What Are Interns and Internships?

Definition & Examples of Interns and Internships

Internships are temporary jobs that provide the people who do them, known as interns, with entry-level work experience in a career.

Learn more about interns, internships, and what they entail.

What Are Interns and Internships?

An intern usually works at a company for a short period of time to gain knowledge about working in a particular field. They may learn about the day-to-day functions of a particular position or department and gain work experience to add to their resume. Internships also afford interns the opportunity to experience a line of work before they've fully committed to a career path.

Interns are often college students, but older adults who are changing careers or obtaining degrees may also become interns.

How Interns and Internships Work

People can become interns through a variety of means. They may get an internship through someone they know, such as a friend or family connection. Students may find a pre-grad or post-grad internship through their school's career center. And internships can be found through job search sites or dedicated internship sites such as Internships.com.

Internships can be paid or unpaid positions, depending on the circumstances. As of 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor provided a seven-point test to determine if an internship can be unpaid. Each of the seven points effectively falls into one of two categories: the expectation of pay or educational benefits.

To qualify as a legally unpaid internship, both the employer and the intern must understand upfront that there is no expectation of pay. Regarding education, for the internship to be unpaid, there must be a clear connection between the responsibilities of the internship and an educational program in which the intern is taking part.

Some schools may require students to complete internships in order to earn degrees. When that is the case, the colleges offering the degree typically have programs in place to match students with employers willing to hire a certain number of interns for a semester or other defined time period.

Benefits of Interns and Internships

The most important benefit of internships is the experience that interns can gain from them. Employers usually want to see some level of experience outside of the classroom. Job candidates who have completed internships often have an advantage over others who haven't done relevant work in a real-world setting.

Another benefit to interns is the networking they're able to do with professionals in their desired field during an internship. They may connect with people in their own office and with clients they may encounter, depending on the type of work they do. When it's time to start looking for a full-time job, these connections can be as valuable as the experience gained during the internship. 

In addition, internships can help people figure out what they want to do with their working lives, as well as whether or not a specific job, field, or company is a good fit.

An efficient internship program can also provide a company with a relatively inexpensive source of labor for many basic tasks. While companies shouldn't expect interns to handle a lot of responsibility, they can use them as valuable support and assistance to full-time employees.

When employers treat an internship program as an investment in recruitment and training and are willing to give interns an opportunity to work with experienced professionals, they frequently will get valuable production from the students or others in the program. Companies can also look at the best of their past interns to fill full-time positions after they graduate.

Key Takeaways

  • Internships are temporary jobs that provide the people who do them—interns—with exposure to a particular career.
  • Interns are often college students but can also include older adults who are changing careers.
  • Internships can be paid or unpaid. If unpaid, they must meet certain criteria set by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Internships can be beneficial to both interns and the companies who hire them.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act." Accessed August 8, 2020.