Get an Internship

Internships: Learning By Doing

Everything you need to know for a successful internship

By Matt Krumrie

Most people have a good idea what an internship is, says Wendy Coduti, Ph.D, the Experiential Learning & On-Campus Internship Coordinator in the career services and human resources department at Michigan State University. However, many people don’t fully understand what an internship can really do for a student.

Group of Interns Working on a Project

As she puts it, an internship is:

  • An on-site work experience directly related to career goals and/or fields of interest
  • Supervised, emphasizing learning and professional development
  • Evaluative, providing a system for feedback and communication
  • Either pair or un-paid, for-credit or not-for-credit (or a combination)

What an internship is not, says Coduti, is

  • Routine, repetitive tasks unrelated to identified learning goals
  • A job that does not offer career-related opportunities and experiences
  • Unsupervised, non-evaluated experiences

When looking for internships, students should look for these five key traits, according to Coduti:

  • The internship should be related to your career goals – even if it’s trying out a field, you want to get real world experience to help understand if that career field is right for you.
  • You should receive regular supervision and feedback. You want to make sure that you will be supervised and will have someone to go to if you have any questions or need assistance with anything.
  • The internship should offer opportunity to provide feedback. You want to be able to share early on how the internship is going and where you may have additional ideas or areas of concerns that can enhance/help the learning experience.
  • You have the opportunity to work with others. Internships are a great way to build your professional network and networking is the key to future employment opportunities. Even if your internship requires that you are working on a project independently make sure you are taking the time to meet others and share your ideas and learn what they are doing within the organization.
  • The opportunity to work on real world projects related to the career field you are interested in. Internships are “learning by doing” and you want to make sure you get the opportunity to work on projects that you would encounter in your field (even if it’s taking just a piece of the project or being part of a team working on that).

— Search Internship Job Listings —

“An internship is like a real job even if you are not getting paid for it,” says Coduti. “You can get fired as an intern. Make sure you are doing your best .”

Paid or unpaid?

Some internships pay, others don’t. It’s the reality of the way it is and the way it will likely always be. The thing to remember is future employers are not concerned about whether or not you were paid on your internship. They want to know if you have gained the skills and experiences they are looking for in an employee.

“An unpaid internship may be your foot in the door with a company and offer a great way to network,” says Coduti. “Some paid internships require experience so you may have to take an unpaid internship to get the experiences needed for a future paid internship. Also many employers like seeing students who have taken an unpaid internship as it shows them that the student is willing to work hard and take those opportunities (even if unpaid) to further their experiences.”

Coduti knows though, that not all students can take an unpaid internship.

Consider what you can/can’t do financially.

“Maybe you need to work part time at another job while working at an unpaid internship,” she says. “Sometimes unpaid internships have more flexible hours, as they understand students may need to work to earn money elsewhere.”

How to make the most of your internship

Even a bad internship is a good internship because you may learn more from bad experiences, says Coduti. If through your internship you realize this is not the career field for you that is great because you’ve realized that before paying for four years of college and going and getting a full time job.

Sometimes internships help students decide what they like or don’t like, which truly helps when looking for future full time employment.  Having a successful internship relies as much on the student as it does the employer.

What are the key traits of a successful intern?

Coduti says successful interns:

  • Reliable
  • Bring energy and enthusiasm
  • Dress well
  • Balance self-sufficiency with asking questions
  • Participate
  • Stay flexible
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Network

When is a good time to start looking for an internship?

The answer is simple: It is never too early to start looking for internships. The Michigan State Employment Research Institute found that 50 percent of employers surveyed agreed students should have one internship, while the other 50 percent believed students should have at least two and 10 percent of those said at least three.

If employers are looking for candidates with 1, 2, or 3 internships students need to start as early as their freshman/sophomore year. Students need to research and look at what employers seek in qualified candidates in their professional field. If employers in their potential field want three internships, go get three. Also consider other areas where you can get the skills employers are looking for. These may be outside of internships and are just as valuable to have on your resume. These include: volunteering, part-time jobs, mentoring, professional organization involvement and service learning.

Why are internships beneficial to students?

According to Coduti, internships allow students to:

  • Take what you’ve learned in the working world back into the classroom
  • Test out a field
  • Gain experiences in competencies employers are looking for
  • Network
  • Potentially earn academic credit.

Graduating with an internship allows students to:

  • Select a career with confidence
  • Create more contacts through networking
  • Receive more job offers upon graduation
  • Move up in a career faster
  • Make more money
Internship Image

How to find an internship

Start looking and applying early, says Coduti.

“Like full time positions, internships may also never be posted but rather employers find interns through networking or through students contacting them looking for internship opportunities,” she says.

Start by researching employers you would like to work for. Use your current network: family, friends, community members, student organization, faculty, career services at your University and web resources.

Before you begin the internship search

Make sure you:

  • Have a completed resume (and you tailor it to each internship you are applying for)
  • Know how many hours per week you are available
  • Know geographically where you can intern (can you relocate?)
  • Know what you want to learn
  • Know what type of experiences you would like to have
  • Know where you lack experience
  • Know whether you can do a paid or unpaid internship

Use Social Media

It’s important to remember how social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help in the job search. Many of today’s top companies have Twitter pages and post internships and job openings. You can also connect with professionals from a variety of fields and organizations through network. Facebook allows you to interact and connect with people who know people and networking can play a big role in landing an intern. Use these tools to your advantage. At Michigan State University, The Internships@State (I@S) has a Facebook page where the share internships, jobs and employment tips and events with MSU students. Many other companies do this as well.

Contact the Company

If you really want to find an internship at a company, go to the company web site and search for information on their internship opportunities. If they don’t have any postings, call and see if you can talk to a person in HR or someone who can help with an internship. By using the social media tips above, you can get a better idea of who to contact with a company – especially through LinkedIn.

— Search Internship Job Listings —

“Internships have become much more valuable and lead to much more successful employment outcomes,” says Coduti. “Often times employers will not even post full time jobs and instead go to past interns. Students should look at internships as extended interviews and often companies use internships to grow their own workforce.”

Coduti says it’s important to be flexible when planning your internship opportunities. This is not just any job or a summer job, this is your future – and the chance to put all the hard work you have put into your schooling to the test. It’s also the time to learn what the real world could be like. Not all internships are going to work out perfect, but they will all provide experience that will and can help you in your future.  Like your school work and like a job search, finding an internship is hard work.

“Don’t expect to find the perfect internship after only a couple of hours searching,” says Coduti. “Finding a job or internship is a full time job and takes time, research and patience. Also realize that even if the internship is not exactly what you were looking for or isn’t with the employer of your dreams it is still a great experience, if students are willing to put the work in.”

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