valuable part of your network! After my internship, I only spoke to my manager a few times to stay in touch, mostly engaging with her content online. Years later, she reached out with a job opportunity she thought I’d be a good fit for! 

Building Your Personal Brand

Optimize your LinkedIn profile for networking and learn how to best showcase your brand.

Avg. Time: 2-3 hours

Skills you’ll build: Personal brand toolkit, brand management, LinkedIn profile

Completing an internship builds your skills in two ways: 

  • Industry-specific skills: Skills you learn by working on projects at the company, like forecasting at a data analytics internship or programming at a software engineering company
  • Transferable skills: Skills you can take with you from one professional job to another, like customer service, collaboration, and problem-solving

“By working in a professional environment, students can develop a range of skills, including communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, that can help them grow both personally and professionally,” Warzel says.

You’ll also likely pick up on business etiquette that will help you succeed at any job. For example, knowing how to present your work or write a professional email are crucial for communicating effectively in the workplace.

More Hireable

The likelihood of getting an offer after completing an internship is considerably high. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, about 57% of interns convert to full-time hires. At some companies, nearly all interns receive a full-time offer (especially companies where internships are highly competitive). For example, over 90% of PwC’s interns get full-time offers, according to the company’s internship page

It’s okay if you don’t want to work full-time for the company you interned for. However, having an internship under your belt, even if it’s at another company, can help you get hired. 

>>MORE: 20+ Internship Statistics Students Need to Know

While not completing an internship doesn’t eliminate you from the hiring process, completing one can give you a leg up.

“Companies like to see real-world or practical experience from an early career candidate,” says Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step, a career coaching site for students and graduates. “It shows that the grad has learned to manage in the workplace, deal with unexpected challenges or handle mundane responsibilities. This experience enables candidates to be better prepared for workplace scenarios that don’t take place in a classroom.”

I definitely found it helpful to have an internship under my belt when I was talking about my experience in my first interviews. I had specific examples to call on about the work I’d done and how well I worked with others, and even had some samples to include in an online portfolio

When Should You Not Do an Internship?

Internships have many benefits but can be challenging to find, apply for, and land. Internships aren’t always paid, either, which may not make them feasible or accessible to everyone. So what happens if you don’t get to do one? 

Luckily, internships aren’t the only valuable work experience you can pursue. Depending on the type of experience you seek, your interests, financial situation, location, and more, you may pursue job simulations, research-based opportunities, part-time work, externships, or volunteering. 

Field You’re Interested InIntroductory Job Simulation to Try
Human ResourcesGE Explore Human Resources
ConsultingBCG Introduction to Strategy Consulting
LawClifford Chance Climate Change Law
Design/UXbp Digital Design & UX
DataData Visualisation: Empowering Business with Effective Insights
Software EngineeringJPMorgan Chase & Co. Software Engineering Lite
SalesPepsiCo Sales
Project ManagementAccenture Project Management

>>MORE: Learn about nine ways to get work experience that aren’t an internship.

Internships: The Bottom Line

Internships are work-based learning experiences where you do entry-level tasks at a company. They can benefit your career, not only with that specific company but also by helping you build professional experience, expertise, and networking connections. While they aren’t the only way to get work experience, they’re highly valuable to employers and a great way to boost your confidence and skills as you enter the professional world.

Are you ready to start looking for an internship? Download our internship application checklist and critical application information for 40+ top companies — including application dates, where to apply, and insider tips.

Image credit: Canva


What does internship mean? 

An internship is a work-based learning experience where you do entry-level work at a company. Internships vary in length and work location. You can participate in internships in a variety of fields and at different companies.

Do you get paid in an internship?

Some companies offer paid internships, and some do not. According to NACE, about 60% of interns are paid. Some students might receive school credit or funding from their university to participate in an internship.

How long is an internship?

Internships can vary from a few weeks to multiple months, depending on the season you participate. Most summer internships are 8-12 weeks long.

What are the benefits of an internship?

The benefits of an internship include: professional experience and skill development, learning what it’s like to work at a company, networking connections, understanding what work you like doing, and an increased chance of getting hired. 

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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