WHAT IS AN INTERNSHIP?
An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.
Employers continue to express a strong preference for job candidates who had completed at least one internship. Because employers have fewer hiring opportunities and a larger pool of candidates, they often rely on internship evaluations to make hiring decisions. Internships benefit both students and employers. They help students transfer the skills they are learning in the classroom to the workplace, gain real-world experiences, make industry connections and perhaps even land a job. Internships allow employers to “try out” potential employees. Listen to what employers have to say about internships.
Benefits of an internship:
- Provides direct experience in your field.
- Gives you an opportunity for professional development.
- Gain valuable skills in your career field.
- Opportunity to “try out” a job in your field of study.
- Builds networks for future job opportunities.
- An Internship opportunity focuses on providing valuable meaningful field experience that is structured around a specific major or field of study and directly complements a student's classroom learning. It may be used towards degree credits, varies in lengths, and can either be paid or non-paid.
- Volunteer work is usually done for personal fulfillment and enjoyment as a student uses their interests and skills. There is usually no pay or college credit involved and can occur on an on-going basis or short-term projects. Many volunteer opportunities occur within non-profit or city agencies.
- There are some overlap between volunteer work and internships.
- See the Volunteer information at the bottom of this page for online volunteer resources.
Paid | Unpaid | College Credit
Paid internships are subject to the federal or state minimum wage which is the legal requirement for hourly positions.
A fixed weekly, monthly or quarterly stipend, not based on hours worked, is not considered wages and would not conflict with the Fair Labor Standard Act minimum wage requirements. Interns have the same rights as other employees.
The Department of Labor has six criteria to determine if a student is a learner/trainee (i.e. Intern) and therefore doesn't have to be paid. Not all six factors have to be present but the position should ultimately be more of a training experience than a job:
- The training, though it may include actual operation of the employer's facilities, is similar to training that would be given in a vocational school.
- The training is for the benefit of the student.
- The student does not displace regular employees, but works under close observation of a regular employee.
- The employer provides training and derives no immediate advantage from activities to the student.
- The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
- The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.
- Enrolling in a Work Experience class is the method in which students receive college credit for volunteering, and internship or paid positions.
- The college does NOT require that a student be enrolled in a Work Experience course unless it is a component of their degree program.
- If enrollment in Work Experience is NOT part of student's degree program, it is the decision of the employer to require whether or not a student needs to be enrolled in a Work Experience course.
- To see if you qualify for Mesa's Work Internship Experience program, please visit the Career Center.
- The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
- The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
- The experience has a defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
- There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
- There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
- There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.
- There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.
Preparing to Search
Students should begin preparing for their internship three to six months in advance. In order to have a successful internship search, make sure that you and your job search tools are ready to go – your cover letter and resume are updated, interviewing skills are polished. These elements are essential to a successful search. The more prepared you are for the internship search process, the more confident you will appear to potential supervisors or employers.
- Update your resume with clearly outlined objectives, relevant experience, course work and skills that relate to the internship.
- Make sure you have an email address that is appropriate for use in a professional setting.
- Gather all information needed to accurately and completely fill out an application.
- Prepare your cover letter.
Spend time reflecting on your goals for obtaining an internship. Consider these questions:
- What are your specific career interests?
- What do you hope to gain from an internship?
- What organization(s) would be best for your needs?
- How much time do you have for your internship?
- Will you consider both paid and nonpaid internships?
- Do you want college credit for the internship?
- Have a declared major
- Have completed at least six (6) units towards your major*
- Be in good academic and progress standing
- Have a strong GPA*
- Have 120-300 hours per semester/session to devote to internship
* Requirements vary by internship
Searching and Applying
- Avoid any sites that require you to pay for an internship contact
- Many employers will list internship programs on their website
- Post your resume on a sites that offers internships
- Video - How to Get an Internship
- JobConnect -The SDCCD Student Employment System where San Diego employers post internship for Mesa students.
A Sampling of Companies with Internship Programs:
HACU National Internship
Finding an Internship through LinkedIn
- Using LinkedIn to find an internship (handout)
Federal Internship Program
The UCSD Moores Cancer Center has openings for students who are pursuing a science major (basic or behavioral) and are underrepresented minorities in the sciences and/or are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Eligible students will participate in one of three programs, which include eight weeks of paid summer laboratory training, plus continued academic, personal, and career support while students are at UCSD.
Montana State University:
University of Arizona:
- Summer Research Institute
- Biosphere 2 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU)
- Hooked on Photonics
- Collaborative Research in the Chemical Sciences
- Integrated Optics for Undergraduates
- Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium
- Programa de Verano de la Investigation
University of Maryland:
- Summer Training and Research (STAR)
- Summer Research Initiatives to Increase Diversity
- Cybersecurity Scholars
- Training and Research Experiences in Nonlinear Dynamics
- Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering REU
- Research Opportunities in Miniature Robotics
- Engineering Research Internship Teams (MERIT)
- Networking accounts for over 80% of obtained jobs.
- Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a specific type of Internship; these people should include your family, your friends (at school and at home), your family's friends, your professors, past employers, alumni, community or church members.
- Just as with job-hunting, networking may be one of your best sources for internships -- especially for competitive internships.
- See the Job Search page for more information on Networking.
- Some programs on campus keep a list of potential employers/internships.
- Attend job fairs and ask about internship opportunities.
- Research general information about companies, departments or agencies that interest you.
- Some companies and organizations have organized internship programs. You can generally find this information on the career or human resources website.
If you have identified a specific company or organization where you would like to intern, but they do not have an formal internship program, or internship positions listed on their site, contact them and possibly make your own internship. Here are some suggestions:
- Call the human resources department directly - do not email.
