What Is an Internship and How To Get One Successfully

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An internship is a great way to get valuable work experience for people who are new to an industry or profession, including for those who are looking to change their career. An internship can give you the opportunity to explore the kind of work you can expect from a certain job and add value to your resume. Internships also help you build professional connections that are fruitful for a fulfilling and rewarding career. In this article, explore what an internship is, how to apply for one and what to expect from an internship.

What is an internship?

An internship is a temporary job that lasts anywhere from a month to a year and can be paid or unpaid. It's common for current students and recent graduates to take on internships, usually related to their field of study. However, internships also offer practical experience to those looking for a fresh start in a new industry. It also helps you determine if a particular career matches your goals and interests. An internship can also:

  • Give you a realistic idea of your tasks and duties

  • Provide you with a schedule that may include routine tasks and duties

  • Help you learn new skills in addition to gaining work experience

  • Introduce you to the company, its culture and work processes

What does an internship look like?

The work that you will do depends on the industry and your role within the company. You may initially take up a supporting role before being asked to take on more responsibilities. Here are some possibilities of what you can expect from your internship:

  • Work with a mentor: You may work closely with a mentor who can introduce you to the role and what you're expected to do for the duration of your internship. Your mentor may also provide feedback about your performance.

  • Perform routine tasks: Common duties of interns include creating and proofreading presentations, writing reports and other administrative duties, such as managing the company's emails, social media or even speaking with clients over the phone.

  • Coordinate events and activities: The company may ask you to manage important events and meetings at the company.

  • Conduct research: Depending on the project, your duties can include carrying out research and collecting data that may influence decisions.

How to get an internship

Securing an internship is similar to the process of searching for a job. Here are some important points to consider when preparing to get an internship:

1. Create a list of companies

Creating a list of companies that you want to apply to for an internship position is a good starting point. This can allow you to compare your options and make a decision on which companies and roles you will benefit from based on the skills that you learn, the industry experience that you get and other advantages that the company might provide. To create your list, start by browsing the company websites stated in your internship advertisements to get the information you need.

Related: How to Use Indeed to Job Search During COVID-19

2. Prepare your resume and cover letter

When applying for an internship, it's important to have a resume and cover letter prepared and to carefully plan what details to include in them, especially if you have little or no professional experience. The top of your internship resume normally includes all your contact details and a personal statement that describes your goals. Next, include all your academic qualifications, any volunteer work and other roles that you may have performed in extracurricular clubs or organisations. Make sure to also look at the internship description for important keywords that you can include in your resume.

A good cover letter states clearly why you're applying for an internship and what you can do for the company. Use this opportunity to include relevant experiences with examples or achievements that match the role for which you are applying. Before sending your application, have someone you trust proofread your resume and cover letter for any errors.

Related: How to Write an Internship Cover Letter (With Examples)

3. Get a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation is a letter that your mentor, employer or professor writes for recommending you positively to a prospective employer or institution that requests it. If you haven't had any prior professional experience, your professor is the next best person to request a letter of recommendation from. Since writing a letter requires effort and time, you should plan ahead and give advance notice to the person writing your letter. Provide them with all the information needed to make it easier for them to write one for you, such as your resume and the internship details.

4. Getting ready to interview

Preparing for an interview is a crucial step in your application for an internship. A part of your preparation consists of gathering basic information on the company, such as the products and services they offer, their mission statement, important people in the company, their achievements and their competitors. Take care to review the job description when preparing answers to questions they may ask you. Having the right information tells your interviewer that you've come prepared and are excited to work at their company.

Related: How To Prepare for an Interview

5. Getting offered an internship

If you've successfully cleared the interview process, the company would usually communicate the offer of internship to you through a phone conversation and email. This is an appropriate time to confirm whether you will receive compensation, including your expected workload and timings.

6. Volunteer

Sometimes, a company that you're interested in working for may not have an internship opportunity available. In such cases, you can consider contacting the company to request or discuss a volunteer position with the company. They may provide opportunities to volunteer for professional workshops or company-related events, all of which could add to your work experience. Volunteer opportunities are usually unpaid but are a valuable addition to your resume.

How long are internships?

The length of your internship depends on the company, the nature of your role and the industry in which you intend to work in. Here are some of the different types of internships and their durations:

  • Summer internship: They usually last anywhere between two to three months and are preferable, as it occurs at a time when students are on break from school or university.

  • Semester internship: These internships are usually as long as a school or university semester and students manage their internship hours along with their academics. The internships may or may not include compensation.

  • University internship: Internships found at your university usually involve research or science-related roles and cater to candidates who are pursuing a master's degree or a doctorate.

  • One-year internship: Some internships last as long as two academic semesters. They can be paid or unpaid, depending on the agreement you have with the company.

  • Externship: These are internships that are much shorter and don't have the same depth of learning as most internships. They can last several days to a few weeks depending on the type of work that is required.

The benefits of doing an internship

Here are some of the advantages of putting your time and effort into an internship:

  • Gain work experience: Internships are a useful way for students to gain work experience, especially when time and opportunities may be limited at university. It also adds value to a resume when applying for full-time positions. When changing careers, the work experience gained from internships allows you to demonstrate your worth when applying for positions in a different industry.

  • Exposure to a potential career path: Internships allow you to explore whether a certain career path matches your goals and interests. As it's a temporary position with a fixed duration, it can give you all the information you'd need to make a decision.

  • Develop new and refine current skills: Internships enable you to showcase your skills and even learn new ones in your role, such as learning a new programming language or learning how to perform data analysis. Companies provide feedback that can help you gain the kind of knowledge that you otherwise may not get from a classroom setting or previous career.

  • Network professionally: When doing your internship, take the opportunity to stay in touch with professionals in your industry. Creating a network and having contacts helps you to find full-time roles and other future opportunities.

  • Easier transition to a full-time role: Organisations may sometimes offer a full-time role once you have completed your internship. By then, you would have understood what employers expect of you in a particular role or position. In this manner, companies also use internships to understand your character, work ethic, suitability for the role and whether you're ready to take on more responsibilities.

  • Compensation: Companies with internship programs may or may not provide a stipend or income during the internship. When offered a role, don't hesitate to ask the company if they intend to pay you for the work that you will be doing. If you're a student, check with your university about any credits counted towards your course as a form of compensation.