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. 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. We’ll cover:
- What Does Internship Mean?
- What Do You Do in an Internship?
- Why Do Employers Offer Internships?
- Why Should I Do an Internship?
- When Should You Not Do an Internship?
- Internships: The Bottom Line
What Does Internship Mean?
An internship is a work-based learning experience at a company where you do entry-level work. 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. It all depends on what you’re interested in and what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Internships vs. Other Opportunities
Internships are just one type of work-based experience you can pursue. Other opportunities include:
- Externships: These are shorter experiential learning opportunities. You shadow a professional to see what working in their role is like. (Learn more about the difference between an externship and an internship.)
- Co-ops: 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.
- Volunteering: Volunteer positions can vary in length, and typically involve working for an organization with a social mission. Volunteers are not paid.
- Research: Professors may hire students to assist them with academic research during the school year and summer. You may receive payment or school credit.
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.
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:
- 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
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.
Why Should I Do an Internship?
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.
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.”
Traditional education can be a great way to learn about certain subjects and build skills. Internships allow you to explore those subjects in a workplace setting and build practical, professional workplace skills.
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“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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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.
The likelihood of getting an offer after completing an internship is considerably high. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 68% students get full-time offers from the company they interned for. 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. This is especially true for jobs at U.S. Congress, accounting firms, and some tech giants. According to Chegg Internships, over 70% of entry-level employees at IBM, Google, Facebook, Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC, and U.S. Congress had completed at least one internship.
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.”
When Should You Not Do an Internship?
Internships have many benefits but can be challenging to find, apply for, and land. 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.
>>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.
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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.
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.
Internships can vary from a few weeks to multiple months, depending on the season you participate. Most summer internships are 8-12 weeks long.
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.