How Do Internships Work & Are They Right For You?

FT Contributor
A trainer educating interns at a computer as part of their internship.

Table of Contents

What Is an Internship?

Internships are an opportunity to gain work experience and essential on-the-job training for the career path of your choosing. In some cases, the degree you study in college will require that you complete at least one internship during the course of your study.

There are a number of different types of internships, including part-time, full-time, undergraduate, and graduate-level internships. Other variables regarding internships include the field of study, like research or sales. There are also internships in marketing, engineering, graphic design, management, and IT.

A good intern will make the most out of their experience by participating with enthusiasm. They will also demonstrate flexibility, punctuality, and an overall commitment to the internship they acquire. Doing so will allow them to become better acquainted with the duties of the role and ultimately acquire an understanding of whether or not they can see themselves pursuing that career path.

Learn more about the ins and outs of internships to better decide whether one is right for you.

What Is the Difference Between an Internship and Apprenticeship

Internships and apprenticeships both give you experience, but they are not synonymous. Unlike an internship, an apprenticeship almost guarantees you a job once it is complete.

Internships typically last for a short period of time, such as a summer or a school semester. Apprenticeships can last for years. Similarly, internships often require fewer hours, especially if they are unpaid. An apprenticeship may require full-time work.

Internships can be paid or unpaid, but apprenticeships are always paid — signing on to an apprenticeship means signing on as an employee. At the conclusion of an apprenticeship, you earn a certificate that states you’re eligible to do a job. When an internship ends, it may result in a job or you may go back to the classroom.  

Additionally, internships allow you to explore a career path to find out if it’s right for you. With an apprenticeship, once you’ve signed on to do the job, your career path is set — unless you decide to quit, of course.

Certain careers require apprenticeships. If you’re interested in career paths like carpentry, engineering, or electrical work, an apprenticeship may be a better option for you.

Are Internships Paid?

There are both paid and unpaid internships. Paid internships consider you an employee. As such, you are paid for the time you work. Unpaid internships only provide you with experience. In most cases, paid and unpaid internships may count towards educational credit.

To determine whether an intern is owed wages or not, the Department of Labor created a seven-question test. If the results of this test determine that an intern or student is an employee, they are entitled to minimum wage. Individual states may also have independent laws regarding interns. In any case, it’s important to do your research before applying.

What Are the Benefits of an Internship

Completing an internship offers a number of benefits. For one, you could end up getting a job when all is said and done. You already have relevant experience and understand how the company operates, making you a viable candidate for companies that are hiring.

Even if the company isn’t hiring once you’ve completed the internship, you can take your experience and apply elsewhere. Most importantly, an internship allows you to develop confidence in the field you’re interested in pursuing.

Other benefits of an internship include:

  • Experience and exploration: If you’re unsure which career path you want to take, an internship can give you valuable, real-world experience in a particular field without committing to a full-time job.
  • Skill development: Internships allow you to develop skills hands-on that you can’t learn in a classroom.
  • Leadership and communication: An internship opens doors for you to take on leadership roles and develop the communication skills necessary to function in a full-time capacity.
  • Networking and establishing mentors: Your internship could also open doors by expanding your network. Connect with as many people as you can during your internship and connect with them on platforms like LinkedIn. Share the areas of the industry you’re interested in so that in the future, they can serve as a reference or even send you job leads.
  • References and resume enhancements: The skills you learn, software you use, and activities you complete during your internship are excellent resume boosters that will make you more appealing to potential employers in the future.

Is an Internship Right for Me?

An internship might be helpful and a good choice for you if:

  • You’re looking to add relevant experience to your resume.
  • You’re not sure about a particular position but you want to give it a try.
  • You need to complete an internship to graduate.
  • You find an internship that pays and you need the money.
  • You want to network with professionals in a field you’re interested in.

An internship might not be for you if:

  • You’re experiencing financial hardship and you can’t take a job that doesn’t pay right now.
  • There is a lack of labor protection laws in your state.
  • You’re not interested in the work on offer.

Every internship will be different, so it’s important to do the research on each opportunity before taking one.

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