What Is an Internship? How to Find One and Why They’re Great

What Is an Internship? How to Find One and Why They're Great

Are you trying to determine the best way to land your dream job? Do all of the entry-level jobs state that you need experience? Wondering how you’re supposed to get experience before you even enter the career field? It’s the age-old dilemma for job seekers. You need experience to land a job, but you can’t get experience without a job…or can you?

This is where you might find yourself considering an internship to bridge that gap. If you’re a recent college grad or someone considering a career change, chances are you’ve run across an internship advertised. Unsure what exactly an internship is and whether it’s a good fit for you? We’ll break it down for you.

What Exactly is an Internship?

An internship is a structured, short-term learning experience. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an internship must be an extension of the classroom. Essentially, an internship is a contract position to explore the job and see if it’s a great fit—both for the job seeker and the employer. Not all internships are created equal, but the general goal should be focused on the intern learning as much as possible.

A quality internship will consist of a set amount of hours, generally full-time during the summer and part-time during the fall and spring semesters. Most often aimed at students just before or directly after their senior year, the law clearly states that internships shouldn’t be more than 25% administrative and have clearly defined goals.

In other words, you shouldn’t be spending all of your time fetching coffee, cleaning, or snagging the dry cleaning.

Why are Internships Important?

There are several reasons an internship is essential, both to the job seeker and the employer. As a job seeker, you have the chance to try on a role, see if it’s a great fit. No matter how much research you do, living the reality day in and day out might cause you to redirect your career goals. An internship is also a great chance to learn from seasoned industry professionals without the same pressure a salaried employee has

For a more generalized degree, such as business or communication, you might have several career paths you’re considering. An internship is a great way to try out one of those paths without having a short-term job on your resume later. A prospective employer won’t bat an eye at a six-month internship, but a six-month job might have them questioning why your tenure was so short. 

Offering internships is a convenient way to see how a graduate performs outside the classroom. There are no commitments or expectations beyond the internship, so there’s less at stake if it doesn’t work out. Also, having an intern is terrific career development for tenured staff members. Being in a position of training and mentoring new teammates will also help their career growth and personal development.

Beyond that, you can free up some seasoned team members to complete more complex tasks, with lower-level tasks given to the interns who are still learning. Many companies use internships as a career path to a salaried position. They’ll already have a team member trained and ready to go when they officially come on board. Last but not least, interns are generally coming straight from school, where they’re exposed to the latest industry news and technologies. The company will benefit from that new perspective and energy.

Who Should Consider an Internship? 

There is a lot to be said for an internship, so you might want to consider one regardless of your career level or field of study. As an intern, you’ll get real-world experience, a mentor to help your career development, connections to grow your network, and a chance to see a company from the inside. Not to mention the fact that an internship might help you might discover a different role that you want to pursue. You’ll have an easier time changing directions if you’re not already committed to a permanent position.

However, a big caveat is that college is expensive, and internships won’t pay as well as a regular job. Almost half of them are unpaid. If a financial burden would make it challenging to commit to one, don’t feel like it’s your only option.

More: What Is a Stipend? How It’s Different From a Salary

Another reason not to consider an internship is if you can get that same experience in an entry-level position with similar wages. A salaried position also comes with benefits and HR mediation if you’re feeling that you’re not getting the agreed-on level of impact. You’ll need to consider the entirety of how an internship will fit into your life.

Is there a different role that can get your foot in the door with your dream company? Or, perhaps you’re starting a career where a portfolio would carry more weight than an internship. In that case, can you carry on an unrelated job while you build yours? Perhaps you can consider freelancing along the way to gain experience?

More: How to Find Entry-Level Jobs: A Complete Guide

What About an Internship Later in Life?

Another consideration is if you’re farther along in your career journey. It might feel like you’ve missed out on your chances for an internship, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You actually might have an advantage over those just entering the workforce. What company wouldn’t want an experienced worker for a fraction of the pay you would typically command? If you’re changing careers or new to a geographical area, an internship might be precisely what you need to launch the next step on your career path.

Where Do I Find an Internship?

If you’ve determined that an internship is the correct next step for you, now it’s time to land one. Not sure where to look? Your first stop should be your college’s career center. As internships are an extension of college, most reputable companies will be actively seeking their next interns in coordination with universities and colleges. You’ll also have a chance to meet with a career counselor who can look over your resume.

Beyond college, it would be best if you were on LinkedIn before looking for an internship. Even if you’re not officially a workforce member, it’s never too early to start networking. This is a great time to hone your connections and ask your groups about recommended internships.

Have a dream company you’d like to work for? Start looking through their website and social media to investigate their internship opportunities. Check with the company that you currently work for. Frequently, retail companies will offer internships at a corporate level to their college-level team members.

An Internship Can Be a Great Choice

Ultimately, an internship can be a great choice—as long as you’re choosing one because you’re excited about this next learning step. While you might feel that it’s a requirement to get your foot in the door, there are other ways to start your career. Being realistic about what an internship offers, and what it doesn’t, is key to developing a successful internship. With the right planning, it can help supercharge your career momentum.

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