We’ve all seen those unrealistic job ads that request years of experience for an entry-level role. If the job is supposed to be for newbies, how can they expect you to have experience?
Internships are the answer. Internships are often steppingstones to a first job, providing valuable experience, training, and confidence.
Read on to learn about different types of internships and how to get one that fits your needs. We’ll also highlight some red flags that an internship could waste your precious time.
Who internships benefit most
The main goal of any internship is to provide real-world, on-the-job experience. Contrary to popular belief, internships aren’t just for people starting their careers.
Discover some different internship types below.
High school students
Students wanting to get a head start on their careers should check out high school internships. This is a great way to try different types of jobs so you can figure out your future path — like what you want to study in college.
Your internship can also provide a fresh perspective on the working world and, of course, teach you practical skills. Plus, you can put your internship on your college applications for an edge over the competition.
If you’re in college, an internship can help you bridge the career path from student to professional. College internships teach new skills and help you build a professional network to lean on when seeking job prospects after graduation.
Depending on your school’s policies, you might be able to earn college credits for your internship. This means it’ll count toward your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
If you don’t have time to intern during the semester (hello, full course load), don’t stress: You can do a summer internship.
People needing job experience
Internships aren’t just for first-timers in the career world.
Even if you’ve held a part-time or full-time job, you can benefit from an internship if you’re thinking of switching career interests or want to broaden your horizons.
Job seekers can benefit from having a relevant internship on their resume, as it can expand their opportunities. While some internship programs cater to students, others are open to people of all ages and career stages.
Check the internship program’s eligibility requirements before you apply to ensure non-students can apply.
Why choose an internship?
Whether you’re a high school or college student or a seasoned professional, an internship can help you level up your career in various ways.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), internships lead to more job offers and higher starting salaries when it comes to a job search.
How can one little internship make such a difference? Several benefits of an internship can help boost your career prospects.
An internship throws you into the working world while you’re still under the supervision of a more senior professional. You can get hands-on, real-world work experience while still receiving guidance.
It’s sort of like riding a bike with training wheels. Your internship can teach you the soft skills you need to thrive in a job later — when you’re ready to take the training wheels off.
Plus, they’re a great addition to your resume. It shows you have experience (and the dedication to stick with a job).
Hone your career goals
Internships are a great way to get your toes wet in the working world without a major commitment. Most internships are limited to a few months, giving you the opportunity to try different job types.
Plus, internships expose you to various work environments, which can help you decide which field and job might be a fit for you. In one study, 81% of students said internships helped them adjust their college major, coursework selection, or career plan.
Develop professional skills
Your college education will teach you all kinds of valuable facts and skills — from critical thinking to analytical writing. However, you can’t learn everything in a classroom.
An internship lets you hone your street smarts instead of book smarts.
In a real-world environment, you can develop professional skills that you might not get to practice at school. Examples include communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, written and verbal presentation, and leadership skills.
College is a great place to make friends. But let’s get real: These friends aren’t going to give you a job after graduation because they’re likely in the same boat as you.
An internship is a great way to get to know people beyond your immediate academic circles. You can network with more established professionals and maybe even find a mentor or role model.
Get your foot in the door
An internship experience may give you a competitive edge in the job market. Many companies use internships to fuel their talent pipeline, preferring to hire former interns instead of sourcing fresh talent externally.
Companies train their interns in their processes and tools. So, they know the entry threshold and learning curve will be much lower for an intern than for a new hire.
The ability to train potential full-time employees is one major advantage for companies offering internships.
Not all internship programs are created equally. It can help to decide which type of internship you want before searching for your dream starter gig.
For example, some internships last only six weeks, while others last three, six, or even 12 months. Many internships targeting college students parallel class schedules and last for one semester.
But the internship length isn’t the only consideration. Think about these characteristics as you browse internship opportunities.
Paid vs. unpaid
Internship pay varies widely. Internships in industries like tech and finance pay more than internships in fields like nonprofit work or journalism. However, not all internships are paid.
A business can justify this if the internship is characterized as a learning experience instead of a work experience. Always ensure the lack of pay is justified — more on that in the “red flags” section below.
