For many people, finding and undertaking an internship is a rite of passage. It’s a great way to find an initial role within a desired company or industry and introduce you to the world of work. Deciding which internship to take — if you even want to do one at all — is a big decision, one of the most important of your career. It is vital to understand what an internship can offer you and what its drawbacks are. This article takes you through both, to help you understand if an internship is the best step for you.
Internships offer many advantages, chiefly to do with experience. You might get to know a company, or a sector. You will embark on a valuable learning experience and expand your professional network. All these things will be useful later in your career.
1. You get real work experience
Internships are a great introduction to work. You will be able to undertake real work responsibilities in a real working environment. An internship will also enable you to adjust to work patterns and norms. This hands-on approach will offer high-value experiential learning that will stand you in good stead for later in your career.
2. You get a taste of your chosen field
If you’ve never worked in a certain industry before or are wondering what a career in a specific sector would be like, then an internship can help you make up your mind. Getting hands-on experience as part of an internship can help you decide if your aspirational career path is right for you.
3. It gives you networking opportunities
You’ll make lots of connections when on an internship. You’ll have a manager, colleagues, and peripheral contacts, such as human resources, or even clients. It’s important that you sell your personal brand to these people, ensuring that these immediate contacts become part of a longer-term network that might help you secure a permanent role.
4. It helps you choose a specialty
Internships can help you make up your mind about what you want to do. Although this might include convincing you to adopt a complete change of career, internships can often help you consider which part of an industry to specialize in. Specializations are often lucrative and rewarding career avenues where you will be immeasurably valued for a deep understanding of a certain skill or sector, rather than just having generalist knowledge across lots of different responsibilities.
5. It helps you build self-confidence
Moving from education into work can be a jarring experience, full of unknowns and what ifs. An internship is a reasonably low-risk and entry-level way to alleviate and de-mystify these concerns, building your confidence through a structured and controlled introduction to the world of work and professional behavior.
6. It boosts your résumé
Internships add a lot of weight to your résumé. As with work experience, internships give your CV/résumé an extra dimension to existing educational experience. You can draw upon internship experiences when being interviewed for full-time roles, making yourself much more attractive in the process.
7. It increases your market value
The experience you gain during an internship increases your market value. You gain skills and credibility on an internship, as well as essentially moving from someone with no professional experience to a candidate with some experience. The distinction might seem small, but it’s powerful, and a collection of various internships can do wonders for your personal brand.
8. You’ll get mentored
Internships are great ways to learn from others. In addition to the learning on the job, your manager will either be your direct mentor or have a mentor assigned to you. You might even receive a second mentor through your educational institution.
Mentors are the perfect internship support as they are knowledgeable enough to guide you through work-related situations, but are also there as longer-term support to help you with general work-related advice.
9. You will secure references
Do a great job on your internship, and you will pick up some great references to help you in your future full-time job search. The key reference is from your manager, but you can also collect references from secondary managers and supervisors. Always ask for people’s permission before adding them to your résumé.
10. It will help you transition to a full-time role
For many of the reasons highlighted already, an internship will help you transition to a full-time role. You will pick up valuable learning experiences, gain exposure to the world of work and your desired field and develop networks in a certain organisation or industry. This means that when you are ready for full-time work, you will be much better placed for success.
Internships present a significant life change and can involve significant disruption to your normal life. As such, you must be prepared. Internships are full of unknowns and might not be all they promised to be. You might also have to undertake undesirable tasks, relocate, and be treated like a junior employee, or with little respect. You can, however, prepare yourself to deal with these drawbacks.
1. You’re treated like an assistant
Some employers see interns as assistants, and they end up being given jobs such as photocopying, typing minutes, fetching coffees, managing diaries, and so on. Filling the role of an assistant might be as far away from the purpose of the internship as you can get. This might make everything feel like a waste of time.
2. There’s a low earning potential
Although there are some exceptions (especially in banking or technology), most internships are low paid (they can even be unpaid internships in some countries). While you should have the expectation that you’re not going to be earning big bucks for an internship, everyone deserves a fair wage. Shop around when applying for internships and benchmark salaries in your chosen sector.
3. It keeps you from entering the workforce
For some people, direct entry to full-time employment cannot happen soon enough. Internships can create a barrier to this, but might be seen as a necessary evil to gain the experience needed. Some people might miss out on longer-term roles by taking an internship, and by the time these situations arise, it might be too late to withdraw from the internship or change direction.
4. It can be competitive
Competition for the best internships can be intense. Companies are only ever able to offer a few places at a time and might receive thousands of applications. Therefore, applying and interviewing for these opportunities can be stressful and lead to failure, and therefore be demoralizing. The best advice? Use every tip and trick available to you to maximize your chances.
5. You will be given menial tasks
Another way some internships can offer a substandard work experience is through offering the employee the chance to only work on menial tasks. You might not have to fulfill assistant responsibilities, but you might only be allowed to handle administrative tasks or other grunt work no one else wants to do. A structured, goal-orientated internship and enquiring about responsibilities when contacting companies will avoid this.
6. You might have to relocate
Despite more and more internships heading online through remote working, many opportunities — especially the most competitive ones — might involve relocation. You’ll need to weigh up the opportunity the internship presents with the stresses and upsets that any relocation causes. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
7. Your work hours will vary
Internships can, in some ways, be regarded as one long job interview. This means that the pressure is on interns to perform, and sometimes this comes with atypical or long hours, all dressed up in lines such as, “As per the needs of the business”.
Like relocation, you will need to weigh up the pressures of long or unusual working hours with the expectation you place upon yourself. Remember that no job or internship is worth burning out over, and if you ever feel this way, it’s going to be better for your health to walk away.
8. It may not be fulfilling
If your internship isn’t what it promised, or you discover partway through that your dream industry or company isn’t what it cracked up to be, then you might be stuck in an unfulfilling internship. This is frustrating, but common. Internships are as much for you to find out about a profession as they are for employers to find out about you. Sometimes, you might leave an internship and, having decided that the role or industry isn’t fulfilling, opt to change career course.
9. It could be expensive
Some internships are not without costs, or associated costs at least. There might be travel or relocation costs, as well as expensive rents if you move to a large city for the internship. There are often costs associated with meals and work clothes, which companies seldom cover. You might also be expected to socialize with colleagues, which can get expensive very quickly. Before accepting an internship, work out a budget based on your income, and go from there.
10. It won’t guarantee you a job
Ultimately, an internship can be many wonderful things and provide a great experience, but it is by no means a guaranteed way to get a job. Internships provide a way into a company, offer networking opportunities and a chance to learn new skills, but some of them can be very competitive. Additionally, your success will largely be in your hands. Companies are under no obligation to hire people who haven’t performed well on internships, and even top performers might not make the cut.
Internships offer wonderful opportunities and are a great way to kickstart a career, blurring the line between education and employment. If you are considering an internship, be aware of the advantages it can offer you, and maximize these as much as you can. Similarly, take time to understand the risks and drawbacks of internships. These don’t have to be deal breakers — work around them and accept them (within reason) when or if they happen to you. Your internship is ultimately a learning experience, good or bad!
Are you considering an internship? Or did you do an internship before beginning your career? What did you find were the biggest advantages and disadvantages? Let us know in the comments.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 7 July 2017.