Internships are unique opportunities for students and adults wanting to explore a new career path.

While internships have come under criticism in recent years for the way in which certain employers abuse this training opportunity, internships still provide vital training that can give young people, in particular, experience in a chosen career without the employer having to commit to hiring them. Because of the importance of internships, you should familiarize yourself with the characteristics of internships and learn how to obtain them. Review the following information to discover if an internship is right for you.

What are internships?

By definition, internships are temporary positions at organizations offered to trainees to either earn work experience or meet certain degree or credential requirements. However, internships may take on many forms and can be paid or unpaid. For instance, internships can be great learning opportunities for students interested in finding out about different jobs and workplaces.

Employers utilize interns to perform tasks for them in exchange for practical experience. In short, internships are programs that grant interns permission to work under the supervision of skilled employees or employers to learn the responsibilities of a trade for a predetermined period.

Unlike apprenticeships, internships last between 10 weeks and three months, comprising the course of a semester or summer or winter vacation. Consequently, internships are accommodating to academic schedules and other conflicts related to schooling. However, interns may participate in multiple internship programs at one time depending on their availability. The standard periods for most internships are as follows:

  • Fall internships beginning in September and ending at the end of the fall semester
  • Winter internships starting in November or December and lasting until the beginning of the Spring semester
  • Spring internships from January or February to the end of the Spring semester
  • Summer internships commencing after the end of the Spring semester in May or June

As opposed to apprenticeships, internships are more flexible and beneficial to younger students or adults undertaking a new direction in their careers without the immediate promise of a high-paying job.

Who can get internships?

Anyone can get an internship regardless of their ages. However, internships are usually reserved for undergraduate or graduate students hoping to continue their education. As a result, most interns are in their teens or early 20s. Still, internship eligibility may depend on your grade point average (GPA), your credit hours, your prior work experience and your enrollment status in a post-secondary institution. You are advised to contact employers to assess your eligibility for internship programs as eligibility criteria may differ for each program.

How to Get Internships

Internships can easily be found by searching online, but finding good internships may require extra effort. You are encouraged to begin searching for internships as soon as possible to secure the best internships available. A good time to start searching is during the second semester of your freshman year of college.

To begin your search for internships, you should determine what kind of internship you would like to acquire. In other words, you need to narrow your search parameters. Internships may be available year-round, but many are offered seasonally. This means that you should decide when you would like to have an internship. Additionally, you should limit your search criteria to reflect your major and schedule. The number of internships in the U.S. tend to outnumber the number of inquiring interns, but the internships you are seeking may be restricted to a few. If you are using internship search engines, try inputting specific information like your location, your field or major and your preferred work schedule. If you do not have a current field of interest or major, you may explore different types of internships to find a few that excite you.

Because paid internships are ideal and considered great types of internships, you may want to limit your search to paid internships, as well. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), approximately 63 percent of paid interns received job offers whereas 37 percent of unpaid interns were offered employment. However, you should not eliminate the possibility of accepting unpaid internships if you believe they are promising options. To ensure you find affordable internship prospects, you should know your financial situation before reviewing potential internships. Knowing this information can help you find an internship that enables you to gain essential career experience without breaking the bank.

If online searches are not yielding hopeful results, you can visit career fairs or contact employers directly. Career fairs offer internship opportunities, as well as long-term jobs, making them invaluable resources for interns. Additionally, the ability to talk to a representative from the organization at which you may intern in person is an advantage. Conversely, you should not hesitate to contact organizations via phone or email to inquire about internship opportunities.

Next, you should review your resume and tailor it to match the internship to which you are applying and compile a list of questions you can ask during interviews. A common list of questions you can ask is provided below:

  • What should I expect to learn in this internship program?
  • What will my responsibilities be as an intern?
  • What qualities are you looking for in interns?
  • Is there an opportunity to advance in the company?

Finally, if you find the perfect internship and prepare for the application process, you should apply as early as possible. Just because there are countless internships available to interns does not mean you will not face competition. Applying early can make employers see that you are committed to the position.

The Advantages of Internships

In internships, you can gain valuable work experience that can make you more employable. Additionally, this experience can grant you academic credit if you are enrolled in some post-secondary institutions. This focus on the development of your skills can be a huge advantage in the workforce, especially for interns with limited work experience outside of academic pursuits. Since you make connections with professionals during internships by communicating with your coworkers and mentors, you can begin networking.

Another advantage internships provide is the chance to experiment with a career without consequences. You can learn about a potential career option by temporarily working as an intern. Unlike traditional jobs that may involve contracts and penalties for leaving, internships terminate automatically, and you can safely gauge whether the internship proves to be a future career option or not. Simply, internships give you the privilege of declining career paths after receiving an in-depth look at them.

Internships do more than advance your academic knowledge and help you make career decisions, however. They can also create confidence. Employers expect interns to make mistakes due to the nature of internships, and interns can learn how to better handle mistakes before officially entering the workforce.

The Disadvantages of Internships

Interns are often subject to variable hours and busy, tedious work. Because interns are given the responsibilities other employees cannot, or choose not to, accomplish, their work may not be very rewarding and may require different hours to complete depending on the week or day. Although this is not always the case, the hours and type of work assigned to interns is a common complaint

The pay is another disadvantage of internships. Many internships do not properly pay interns, so it may be up to you to determine if you are being paid according to the law. While laws may vary by state, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for-profit employers are required to pay all their employees. Interns, however, may not be classified as employees. The following guidelines can be used to determine if an intern is entitled to compensation by the FLSA or not:

  1. Whether there is an expectation of compensation or not
  2. The extent to which an internship resembles an educational environment
  3. The internship’s connection to the intern’s formal education program
  4. How much the internship adheres to the intern’s academic schedule
  5. How much the work displaces current, paid employees
  6. Whether or not the intern and employer understand a paid job is not guaranteed following the conclusion of the internship

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