Internships allow you to obtain valuable, real-world experience in a career before ever fully committing to a career path. They also allow you to learn real-world skills and gain hands-on experience to add to your resume. One of the questions you may be wondering, though, is whether paid internships are an option and whether a paid internship would be more beneficial than an unpaid one. In this article, we answer whether interns typically get paid, explore the differences between paid and unpaid internships, and discuss how you can get a paid internship.
What is an intern?
An intern is a student or trainee who participates in a professional learning experience that offers practice work related to their field of study or career interest. While internships are common for college or graduate students, working adults who are interested in changing career fields or obtaining degrees may also look for internship opportunities to obtain work experience before they've fully committed to a career path. It also allows them to build work experience in the field to add to their resume.
Do interns get paid?
Depending on the position, interns may or may not be paid. Unpaid internships are common, especially when the internship counts as academic credit toward graduation. For an internship to qualify as unpaid, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, both the employer and intern must agree upfront that the internship will be unpaid. There must also be a clear connection between the intern's educational program and job responsibilities.
That said, many employers do pay their interns. Some companies recognize there is value in training someone who could become an employee after they graduate college. The majority of Fortune 500 companies pay interns, as do jobs in the private sector. Industries where aspiring interns can find paid internships include banking, accounting, advertising, public relations, IT, government and fashion.
The national average salary for paid interns is $12.88 per hour, although the salary can range from $7.25 to $30.15 depending on the industry and geographic location.
The differences between paid and unpaid internships
There are three main differences between a paid internship and an unpaid one:
When you are an unpaid intern, you have greater flexibility in your schedule. You can present to the employer what schedule works best with your class schedule or even another part-time job. Paid interns, on the other hand, are generally required to work fixed hours set by their employer, although most employers are willing to work with the intern to set hours that accommodate class schedules, extracurricular activities and other time constraints.
While interns are often relied on to perform time-consuming, manual tasks, as an unpaid intern, you may be more comfortable saying no to tasks that don't relate to your field of study. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor stipulates that unpaid interns should have job responsibilities that are clearly connected to their program of study. Paid interns, on the other hand, are expected to successfully complete the tasks assigned to them, even if that means taking coffee orders for the office.
There are benefits to both paid and unpaid internships in terms of visibility, although these can vary from company to company. For example, as an unpaid intern, you may receive special attention from upper-management, who may be willing to mentor you or offer you opportunities to shadow a variety of different positions. On the other hand, as a paid intern, especially if you are working closer to full-time, you may be viewed more as an equal, especially with entry-level employees. This can help you get a better idea of what a position in that company would actually be like.
How to get a paid internship
Here are the steps you can take to increase the likelihood of getting a great paid internship:
- Create a resume.
- Search for paid internships.
- Apply early.
- Prepare for the interview.
- Dress to impress.
- Be on time.
1. Create a resume
To obtain a paid internship, you'll need a clean resume. If you have a resume already, proofread it for any spelling or grammatical mistakes. You may even want to give it to someone else to check for typos. Look for inaccuracies in tense. For example, descriptions for jobs or leadership positions you currently hold should be written in the present tense, and anything you're not doing currently should be in the past tense.
If you don't already have a resume, you'll need to create one, even if you have little or no work experience. College student resumes should provide a summary of studies and academic qualifications. You can also include volunteering positions, part-time jobs, sports or cultural activities. Employers understand that you're just entering the workforce, particularly if you're seeking an internship, so they don't expect a long list of work experience on your resume. Some things you'll want to include are:
- Contact information
- Education and academic achievements
- Relevant work experience
- Key skills that qualify you for the job
- Activities and organizations
- Hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job
2. Search for paid internships
Perform a search for paid internships, and pay particular attention to the date for submitting applications. Read the job descriptions carefully and include key details from the descriptions in your resume as much as possible.
3. Apply early
Whether you're seeking an internship for the summer, the beginning of the school year or for January when the new semester begins, apply early. Anticipate that employers are going to receive an abundance of applications for internship opportunities. If you're applying for a paid internship where the employer is actively searching for candidates, pay close attention to the application deadlines and apply right away to increase the likelihood of catching the attention of the hiring manager.
4. Prepare for the interview
Prepare for the interview in advance by reviewing the job description carefully and considering what skills and qualities make you the most desirable candidate for the role. Take time to research the company as well. When you walk into the interview, you should be familiar with the company's products or services, any special awards or accomplishments and have reviewed the company's blog and social media channels to gain insight into the company culture.
Take time to review some commonly asked interview questions. Some you should be prepared to answer include:
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Tell me about your work experience.
- Why are you interested in this role?
You should also be prepared to ask the hiring manager questions as well, such as:
- Can you tell me how you train your interns?
- What is the day-to-day structure for this internship?
- How do you evaluate the performance for this role?
- What resources do you provide for interns?
- What is the next step in the hiring process?
5. Dress to impress
Choose interview attire that's appropriate for the work environment for which you are applying. If they don't give you any specific information, assume that business casual is appropriate.
6. Be on time
Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled interview time to allow for traffic, parking, walking to the office and freshening up if necessary. If the weather is bad, allow yourself even more time.