Internships are job training programs that help students and professionals learn about a position or industry through on-the-job training.
Internships are usually short-term assignments that can be paid or unpaid. Students can find internships available with companies and organizations in a wide range of industries and fields.
Internships are different than apprenticeships in that they generally last less time and do not result in the issuance of any type of qualification at completion. Internships can be completed with public and private companies and organizations both in-person and online. Many schools encourage their students to complete internships in their fields of study to make sure that they would enjoy actually working in that field.
For many students, their internship is the first time they see what the day-to-day life looks like for someone who has completed their training and attained the student’s desired position. As a result, internships serve an important role in the education of students and professionals considering transitioning into a new field or job role.
While most interns do not enroll in the training program for the usually meager pay, they hope to eventually gain enough experience to get a job in that sector or even with the company providing the internship. Although internships are rarely required for a specific job, having completed a respected internship program can significantly help job candidates secure the role they want. Keep reading to learn more about internships and finding the right training program for you.
The Benefits of Doing an Internship
There are several ways that internships can benefit both students and professionals already holding down positions in the workforce. In many industries, the best way to gain the skills or experience that are necessary to independently hold a certain job role is to get experience on the job. Companies use internships to offer students and professionals a window into a new field or position along with some basic training for the role.
Unlike apprenticeship programs, internship programs do not have to be paid and can last for just a few days or several months. Because of this greater flexibility in internship structure, more companies are able to offer students internships than commonly do apprenticeships.
In many fields, the experience interns can gain by completing an on the job training program is unlike any other type of educational training they could receive. For students who have never held a job before, internships provide them with a stress-free way to enter the workforce and learn about appropriate professional conduct and relationship-building.
Professionals who have completed their schooling but who would like to gain skills in a new area can benefit similarly from internships.
Along with the experience gained through the program, interns are able to grow their professional network in a way that can be very meaningful for their future. During a typical internship, students are able to train with multiple company managers and help coworkers across more than one team.
Combined with the dedicated training sessions companies generally provide their interns, these varied work opportunities make it easy for interns to learn more several aspects of this new field and make strong connections with peers in related fields and roles. In many cases, interns return to work at the company or organization that organized their training after they have completed their academic program or other requirements.
The Drawbacks to Becoming an Intern
Internships may not be the best on the job training program for all students and professionals. Arguably the biggest problem with internships is that most companies are not required to pay their interns. Especially when an internship takes up over 40 hours of a participant’s weekly time, many students and professionals who must keep another paying job to support themselves find it difficult or impossible to find the time to intern for free.
Even internship programs that do pay generally offer interns entry-level or even minimum wage salaries that may be significantly lower than what a professional is used to earning in his or her current job. Many institutes of higher education and community centers can help subsidize the cost of paying an intern. Students can look into what intern support schemes may be available in their area or field of study.
The majority of internships are aimed at providing experience to a beginner in an industry or job role, making it difficult for some experienced professionals to find the right program. Professionals and advanced students looking for specific training in a field they are already established in may benefit more from other types of on the job training than internships. Interns are generally seen as being at the bottom of the worker hierarchy and as possessing the least subject knowledge.
Another drawback to internships is the tendency of some companies to treat interns like entry-level employees in charge of taking care of the company’s menial tasks instead of learning about an industry or role. Internships are not intended to provide free administrative assistants and other base staff to companies or groups, but some employers treat their interns that way.
To avoid falling into this pitfall, applicants for internships should look for reviews from former interns on the program and its mentorship and eventual professional possibilities.
Legal Protection and Compensation Requirements for Interns
According to the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), internship programs offered by private companies do not need to pay an intern if they meet certain requirements. The DOL maintains that private-sector employers can hire an intern for free if their internship program meets the following characteristics:
- Provides structured job training similar to what would be received in a comparable academic setting
- Offers clear educational and training benefits to the intern
- States in no uncertain terms that the intern will not be compensated for his or her contributions to the company
- Does not trigger the displacement of any company employees
- Does not disrupt the essential working processes of the company
- Does not monetarily benefit the company through increased production or otherwise
- Does not guarantee job placement at the completion of the program
Some other types of job training programs which do not meet these requirements can also offer internships without compensation. Registered non-profit companies can hire interns without offering payment due to their protected status under the law. Similarly, governmental agencies and offices can offer structured internship programs to qualified students without having to remunerate participants.
Interns working on Capitol Hill, for example, do not have to be paid. Interns who feel like they are part of a training program which does not fall into any of the above mentioned categories but that does not compensate its interns can submit a formal complaint to the Department of Labor or sue the company for backpay.
Discover How to Find the Right Internship for You
Finding the right internship to meet your needs comes down to being able to identify what type of professional experience can help you develop your career. If you are not sure, come up with a list of job roles or industries you are considering. Use this list to begin looking for available internship opportunities in each field, beginning with the most common requirements for reach program.
Some internship programs require applicants to be current students at an accredited school or to already possess a certain level of skills or knowledge.
Interested students and professionals are encouraged to begin their internship by doing a basic search online. Simply completing a web search for the job role or industry plus the word “internship” should turn up some general information about your prospects in the field. Community education and professional development organizations and local schools should also have their own collection of internships available in the area that students can choose from.
Potential interns who are currently students should contact the career development office of their own schools to learn about any special internship opportunities that may only be available to members of their academic community. Students should also confirm with their schools to make sure that they will provide academic credits for a given program before signing up, if expected.
In addition to contacting community organizations and doing online research, students are encouraged to reach out to their personal and local networks for internships as well. Many students and professionals find internship opportunities by asking friends, family members or professional contacts for a recommendation or even a placement. For the right candidate, some companies or organizations will set up a unique internship program in hopes of wowing the intern into employment post program completion.