Internships for Dummies (101)

If you're reading this, I'm guessing you're a high school or college level student who's struggling to maneuver all the expectations around graduation.

What is an internship, anyway? Why do I even need one? How do I get one? These are just a few of the questions I asked myself three years ago while transitioning from high school to college.

I didn't have anyone to guide me through that process, but lucky for you, here I am to alleviate some of your stress and frustration when it comes to the glorious world of internships.


You've probably been told, "Hey, kid. You got an internship for this summer yet? –˜Cuz you better get on that. Good luck findin' a job without one!" Sound familiar?

Yeah, I was told that, too. Annoying, right?

You think to yourself "I've been focusing on getting through school, not applying for internships–¦" and then you panic!

Well, I'm here to tell you that it is okay.

Believe it or not, I was in your shoes not long ago. My senior year of high school, I had been working an awful retail job, so I knew it was crucial for me to start my search for something more professional. I had a goal to work part time through college, because I needed extra money for my car payments, auto insurance, and phone bill. So, as far as I was concerned, any unpaid job or internship was off the table for me.

That same year, I was in a program that gave me the opportunity to shadow multiple organizations around the area for weeks at a time. I knew I had a large interest in marketing, so I was placed at Visions to shadow their marketing department. I didn't see it coming, but to put it simply, this internship taught me that it was possible to find a career filled with your passion and excitement – that it was even possible to love what you do.

At the end of my time shadowing, the AVP of Marketing told me that there were unfortunately no opportunities for internships in the department–¦ which was–¦ kind of devastating. Still, I sent a thank you email to that AVP and instinctively offered a detailed breakdown of my interests and abilities– what essentially was an unprompted cover letter. Then, lo and behold, a month later, guess who got offered an internship with the marketing department! My internship transitioned to a part-time position, and to this day, I've been with the company for almost four years.

Here are some things I wish I knew.

What Do I Want Out of an Internship?

There are a few things you'll need to consider before applying for an internship. Do you want to take the internship as school credit, or would you rather be paid? Are you willing to relocate? Are you willing to take an unpaid, no-credit, offer? These are all important to think about before you make any sporadic decisions. Internships are designed to give you experience for your chosen career path and are meant for you to get your foot in the door. Depending on your work experience, clubs, and skills, you may receive a full-time job upon graduation without an internship.

So, don't stress if you don't land the internship you wanted. This will not make or break your ability to be successful. But, if you are leaning more on the side of getting one, for the sake of gaining useful experience or making those essential network connections, keep reading!

Paid vs Unpaid vs For-Credit Internships: You Decide

Do you want to be paid for your internship? Or would you consider unpaid positions, too? Unfortunately, many internships these days are unpaid, and they may overwork their employees. If you are willing to be unpaid, you'll need to make sure that it's worth having less free time and less time for schoolwork.

Don't let this scare you, there are plenty of internships that would be willing to pay you. You just need to do some research! You also need to decide what is a good wage for you, what type of work you'd like to do, and whether you want to intern in the Summer or Winter.

Did you know, you can also intern for school credit? These types of internships are real internships but, instead of being compensated with a paycheck, you receive 3-4 credits to apply toward your degree. Many programs, like mine, require an internship before you can graduate, so make sure you look at your degree requirements. Find out early if you need one, and don't settle for something that doesn't meet your expectations!

Traveling for an Internship: Yay or Nay?

Another thing to keep in consideration is whether you will need to travel for your internship. Where I go to school, 80% of the internships that students receive are in big cities, like NYC, Chicago, and Dallas. If you're not looking to relocate for the winter or the summer, it's important to keep that in mind during your internship search.

Some businesses may be willing to compensate you for travel and cover expenses like hotel rooms, rent for an apartment, or even gas. However, many won't. It's okay to turn an offer down if they want you to relocate and aren't willing to compensate you for it. It's also important to negotiate! For one internship, I spent an entire summer driving over two hours per day. This was rather far for me and ate up a lot of time and mileage. Naturally, I spoke up and pushed for fair compensation but, by then, it was too late to change my contract.

Don't let it slide. If they need a strong intern like you, they should respect your time and effort. Negotiate your terms!


Your College Career Platform: A Lifesaver

If you're currently a student, you can explore and apply to various internships on your school's career platform. There are also opportunities listed on LinkedIn, and sometimes even Indeed. If you're looking to apply to an internship with a well-known company, I recommend doing so through your school website. Recruiters are more likely to see your application and respond, as they're constantly looking for new applicants at the college level.

Another reason to use your college career platform is that most will require you to submit your resume for editing and approval before you can apply to internships. Even if your resume needs some touch-ups, your school will make sure it's up to par before they'll let you send it anywhere, so don't fret. Take advantage of this resource because it's usually free for students and much less work on your part. I say, having an extra eye is great! The better your resume, the better chance you have at getting hired!

Full Time Opportunities

If you happen to accept an internship, you may ultimately receive a job offer to start at the company part-time or full-time upon your program's completion. This opportunity isn't guaranteed, and some places may stress that it's an internship and only an internship, so make sure you don't get your hopes up too much. It's best to go into your internship with a positive mindset and no extra expectations.

If your goals include working with the company after your internship, make sure to have that conversation with your manager. The more your boss is aware of your commitment and hopes, the better! At the very least, if there are no full-time opportunities, you will have built strong connections with your coworkers.

The more you network, the more people you'll meet. The more people that know about your skills and experience, the more they'll recommend you. The more people you build a positive relationship with, the better chance you'll have at landing that full time position. I can't say enough about the importance of networking and connecting with your colleagues!

If you don't have an internship yet, don't fret. And if you don't want an internship, that's fine, too! Everyone is on their own journey.

Keep in mind, it's important to do your own research and decide early what you want to get out of an internship. Don't settle for anything less than you expect!

Good luck!

Emily E.

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