Unpaid internships sometimes offer other forms of remuneration, such as living or housing stipends. Learn more about finding an internship with a housing stipend.
Full-time vs. part-time
Internships can also be full or part time. Full-time positions can be ideal when you have time off from school or over the summer break. That said, they’re probably not realistic during the semester if you’ve got a full course load.
Don’t worry: That doesn’t mean you can’t do an internship at all. You can choose from plenty of part-time internship opportunities to do alongside your studies.
For example, you might go in for just a couple of hours a day or a few days per week.
Remote vs. on-site
Remote work has become more common in recent years, and that trend extends to internships, too. Many employers offer remote internships along with their on-site options.
This has pros and cons.
You have more internships to choose from if you don’t have to be there in person. You won’t be limited by geography.
Go to school in New York City but want to do an internship at a Silicon Valley tech company? No problem.
That said, a remote internship has drawbacks. For example, you won’t benefit from in-person learning. You also won’t benefit from face-to-face networking through events like midday lunches and after-work social events (unless they’re virtual).
How to find the right internship
The right internship depends on various factors, from your particular field of study to your career plan and personal preferences. Try these tips for a successful internship search.
You can research potential internships online. Job boards like Handshake are a good place to start. You can set filters like remote versus in-person and full-time versus part-time to find the right fit.
If you find a promising possibility in your internship search, dig a little deeper to ensure you qualify for the internship. For example, some may target Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) or female applicants (more on that below). Also, check which documentation you need to apply.
Use school resources
Your school should have a career center that helps students prepare for the working world. For instance, career centers can provide resources to help you write cover letters and resumes.
Many career centers also have job postings, including internship opportunities. Sometimes, companies collaborate with career centers to advertise jobs targeting university students.
Find specialized job boards
Generalized job boards and university job boards aren’t your only options. You can also check out job boards that target certain applicants, like religious groups, women, or BIPOC.
Job boards can also target specific majors. For example, Google offers engineering and technical internships, while Reuters offers journalism internships. There are even platforms offering internships in creative fields like fashion.
Prepare your resume
It's helpful to prepare your documents before applying for an internship. Start by drafting a resume. It should include details like your major, relevant experience, and extracurricular activities.
You also want to write a unique cover letter for every internship you seek. Don’t just use the same letter for every internship application. Specify why you’d be a great fit for that internship in particular. Our resume and cover letter writing resources can help.
Attend job fairs
Job fairs give you the opportunity to meet with recruiters and other company representatives actively hiring students and recent grads. You can learn about internship programs, ask questions, and even apply on the spot.
If you have a dream company you’d love to work for, why not reach out to them directly? You can check a company’s career page to see which internships are available and apply online.
This is also an opportunity to leverage your network. If you know someone who works at a company you’re interested in, talk to them about your options. They might be able to help connect you with internship options.
Internship red flags
Internships can be a great way to gain experience, network, and more. However, it’s important to ensure you’re getting something out of the internship — be it money or skills training.
Unfortunately, some companies exploit interns, using them for cheap or unpaid labor. The Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act has a test to determine if an unpaid internship is legal.
Asking the right interview questions can help you identify exploitative internships.
Nothing but grunt work
You don’t want to get stuck fetching coffee for senior employees all day. Ask what type of work you’ll do, what kinds of projects you’ll work on, and what a daily workday might look like.
The last thing you want is to hate your internship, since quitting likely means you’ll forfeit any college credit (if applicable).
Lack of training
Interning is a form of on-the-job training. Ensure you’ll learn practical skills by asking what kinds of competencies the internship teaches and what training investments the company makes. It’s important to know you’re investing time and resources into an opportunity that could help you in your future career.
Lack of goals
You want to accomplish some goals by the end of the internship. For example, a marketing intern could work on a social media campaign during their internship.
Ask which objectives the business expects you to meet so you can prepare.
Find your dream internship with Handshake
Finding the perfect internship isn’t always easy. Handshake can help. We offer a database of full-time and part-time jobs and internship opportunities. Take a look whenever you’re ready to test your newfound knowledge and skills in an office setting or other internship.
Who's hiring on Handshake?