What Is An Internship?

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October 6, 2022
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min read

Many young professionals apply to internships to launch into their full-time careers. Internships are typically positions for someone in college, and in some cases, high school or recent college graduate. Their structure makes it easy for eager young professionals to work around their lives and set them up for success after graduation. 

What is an internship?

An internship is as a limited-time, professional learning experience that prepares you for a full-time job. Interns take on tasks relevant to their experience and skills, and observe what life in their field is like.  The part-time positions are specialized for certain career areas, helping individuals new in their field gain the experience necessary to obtain an entry-level position, grow and move up. Internships can also be full-time during semesters when students aren't working. Some colleges incorporate internships into students' studies. And some companies hire full-time interns who are recent college graduates.

Everyone can participate in an internship, however, internships are not for everyone. Unlike a full-time or even part-time job, internships are structured like a contract and have a concrete stop date typically lasting one full semester. College students are most likely to fill internships, so positions are structured to accommodate their lifestyles. 

While internships aren’t necessary to break into an industry (roughly 30 percent of college students complete an internship), they are incredibly helpful for many reasons. 

Internships give you experience in your field

Regardless of what industry you want to go into, there is nuance in a career that a classroom cannot replicate. Being part of company meetings, engaging with your colleagues and superiors, organizing a calendar and building interpersonal relationships are all areas that aren’t taught in class. This is why internships are valuable — they put you in the middle of your chosen field and help flatten your learning curve before you enter into a full-time job. 

Internships also inform young professionals about what they like and do not like in their field. Within every industry, there are dozens of positions and responsibilities to explore. By participating in one or more internships, college students get a better idea of what they want out of their careers.

Internships look good on a resume 

When it is time to look for a full-time job, having one of more internships on your resume can work in your favor. Internships show hiring managers and recruiters that you are serious about understanding the inner workings of your field and won’t need a lot of training for the job.

People that take on internships during college and/or high school graduate a step ahead of their peers that don’t obtain internships. One or two semesters in a professional setting reduces the learning curve and gives you a professional network prior to entering your career full time. 

Internships teach you how to communicate in the professional world 

Work culture is a real part of your career, and it is also a tricky part. Through work, people with different personalities and backgrounds come together and share a company’s goal. A class environment can’t mimic life in a diverse space as well as an internship. By completing an internship before you jump into your career, you are building interpersonal skills so you won’t get culture shock when it comes to your first big opportunity. 

Internships are a way to test drive your career before fully immersing yourself in it. That way, when you go to look for an opportunity, you have the necessary experience and skills. On top of that, you also know what to look out for based on your likes and dislikes while at your internship. 

Is an internship paid or unpaid?

The challenge with searching for a good internship is that many companies do not pay their interns. The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that of the 3.28 million interns currently working in the United States — one million are not paid. 

Unpaid internships also perpetuate the wealth gap. The same University of Wisconsin-Madison report found 81 percent of students work paid jobs, 31 percent were in poverty and 41 percent were food insecure. When a person is struggling to make ends meet, they cannot afford to work for free, which gatekeeps valuable, real-world experiences for lower-income students. 

Additionally, unpaid internships are disproportionately taken by female college students, a trait the report says conditions these workers to devalue themselves: “In fact, some research on female college students pursuing unpaid internships reveals that the experience socializes women into under-valuing themselves on the job.”

The good news is that there are paid internships and the pressure for companies to pay interns is getting stronger. This summer, the White House announced it would finally pay its interns a $750-a-week stipend — opening up doors to new candidates from a wider variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Are internships important for college students?

While there are some outliers like career changers, the majority of interns are college students. That’s because they are built for the college-student lifestyle. They are only one semester and often require part-time hours (although, there are a few summer opportunities that offer 40-hours-per-week internships). With this structure, college students can still balance going to class and completing their assignments. 

Internships are important for college students because it is the first step toward a successful career. Internships act like a “practice run” for the real world, allowing college students to ease into their careers one semester at a time. 

Out of the 30 percent of students who participate in an internship, some even take on multiple internships throughout their college careers. While not necessary, having completed more than one internship gives you a better idea of what you want out of your career before you secure your first full-time position. 

How to get an internship

Internships involve the same hiring process as many full-time positions, so use the same effort you put into any other application packages. 

Narrow down your job search 

Before putting your resume together, see what opportunities are available and what you are most interested in doing. By identifying companies you want to work for and job duties you want to perform, applying for an internship becomes more efficient. 

Build a resume

After you know which opportunities are best to pursue, put a resume together based on those positions. If you want the internship hiring manager to notice you, a targeted resume is your best chance at getting an interview. 

Write a cover letter 

Like a resume, having a professional, informative cover letter is necessary when applying to an internship. Cover letters are important because they give you an opportunity to expand on the limited information in your resume. In a cover letter, you can share the work that went into an accomplishment, what you gained from your volunteer experience, how you view yourself as a leader and other insights that showcase your personality and skills better than your resume. 

Now that you know what an internship is, you’re ready to start browsing opportunities. Check out our full guide on how to get an internship.

Keep your internship search organized

Searching for an internship can be just as demanding as searching for a full-time opportunity, which is why having the right tools is necessary for a successful search. Teal's Job Application Tracker is one of those tools that can help. Add the Job Application Tracker as a Chrome extension and get to work organizing your search.

By using Teal’s Job Application Tracker, you can bookmark the opportunities you want to come back to, manage job follow ups, track opportunities, and optimize your resume with keyword identification. It takes the stress out of the search.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does an internship differ from a part-time job?

An internship is primarily a learning and development opportunity designed to provide practical experience in a particular field, often with a focus on gaining industry-specific knowledge and skills. It is typically for a fixed duration and may be paid or unpaid. A part-time job, on the other hand, is employment with fewer hours per week than a full-time job, focusing more on earning money rather than on professional training or education.

Can internships lead to full-time employment?

Yes, internships can often lead to full-time employment. Many employers use internships as a way to evaluate and train potential future employees. Successful interns may be offered a full-time position after their internship period, depending on their performance and the availability of job openings within the company.

Are there different types of internships, and if so, what are they?

Yes, there are several types of internships, including paid and unpaid internships, academic internships for college credit, summer internships that typically occur during the summer break, virtual internships that are conducted remotely, and co-op internships that are part of a college curriculum and alternate between classroom study and work experience. Each type offers unique benefits and opportunities depending on your career goals and educational requirements.

Lindsay Patton

Lindsay Patton is a journalist, adjunct professor, podcast host and digital communicator who specializes in business and career growth.

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