- Indicate that: "I am a Mesa College student, majoring in XXX, and I would like to intern in your organization."
- Go one step further and tell them what you would like to do and the skills you can bring.
- If they do not have internships, they might know a person/department who was talking about needed an intern.
- Be ready to submit your resume right away.
- If they don't have any opportunities, ask if you can email your resume in any way for a future opportunity.
- Don't be afraid to be assertive and sell yourself as a great opportunity for their organization.
Preparing for the Interview
Most internships require a formal interview with an employer.
- Practice a mock interview with a friend or family member.
- Be prepared to market yourself. Know your strengths and what differentiates yourself from others.
- Prepare your attire for the interview. Dress professionally. Practice your smile, good posture, eye contact and a firm handshake.
- Prepare samples of your work to bring to the interview.
- Read professional trade journals and magazines.
- Don't forget to send a thank you letter to any employer who gives you an opportunity to interview.
- Is the internship paid or non-paid? Is there reimbursement for your expenses?
- How many hours are you required to intern per week? How long does the internship last?
- What are the deadlines for the internship?
- What type of security or clearance process is required to participate in the internship?
- Is there a dress code you need to follow?
- Some companies have a specific plan and structure for interns and some do not, what is the protocol at your internship site?
- What reporting structure and work space are set up for interns?
- Does the company provide orientations, certifications, trainings and in-service opportunities?
- Do you have some specific knowledge or skill you learned at college that you want to try in the “real world”?
- Will you be in a specific area or work on a particular project or will you be learning different aspects of this business by interning in more than one department?
- If there are other interns at this site, will you be working as a team?
- If mentoring is part of the internship, what would you like to learn from the mentor?
- What skills or experience do you want to be able to put on your resume after this internship?
- What is the policy for intern absence? Is it acceptable to take time off during exam periods?
- Why do you want an internship with this organization?
- Why should we hire you for our internship program?
- Do your grades reflect your true ability? Why or why not?
- How many hours each week are you able to devote to this internship?
- Would you be able to work beyond one semester?
- How would you handle conflicts between your school schedule and a surprise, rush job here?
- What type of supervisor do you prefer to work under?
- How will this internship help you meet your career goals?
- Who is your least favorite professor? Why?
- What are your greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
- Give me an example from your past that shows the following: how you dealt with difficult people; how you overcame an obstacle or solved a problem.
- Which of your courses, jobs, or school activities has prepared you for this internship?
During Your Internship
- An internship is a serious position; think of your internship as a real job.
- Do not date an employee or other intern during the internship.
- Be 5 minutes early for all assignments or meetings.
- Call if you are going to arrive late or miss a shift.
- Dress appropriately for the business culture.
- Follow directions and ask questions if you are unsure about an assignment or task.
- Be positive, motivated and proactive.
- Show an interest in your field and offer to do more work than necessary.
- Try to learn something new every day.
- Comply with company policies and procedures.
- Develop a network of professional contacts.
- Create a portfolio of work materials to demonstrate your accomplishments during the internship.
Other Internship Resources and Topics
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does permit international students to be interns. Students need to request the necessary employment/internship authorization through the International Student Advisor before accepting any offer of employment or internship. Processing the authorization can take up to 120 days. The duties assigned to the student during an internship must relate to the student's course of study and must be completed within the course term. Students should contact the International Student program and attend a Practical Training Workshop prior to accepting an internship.
Since internships are designed to extend for a specific amount of time, the interns are hired for a certain purpose, and these is not expectation that the position will continue after the specified end date, interns would not qualify for unemployment benefits after leaving the organization. Developing a learning agreement with specific start and end dates, as well as expectations for the position, is the best way to safeguard your organization against unemployment claims by past interns (Inkster & Ross).
Interns fall under the same guidelines as regular employees when it comes to civil rights and nondiscrimination. Employers are not allowed to select interns based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, etc., nor can they discriminate against interns with disabilities. Interns with disabilities must be provided reasonable accommodations to perform their essential job functions as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Interns are also protected by harassment laws, just as regular employees are (Inkster & Ross).
There is a difference between these two agreements. According to NACE, non-compete agreements are signed documents where an employee agrees not to compete with the current employer after leaving the company. They may outline certain things that are prohibited such as working for a competitor or creating a competitive business, the geographic location in which the employee may not work, and how long the non-compete agreement will last. Non-disclosure agreements prohibit the employee from using proprietary information learned in the current organization, at a job with a new employer. Proprietary information can include such things as product information, customer information, business plans, new technology, or any information that's not available to the public. This type of agreement does not restrict where an employee can work after leaving the current employer, but is can limit the information the employee can use at the new organization.
Both of these agreements are used occasionally by employers when hiring interns, but non-compete agreements many not be as enforceable as non-disclosure agreements. The reason is interns don't usually enter the job market right when the internship ends, they may not have gained the expert knowledge that regular employees have, they aren't employed long enough, and aren't involved in a high enough level of decision-making.
The California Labor Code, Section 3351, states that “Employees” means every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contact of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed. According to this, interns to fall under the classification of “employee” and should by law be covered under worker's compensation. The only time an intern is not required to be covered under worker's compensation, according to section 3352.i. of the California Labor Code, is if the intern is a “personal performing voluntary service for a public agency or a private, non-profit organization who receives no remuneration for the services other than meals, transportation, lodging, or reimbursement for incidental expenses.” If an organization falls into the public agency or private, non-profit category and is hiring interns that are unpaid, then coverage is not necessary, though it is recommended as to limit liability for job injuries to medical expenses and lost wages only. If an intern hurts someone else while working, the organization may be held liable.