What are Interns and Internships?

Intern working
•••  Sascha Schuermann / Getty Images

An internship is a temporary job at a work location that provides the real-time work experience that an intern, usually a college student, desires to obtain. Older adults who are changing career fields or obtaining degrees can become interns, but the majority are in their late teens, early twenties and attending college.

They need the work experience to learn how to be employees and to have work experience to list on their resume when they begin to search for a post-college job.

Additionally, interns find internships for a variety of reasons. Interns need internships to:

  • obtain experience in their degree field;
  • earn money;
  • find out about different jobs, fields, careers, employers, and workplaces;
  • obtain the experience that they need to get a job;
  • fulfill degree requirements; and
  • learn about the world of work, in general.

An internship is supplied by an employer who hopes that by providing an intern with work experience, the employer, in turn, will benefit from the services. The organization hopes to capitalize on the knowledge, education, excitement, and recent training that the intern brings to the workplace.

The employer may also have a commitment to developing opportunities for students who are majoring in particular skill sets, degrees, or fields. The employer may also have a commitment to developing a dedication to a profession in young adults.

For example, a technology company may hire many interns who are majoring in computer science from a local university. They hope to attract the best of the interns as employees when the interns graduate. The employer also wants to provide real-life work experience for college students in the interest of promoting their company as an employer of choice and promoting interest in the field.

How are interns paid?

Internships are paid or unpaid positions, depending on the circumstances.

In most internship situations, Interns should be paid by the employer. Employers do obtain benefit from the time and work invested by their interns. But, unpaid interns are rampant in internships that are available from the White House, Congress, in much of media work, and in every other public and private sector job you can imagine.

When the internship counts for academic credit or work experience is required for a particular degree for graduation, the internship may be unpaid. The employers who hire unpaid interns have legal obligations about the work experience they provide for the students.

Some employers have been taking advantage of unpaid interns as free workers, instead of providing the appropriate training, learning, and work experience required by law. Consequently, the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued employer guidelines that differentiate an internship from employment. Employers who do not pay interns need to understand their legal requirements.

The DOL guidelines differentiate between the provision of an educational experience for an intern and an experience that too closely approximates an unpaid job. Penny Loretto reviewed the six significant internship differentiating points that employers need to know.

Employers have particular obligations about the internship experience that they supply for an intern.

In recent years, since an unpaid internship needs to meet these six tests that are difficult for employers to meet, many attornies are advising their clients to pay their interns at least minimum wage.

Why pursue an internship?

Typically, interns fall into a couple of categories of people who need internships. Interns may need to obtain the work experience for these reasons:

  • To fulfill graduation from college requirements,
  • Because successfully obtaining a job in his or her field requires work experience,
  • To test his or her interest in a particular field or job,
  • To fulfill certification or licensing requirements,
  • To gain experience prior to changing career fields, and
  • To gain real-world work experience in a real job.

In summary, an intern needs to obtain work experience; an employer supplies the work experience by supplying an internship, an experience providing work situation. Different legal requirements apply to internships than to full-time employment. These make internship provision desirable and advantageous to employers.