A Complete Guide to Internships

Updated June 9, 2023

Internships can be a beneficial experience for people newly entering the professional world or even those seeking a career change. Through an internship you can gain work experience, build your resume and learn firsthand what it would be like to work in a certain role or industry. Internships are also a great way to build connections as you launch your professional career.

In this article, we discuss internships, how to get one and what you can expect during your first internship.

Read more: 10 Ways To Get the Most From Your Internship

What is an internship?

An internship is a temporary role that's often reserved for college students and recent graduates. Interns tend to work in exchange for school credit or base pay and internships can last anywhere from several months to a year. Internships can be helpful for students who haven’t yet settled on a career path by offering them a chance to work temporarily in a particular role or industry.

Related: What To Expect During an Internship Interview

How to get an internship

Searching for an internship is similar to searching for a regular job. To secure an internship position, you should prepare by taking the following steps:

1. Write an internship resume and cover letter

Most companies require a resume and a cover letter when you apply for an internship. If you are seeking an internship, you likely have little to no professional experience, making your cover letter even more important for the employer.

On your internship resume, include an objective statement at the top listing your professional career goals. Include any relevant experience you have that might be helpful for the employer such as completed coursework, volunteer work and leadership roles in clubs or organizations. Review the job description for keywords that apply to your background and include them on your resume.

Your internship cover letter gives you a chance to express your reason for applying to the job. It’s also a great opportunity to explain what you can do for the company. Write about your relevant experiences that apply to the role, examples of your work ethic and key skills. If you need help writing or perfecting your documents, most colleges and universities offer free resume and cover letter review services.

Related: Writing a Resume With No Experience

2. Ask for a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation is a statement provided by a relevant professional that explains why an applicant would be a great candidate for a position. Many students ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation for them. It's a good idea to choose a person who knows you and your work well. You should provide this individual with the internship job description, your resume and plenty of notice.

3. Make a list of companies

Make a list of prospective companies based on their products, core values, industry expertise or other factors that inspire you. Search their websites to make sure they offer internships in the timeframe you require. By finding an internship at a company you may want to work for in the future, you'll get a chance to make contacts and see if you enjoy the field. Some companies also offer interns full-time positions depending on their performance.

Related: Guide: Using Indeed.com Job Search

4. Volunteer to intern

If you're interested in working for a company that does not offer an internship program, don’t be discouraged. Consider contacting the company’s human resources department to see if they would benefit from hiring an intern in the near future. They might also provide you with other opportunities outside of internships such as part-time positions, workshops or other career development offerings in the industry.

5. Prepare for your interview

If a company requests an interview, take time to prepare by reviewing the job description, developing answers to common interview questions and researching the company. Gaining knowledge about the company’s core values, mission statement and history will help you communicate your interest during your interview.

Read more: 21 Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great Impression

Duration of internships

The length of an internship can vary based on the industry, employer and role. In many cases, people look for an internship that allows them to balance their school workload with their internship hours. Here are the typical lengths for various types of internships:

  • College internship: A college internship is usually found on the campus of your university. These positions are usually reserved for science, health care and research students as well as those intending to pursue a master’s degree or PhD.

  • Externship: Externships are shortened internships. Most externs work for their company for a few days to a few weeks.

  • One-year internship: Think of a year-long internship as two semesters. The first half usually lasts for one semester and is typically unpaid. The employer evaluates your potential and may or may not invite you back for a second semester. If you are invited back, the second semester of the internship is often paid.

  • Semester internship: In a semester-long internship, a student usually works 10 to 20 hours per week for a two- to three-month period in return for school credit or hourly pay.

  • Summer internship: Many students prefer a summer internship because it offers a chance to focus exclusively on work rather than balancing the internship with classes. The length of summer internships vary, but they tend to last between two and three months.

Benefits of an internship

The experience and resources you receive from an internship can help build the foundation for a rewarding career. Internships provide several specific benefits including:

  • Developing and refining your skills: Internships can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses from an industry perspective. You can use this information to set personal career goals to improve over time.

  • Potential for a higher starting salary: Having relevant experience may increase your earning potential at every level of your career, including at the entry-level. Because you already have a certain level of relevant knowledge, the company could save money on training costs, which may be something to discuss when negotiating your starting pay.

  • Networking: Some internships lead directly to jobs within the company. However, if the company doesn’t offer a job after an internship, interns can still develop a professional network with that business. This network and its extensions can lead to other jobs and opportunities.

  • An easier transition into the professional world: The transition from college to a professional career can be difficult without knowing what to expect. An internship can help you understand the basic inner workings of a business and how you might contribute to an organization.

  • Exploring your future career path: Internships offer you the chance to temporarily explore an industry or position. Even if you don’t enjoy the internship, you will be able to use that knowledge when searching for another position or making decisions about your major or career path.

  • Earning an income: Many internships provide compensation for your work. You might also be provided with school credit. If you’re unsure, ask the employer during the hiring process how you will be compensated for your work.

Related Articles

Writing an Internship Cover Letter (With Examples)

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