Internships have become increasingly popular the last few years as companies look to reduce labor costs and students or candidates search for positions that offer experience in a given profession or industry. An internship is an apprenticeship or formal training program for future professionals whereby a company offers potential employees the opportunity for a limited on-the-job experience. Since employers undertake immense costs to recruit, hire, and train employees, internships create a way to avoid incurring those turnover costs by gauging the candidate’s qualifications and fit within the corporate culture beforehand.
However, internships are not just for the benefit of employers – they allow candidates the first-hand opportunity to observe the duties and responsibilities of their desired job or career, co-workers, and the assumed lifestyle, and determine if the company and job is right for them.
Most interns are students in their 3rd of 4th year of college, and internships can be paid or unpaid, though most states require that the intern receive some type of benefit, whether it is monetary compensation or college credit. Internships are specific to professions and may be required as part of a college degree or licensing program, such as residency for MDs.
A survey conducted by Right Management Manpower Group in 2011 found that nearly 50% of American employees found their jobs unrewarding and over 80% of those participating in the survey planned to look for new jobs in the next year. Internships can help individuals decide if they are on the right career path and help them make smarter job choices in both the short and long term.
How To Find An Internship
Most colleges offer career services with advisors that help students find employment while they are in school and after they graduate. Career advisors may be able to help students find a suitable program. Vault.com, Monster.com, Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, CareerBuilder.com, Internships.com and other job search websites will also list internship opportunities. You may want to consider researching online career sites that focus on your particular industry, such as eFinancialCareers.com for the finance industry and OilCareers.com for the oil and gas industry. Just remember, local and regional companies may not advertise their positions nationally.
In addition, professional organizations like the Society of CPAs, your local attorneys’ Bar Association, or even the Local Chamber of Commerce may have information on businesses with training programs for undergraduates. City and state government agencies usually offer plenty of employment opportunities.
How Long Are Internships?
As a rule, internships in the United States are programs that may last from 12 weeks to 6 months, although some, like those for medical doctors, are as long as two years. During an internship, the participant may shadow an employee to learn about a particular job and perform some tasks under supervision. Some programs, particularly those with government officials, judges, prestigious businesses and respected non-profit organizations can greatly improve a student’s resume, job prospects, professional network, and credentials.
First, research shows that brand names on resumes provide credibility. If a software programmer interns at Google, Apple or Facebook, or a financial analyst has a recommendation from JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, there is a perceived level of competence and quality. Second, by working for prestigious companies, interns will meet and interact with employees, who may be able to recommend you to their colleagues at other firms or collaborate with you on future projects.
Are Interns Paid For Their Work?
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States, most interns must be paid at least minimum wage for their work. Employers do not have to pay interns if any of the following is true:
- if the training is similar to that offered in a vocational school
- if the internship is for the benefit of the trainee, and not the employer, and the learned skills are not unique to the company
- if the intern does not perform unsupervised tasks similar to a paid employee
Additionally, interns do not have to be paid if they receive college credits in exchange for their work, provided the intern is not replacing a paid employee. Both the intern and the employer have to agree to an unpaid internship. Non-profit organizations do not have to pay volunteers for internships.
Types of Internships
Most internships are offered to undergraduates but research internships, in which a student does research for a university professor, lab, or company and submits a report or dissertation, are more often the purview of graduate students. Some businesses have begun to offer virtual programs where the intern can telecommute through web communications. Internships are available in most professional fields including engineering, business, law (called judicial clerkships), technology, advertising, medical (residency), sciences and environmental studies.
A Test Drive For Careers
Internships are intended to train students for employment in a specific field and may include shadowing an employee or performing job tasks under supervision. Some of the work may be tedious, but this is true of most jobs so don’t complain and always behave professionally.
A good internship program gives students a chance to find out exactly how their education will be applied in the real world. Some students may find that their childhood dream job is not what they expected and choose to change their career path or degree before graduating. Others may find that the work experience cements their resolve to pursue a particular field of study. These programs offer a good opportunity for students to expand on their education and get real working experience in a professional environment, not to mention the benefits to their resume.
Advantages To Students
Serving as an intern can bring an individual into contact with other professionals in their field and help them build a network of associates which will be useful during their entire professional lives. Even though the training period is relatively short, it adds work experience to the student’s resume which can help when seeking permanent employment.
While employers are not committed to hiring interns, students who do well in a program may be offered permanent positions when they graduate. This is a fairly common practice amongst professional careers, such as finance (investment banks), law firms, residents at medical programs, accounting firms, and engineering companies, which is why getting the best internship can result in a great job down the line.
Keys To A Successful Internship Program Experience
It is important that an individual demonstrate responsibility, respect and a positive attitude during this temporary employment period. Interns need to introduce themselves to company employees and make themselves a visible presence. A thank you note to those employees who were especially helpful during the training period can help an individual stand out and be favorably remembered by co-workers. Leaving an employer with a good impression will ensure a favorable reference or recommendation letter for when applying for other jobs or graduate school.
Never Be Afraid To Ask Questions
The only stupid question is the one that was not asked. That being said, it is important that the questions be relevant and show knowledge of the field. Employers offer training programs because they know that trainees do not know everything and requesting explanations or instructions is the best way to avoid mistakes. Interns should make notes of the answers to their questions and never ask the same question twice. If an answer is obvious or if the intern knows the answer, than the question wastes time and may annoy other employees.
In your spare time, think about researching current trends or issues facing the industry or company, and ask colleagues for their insight and opinions. You can even ask about their personal career history and seek advice on how to be successful.
Make A List of Contacts
During a training program, interns meet new people who may be able to help them in the course of their life. While the Rolodex is a bit passé, most successful people keep a vast list of contacts on their smartphones or computers. You may even decide to quickly add your new connections and relationships on LinkedIn.
Individuals who keep in touch with these contacts build a valuable support network that can be leveraged to find employment or do business with in the future. This should remind you of the old adage: “Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.”
Completion of the Program
Employers who offer internships provide students with the opportunity to build business connections, develop new skills and grow more confident in their professional life. When a program ends, it is important that participants acknowledge the value of the program by sending letters of thanks to the company president, human resources manager or any employees who acted as mentors or offered special assistance to the intern. Students should make an effort to say goodbye to everyone they worked with before leaving.
After An Internship
Whether or not a student enjoyed the internship experience, they may choose to apply for another training program, especially if the first did not result in an offer of permanent employment. The company may not have been the best fit for the individual and a second internship might have a better result. Some students may have found they did not like the work and may choose to change careers or concentrate on a sub-specialty that better suits their interests and skills.
Internships and Job Offers
Available data indicates that about half of all internships end in job offers. Students who interned with a business have an advantage over other job candidates since they are already familiar with company procedures, systems, personnel, and will require less training and a shorter adjustment period. In cases where a job is not offered or where the intern declines one, the work experience gained through these training programs enhances an individual’s resume and improves job prospects in the future.