An internship is an opportunity employers offer to students interested in gaining work experience in specific industries, and an important step to building a solid career. Internships can be found through listings on job hunting and corporate websites, while some companies recruit on college campuses.
Time Frame for Internships
An intern works at a company for a fixed period of time, usually three to six months. Some students will have a part-time internship working at the office for just a few days or hours per week. Others will have full-time internships, meaning they work the same hours as the company's full-time employees. Internships can take place at any time of the year—including over the summer—and during the regular quarter, trimester, or semester.
Importance of Internships
Internships offer students a hands-on opportunity to work in their desired field. They learn how their course of study applies to the real world and build a valuable experience that makes them stronger candidates for jobs after graduation.
An internship can be an excellent way to "try out" a certain career. For instance, you may think you want a fast-paced job in advertising, but after an internship, you may find it's not for you. That's valuable insight and will help you choose your career path.
In some colleges, internships also count towards course credit. This depends on your individual school's requirements, but typically a three-month internship counts as a full course credit.
Who Can Be an Intern
Interns are usually college or graduate students. Although internships tend to go to juniors or seniors, freshmen and sophomores seek them out, too. Having several internships while in college can be very impressive to potential employers. Some career-changers who are well past college age also use internships to gain experience in a new field.
What Interns Do
The daily tasks of an intern can vary widely, even within the same industry. It is largely dependent on the company itself. In some internships, you may focus more on administrative tasks. But in others, you will be an important part of the team, making substantial contributions to the company. By law, internships are supposed to benefit the student more than the company, unless the student is paid.
Unpaid internships are common, but there are plenty of paid internships, too. Whether or not you will get a wage depends on your industry and role. For instance, editorial interns are rarely paid, while engineering students almost always are.
If you can afford it, an unpaid internship can still be an extremely beneficial experience. You can get serious work experience, build a portfolio, and establish a network of professional contacts which can help you after you graduate.
Some companies do extend full-time job offers to exceptional interns, though this is the exception rather than the norm. To better your chances of this, be proactive in your work, pay attention to detail, listen and take criticism, and volunteer for special projects. Meet as many people as you can and collect all their business cards.
Positioning yourself as a hardworking, reliable worker puts you in good standing for consideration. If the company is not hiring at the time your internship ends, do not be disappointed or think it's a reflection of your work. It's often simply a budgeting issue. You can still ask the company for a reference, which you can leverage when applying for jobs later. And equally important, you've met the first people in your professional network. Keep in touch with them.