The word internship is often tossed around as an option for students to gain experience. An American study published last May reported that graduates from the past 5 years wished they had completed more internships. But what exactly is an internship and how does it differ from other work experience? Here are some of the details on internships – what an internship actually is, paid versus unpaid, where to start if you’re looking for an internship, and some links to internships in Canada.
What is an internship? – An internship is a formal training experience designed to introduce interns to the industry and/or company. Not only is an internship an excellent way to expand your network and learn new skills, completing an internship is also an excellent way to determine if a profession, industry, or company is a good fit for you, with little time commitment. Internships can last anywhere from three weeks to a year (most WSCU students opt for a semester long internship). Internships not only provide practical work experience, they also introduce interns into professional and/or corporate environments, helping them to develop professional work habits and crucial transferable skills, such as communication, organization, and time-management. What makes an internship different from other work experience tends to be the time dedicated to professional development and skill-building, whether this take the form of formal training, mentoring programs, industry events, conferences, professional presentations, or job shadowing. There are many internships available, both paid and unpaid. Make sure you know what you’re looking for in an internship and what’s best for you.
Paid vs. Unpaid – Internships have the reputation for being unpaid, however many paid internships also exist. Many students overlook internships because they can’t afford to work for free, which is understandable. However, internships provide a valuable and unique experience for students that set them apart. It’s also important to note that even if an internships isn’t paid, it might have other benefits that can easily be overlooked, such as:
- Opportunity to break into a field that’s tough to get into (such as advertising, entertainment, or politics)
- Expand your network, make connections, and meet potential mentors
- Academic credit (this must be approved through your academic advisor prior to starting the internship)
- Small stipend, travel allowance to attend industry events or conferences, housing assistance, or scholarships
- A potential full-time position following graduation
Even if you still feel like you can’t afford to do an unpaid internship, try to think about the long term. Getting experience now will help you find a good job later or could lead to a full-time job. Consider doing an internship part-time or working part-time in a paid position during your internship. Many people complete internships during the summer, but if you can need summer income, there is always the option to do a part-time, unpaid internship during the academic year. Many companies are willing to have the extra help during the year, when their summer students are no longer around.
Where to start:
- Think about your goals – What are you looking to get out of an internship? What do you have to offer a company? What industry are you targeting? Are there any specific companies you’re interested in? (The answers to these questions will also help you write your cover letter!)
- Conduct research to determine what kinds of internships already exist and/or companies you would like to do an internship with. If you don’t know if a company you’re interested in offers internships, contact their human resources department. Even if they don’t currently have interns, they may be interested in having you.
- Come to the Career Services Office for a resume and cover letter critique before you send them out. And don’t forget to come for interview preparation when you get to that stage!