Should You Do an Internship?

Why College Students Need to Get Experience

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At some point during college or shortly after you graduate, you should seriously think about doing an internship. There are few better ways to learn valuable skills that are both related to your area of study and the workplace in general.

4 Benefits of Doing an Internship

  1. Provides Work Experience: Interning is a great way to get real work experience in your major.
  2. Allows You to Learn About an Occupation or Industry: It will give you an inside look at an occupation. It can help you discover if the career you are considering is right (or wrong) for you before you expend more time and money preparing for it. Similarly, it will give you a glimpse into an industry in which you might want to work in the future. 
  1. Strengthens Your Resume: With more and more people doing internships, employers are coming to expect to see them listed on the resumes of potential employees. It also demonstrates, as mentioned earlier, that you have relevant work experience.
  2. May Lead to a Job Offer: While you shouldn't go into it expecting more than a good learning experience and a chance to build your workplace skills, employers occasionally hire former interns for full-time positions. This is just another reason to take the job seriously and make a great impression. Of course, it isn't the only one. You want your performance to be excellent regardless of whether it will lead to future employment.

Will You Get Paid?

There are paid and unpaid internships. For-profit entities must consider interns employees and therefore pay them at least minimum wage and overtime pay unless they meet certain criteria set forth by the Wages and Hours Division of the United States Department of Labor.

To summarize, interns must receive training that is similar to what they would get in school; they must benefit from the experience; they should not displace regular employees; they are not entitled to a job when the internship ends; employers must not benefit; both parties must understand the intern will not receive monetary compensation (U.S. Department of Labor.

"Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act, 2010").

2 Reasons to Not Do an Internship

  1. Financial Burden: The cost of a college education is very high and rising each year. Doing an internship that is unpaid or has lower compensation than another job can present a tremendous financial burden for those students who must pay their own way through school or contribute to their living expenses.
  2. Your Job Provides Better Experience: If you are currently working in your field, your job may provide work experience that is superior to anything you can get from an internship. Don't discount the benefit, however, of supplementing your current employment experience by interning with a different organization.

How to Find an Internship

  • Consult Your College Career Center: You college career center may be able to help you find an internship. They often have established relationships with employers who will alert them to available opportunities. The career counselors or other professionals can also assist you with your resume and job interviewing skills.
  • Career Fair: If your college hosts a career fair, you should not miss it. It will give you the chance to meet potential employers.
  • Get on LinkedIn: Connect with alumni from your school who may work for companies that are hiring interns.
  • Use Internship and Job Sites: Use sites like Internships.com, Looksharp, Indeed and SimplyHired.
  • Look at Company Websites: If there is a particular company you're interested in, check the career or employment section of its website for opportunities.
  • Check With Professional Associations: You can often find openings listed on the websites or in the newsletters of relevant professional organizations or trade groups.

How to Evaluate an Internship

  • Read the Description: While many internships exist to nurture budding professionals, there are others that serve only to provide the employer with cheap (or free) labor. Yes, there is a law that prohibits them from doing that (see Will You Get Paid?, above), but that doesn't mean every employer adheres to it. Make sure you are going to get what you need out of an internship.
  • Research the Company: Learn as much about the organization as possible. Doing this will not only help you decide whether the setting is a good one for you, but it will also make you a more knowledgeable interviewee.
  • Ask Questions on Your InterviewYou want to find out what you will be doing on a typical day. Will you be performing valuable duties most of the time or will you be occupied with fetching coffee and making copies?
  • Talk to Former Interns: Learn about the experiences of those who went before you. Talk to students who have interned at the site in which you are interested. Speak to your college's internship coordinator who may have kept a record of feedback or can provide you with the names of former interns. You can also consult your network.