The ABC’s of Interning

by Jennifer Miller and Francine Fabricant

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts about interning.  We’ll also cover such topics as finding an internship, starting your internship off on the right foot, making the most of your internship, and how to end your internship.

First, let’s explore what interning is and why it is so important.  You’ve probably been told numerous times that you need to intern.  In the Explore chapter of Creating Career Success we discuss real-world career exploration, learning by doing, and the benefits of experiential learning.  An internship is the most common way to “learn by doing,” and similar programs may be referred to as externships or cooperative programs.  There are also many other ways to learn on the job and from people in the workforce, such as job shadowing, site visits, employer visits to campus, part-time work, volunteer work, temporary work, and informational interviewing. For now, let’s talk about internships.

An internship is an experience at a company that has a learning component where you—the intern—get hands-on experience.  Ideally, internships are for those who lack professional experience, but are eager to explore that field while building skills, experience, and references.

So why is it important to intern?  Perhaps most importantly, it will help test your beliefs about your career choice.  You may think you want to be an accountant because you are good at math, and your internship is a chance to get to know the work environment, people, and culture.  Interning also helps you to develop critical skills, including specific job-related skills as well as how to manage yourself in the workplace.  Finally, you may meet people at an internship who can serve as mentors, advisors, and advocates. Developing workplace contacts is essential for building your network and obtaining meaningful professional references.

Before we finish, let’s go ahead and address some of the many myths floating around about internships:

  • My internship will be interesting and challenging all the time.  No internship— or job for that matter—is going to be both interesting and challenging 100% of the time.  Employers sometimes give interns tedious projects that may seem like grunt work but that allow you to become familiar with procedures, accounts and other important aspects of the work.  Proving yourself with seemingly unimportant projects may lead to your supervisor trusting you with bigger and more important work.  But on the other hand if all you are doing is making coffee, picking up your supervisor’s dry cleaning and making her doctor appointments, you may need to speak to your supervisor or human resources about the purpose and goals of your internship.
  • If I don’t intern, I can’t get a job.  For the most part you don’t have to intern to get a job, but in today’s super competitive job market you need to make sure you are as marketable as possible—and interning is a great way to do that.  In some fields, such as publishing, it is very difficult to get a job without doing an internship first.
  • I will get hired after completing my internship.  Some students mistakenly expect that they will be hired after completing an internship.  Maybe you know someone who received an offer this way, or you’ve seen a company advertise that a position can lead to an offer.  While many companies do look to former interns when hiring, there are no guarantees of future employment.  The main purpose of the internship is to explore a field and develop skills.

Be on the lookout for our next blog about internships where we will cover how to find a summer internship. The skills, experience, and connections you can build through internships are invaluable in your career development. Are you interning now or planning to look for an internship?  What do you hope to gain through your internship experience?