Arguably, an internship is one of the most important experiences you can have in your professional life. While any employment (camp counselor, food service, golf caddy, tennis coach) serves to build your experience, expose you to business practices, and develop “soft skills” like leadership and teamwork, an internship in an industry you’re thinking of working in can be helpful in so many ways.
So what is an internship?
An internship is a professional, limited term opportunity offered by an organization which serves to get them extra help and to get you hands-on experience and exposure to a field of work. Most often, these work experience will happen over the course of a summer—8-10 weeks or so—while people are not in full-time classes, although they can also be part of a gap year experience or part-time during the academic year. And while most of the time internships are for students, you may also see career changers and other non-students and recent grads participating in these short-term experiences.
Micro-internships are also a possibility, especially if you’re looking to build a portfolio of work for tech, creative, or writing positions. These are really short-term (usually 1-2 weeks for 40 hours/week, but vary according to each job) experiences where companies are outsourcing a quick project—computer coding, website updates, writing projects, etc. and are usually paid. These can be done during breaks, when you have time during the academic year, or as a group of experiences during the summer months instead of a longer-term internship experience. You might get less of the relationship building/mentoring aspect of an internship, but you should still gain valuable skills. Websites like https://www.parkerdewey.com/ can help connect you to these types of experience.
What are the benefits of an internship?
- Internships let you try something to see if you like it, without a huge commitment.
Much like the benefit of food samples at the grocery store, an internship lets you try a little bite of something before committing to buying a whole box. Let’s say you know you want to work in a creative field, but you don’t know whether graphic design, marketing or journalism is the best fit for you. You might talk to a bunch of people who do these jobs (a great way to explore and get a feel for something), you might read and research the field and job titles. But until you’re actually doing it day to day, you’re not really going to fully understand what it’s like, whether or not you enjoy the common tasks associated with the work, or if the office feel is the pace, energy, or atmosphere you’re looking for.
- Internships give you solid, hands-on work experience you can translate into a full-time job.
Since your internship is in the field you’re interested in, and potentially doing the same time of work as your anticipated full-time role, you’re legitimately building skills which can help you land your first role in the field, as well as allow you to adjust quickly once you start, since you’ll already have a feel for the position.
- Just as important as finding what you LIKE, internships help you figure out what you really DON’T want to do for a living.
Sometimes, an internship experience just isn’t good. You find out the role wasn’t what you expected, you realize the day-to-day duties are really not interesting to you, or you just want a more varied list of tasks—finding these out in a short term experiment is much easier to move on from than if you’ve accepted a full-time job and realize 30 days in that it’s not for you. And this helps you to look for jobs that more closely fit your needs as you move forward in the job search process.
- Networking is key to success in today’s world…and internships are a great start in building connections and relationships in your field.
It’s hard to build a strong network in a vacuum. So being connected to people in your desired field through an internship can be a great start to building a group of mentors, people to give advice, and connections to help get your foot in the door at your dream job.
- Internships allow you to put yourself out there, ask questions, and do things that make you uncomfortable!
The whole basis of an internship is that it is a learning experience. They don’t expect you to have all the answers or be able to do everything with no input. Managers respect people who ask questions and clarify things, rather than wasting time trying to do something without enough information. It makes you look confident and smart. Also, you have the opportunity to play the “new kid” card, so if you present to a room full of senior leadership and get nervous or make a small mistake, it’s no big deal…but it IS a wonderful learning experience and a step towards being comfortable speaking to large crowds, which is a great skill across most industries. Seek out opportunities to make yourself known (in good ways!)—take on the tasks no one else wants, get good at sharing your thoughts when asked for input, communicate your ideas, ask questions, do good work—and you will gain so much from 2 months of work experience.
How do I get an internship?
First, figure out what you might like to try out. Then examine your personal network to see if you know anyone who works in the type of role—your parents, your friends’ parents, coaches, clergy, neighbors, etc. If you identify someone, talk to them about the best way to gain experience in their opinion, and where you might find the best opportunities.
Second, there are a ton of internship sites out there, including Indeed.com, LinkedIn and other similar sites. Look through job postings (be sure to filter the results to show internships) then apply. If you’re in college, your campus career center should also have a website where you can search options, Handshake has opened their career portal to a free version that doesn’t require your school to subscribe, and you can take advantage of career fairs and hiring events hosted through your school and through company recruitment efforts.
Third, TALK TO PEOPLE. Tell everyone you know what you’re looking for and what you’d like to do. You never know who might know who, and who could connect you to a great opportunity. You’ll have to sell yourself and be confident enough to tell someone why you’re great for a specific role, but getting that initial introduction can be the hardest part.
In short, internships are wonderful learning experiences, and can really help you narrow down what you want to do with your work life.
The US Department of Labor has strict guidelines on what constitutes an internship.
U.S. Department of Labor
Wage and Hour Division
(Updated January 2018)
Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act
This fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns and students working for “for profit” employers are entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The FLSA requires “for-profit” employers to pay employees for their work. Interns and students, however, may not be “employees” under the FLSA—in which case the FLSA does not require compensation for their work.
The Test for Unpaid Interns and Students
Courts have used the “primary beneficiary test” to determine whether an intern or student is, in fact, an employee under the FLSA.
2 In short, this test allows courts to examine the “economic reality” of the intern employer relationship to determine which party is the “primary beneficiary” of the relationship. Courts have
identified the following seven factors as part of the test
1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an
employee—and vice versa.
2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated
coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by
corresponding to the academic calendar.
5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.
1 The FLSA exempts certain people who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency or who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for non-profit food banks. WHD also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation, for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations. Unpaid internships for public sector and non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.
2 E.g., Benjamin v. B & H Educ., Inc., — F.3d —, 2017 WL 6460087, at *4-5 (9th Cir. Dec. 19, 2017); Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 811 F.3d 528, 536-37 (2d Cir. 2016); Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, P.A., 803 F.3d 1199, 1211-12 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., 330 U.S. 148, 152-53 (1947); Solis v. Laurelbrook Sanitarium & Sch., Inc., 642 F.3d 518, 529 (6th Cir. 2011).Courts have described the “primary beneficiary test” as a flexible test, and no single factor is determinative.
Accordingly, whether an intern or student is an employee under the FLSA necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case.
If analysis of these circumstances reveals that an intern or student is actually an employee, then he or she is entitled to both minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA. On the other hand, if the analysis confirms that the intern or student is not an employee, then he or she is not entitled to either minimum wage or overtime pay under the FLSA.