Adding an internship to your resume can jumpstart your career before you even graduate. Although internships can sometimes be unpaid, the experience you gain is often worth more than money. Career experts say that internships can be a good way to get your foot in the door of a company and find out if it's the right career for you.
Many successful people say they are grateful for the internships taken earlier in their careers because they helped them land the jobs they have now. For example, famous director Steven Spielberg began his career at 17 as an unofficial intern at Universal Studios. He used the opportunity to network with directors and eventually got one of his movies on the desk of someone influential in the movie industry. And even Elon Musk — one of the richest men in the world — spent time as a prolific intern after graduation. He completed internships at Bank of Nova Scotia, Rocket Science Games, Pinnacle Research, and Microsoft Canada.
What Are Internships?
Internships are temporary work experiences that usually last a certain amount of months. Some are quarterly, while others can be as long as a school semester or a year, and they can be paid or unpaid. Internships are seen as a bridge between education and professional life, offering practical knowledge that would otherwise not be available until after graduation. They also provide insight into real-life work by allowing you to explore your interests and future career.
There are typically two types of internships, as shown below.
Work Experience Internships
Work experience internships are usually undertaken in the final year of university or after graduation. They give people the chance to take their academic knowledge and apply it practically in their industry of choice. They’re an excellent opportunity for students and graduates to add real-life work experience to their resumes before looking for a more permanent job.
Research internships are also known as dissertation internships. They’re usually completed in the final year of university, under the supervision of a professor or in a company’s research and development department. These types of internships require interns to undertake research on a given topic or company and participate in data collection and analysis. By the end, students should normally produce a detailed report on the topic of their internship, which is then graded and counted towards their final degree credits.
Paid vs. Unpaid Interns
Unpaid internships have become a controversial topic in recent years. Many people have argued that they equate to exploitation since interns perform the same essential duties as full-time employees but are not paid for them.
Additionally, students from lower economic backgrounds often cannot participate in unpaid internships, which further fuels societal inequality. This is because while students from financially stable backgrounds can comfortably afford the extra expenses such as travel and food, in conjunction with working “for free,” students from lower economic backgrounds don’t have that same privilege — they can’t afford unpaid work experience.
Even so, some employers have argued that interns learn more on the job than they would in school and, therefore, shouldn't be paid. Whatever your stance, the reality is that while some interns are paid hourly like regular employees, most aren't. But you can still reap the benefits of an unpaid internship, especially while you’re in school.
One way to make life easier for yourself is to request a stipend from your employer to cover basic travel and lunch expenses. They have no obligation to agree to one, but it’s worthwhile to ask. Your university may also allow you to count your internship towards your course credits, freeing up time that would otherwise have been spent studying.
Know Your Rights
You can protect yourself from exploitation by staying up-to-date on labor laws in your local jurisdiction before pursuing an internship. They can differ greatly between regions.
Let's take a look at some of the rules and regulations surrounding internships in different countries.
United States Internship Laws
Most U.S. employers can hire unpaid interns if they can argue that the intern is the “primary beneficiary” of the internship. A seven-point test must be passed to determine whether the intern is getting more benefits from the internship than the employer. An intern being a primary beneficiary is determined by the extent to which:
The intern doesn’t expect compensation and is fully aware they will not be paid.
The internship closely resembles the typical training they get at an educational institution.
The internship is part of the intern’s coursework, and they’ll receive academic credit for it.
The intern doesn’t take over another regular employee’s position but instead performs a role under the supervision of current staff while receiving educational benefits.
The internship doesn’t interfere with the intern’s normal academic commitments.
The internship length and the intern’s period of beneficial learning are aligned.
All parties agree that a job is not guaranteed when the internship ends.
However, if it’s established that the employer is the primary beneficiary, then they must pay the intern at least a minimum wage. Laws involving internships can also vary by state. In certain states, the internship must also be tied to academic institutions for them to be legally unpaid.
United Kingdom Internship Laws
Under British law, British employers do not have to pay interns if they complete their internship as part of their further or higher education course. Interns also aren’t entitled to payment if they are:
still of compulsory school age between five and 18 years old
classified as a volunteer
However, suppose an intern doesn’t fall into any of these categories. In that case, they’re likely classed as a “worker” and become legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage, which starts at £7.49 per hour for 18 to 20-year-olds, increases to £10.18 per hour for 21 to 22-year-olds and sits at £10.42 per hour for anyone older as of April 2023.
Canadian Internship Laws
Canadian labor law states that Canadian employers must pay their interns at least the national minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $16.65 per hour. Still, if you’re working in a province or territory with a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, the local minimum wage takes precedence. The only situation in which an employer can legally have an unpaid intern is if they’re participating in the internship as part of a formal educational program or working as a volunteer for a non-profit organization.
As with any job, it is vital to do some research and know your rights before accepting a position. Being aware of your legal entitlements will allow you to feel more prepared and confident about your decision to intern.
Australian Internship Laws
Australian labor law only requires Australian employers to pay interns when they are in a working relationship with them. This means if you’re carrying out work that a normal employee would be doing, the employer is required to pay you the minimum wage, even if it was agreed that you don’t require payment.
That said, vocational placements such as those taken as part of your university degree or another education or training course can be lawfully unpaid.
Do Internships Count As Work Experience?
The short answer is yes. It can be a real challenge for new graduates to land a job with no work experience, so an internship can give your resume a much-needed boost. That doesn't mean an internship will land you a job immediately, but it will certainly get you on the right track. It's also an opportunity to try out the professional world and get a feel for what it's like working in a particular field without committing to anything permanent.
And if you're trying to change careers, internships are a great way to show you have the passion and drive to start over in a new field. If you’re unable to find an internship in your desired industry, think about volunteering somewhere instead as an alternative way to gain invaluable work experience.
Five Benefits of an Internship
Internships can help your personal and career growth in many different ways. Let's look at some of the key benefits of taking on an internship below.
Add Value to Your Resume
Internships can be a great way to add new skills and experience to your CV. Whether learning new technology, mastering a language, or developing team-building skills, it enhances your resume experience and shows value to future employers.
Gain Skills and Expertise in Your Desired Industry
Internships are basically trial runs for the real deal; they allow you to learn from experts in their respective fields and gain hands-on experience. You can apply everything you've learned during the internship to future work, and there's a good chance those first few jobs will be related to your general internship responsibilities.
Network With People in Your Desired Field
Internships are an opportunity to meet new professionals and expand your network of contacts. Even if you don't get a job offer at the end, you'll have made connections you can reach out to in the future. The right contacts will help you climb the career ladder faster than you would alone.
Determine If You’ve Chosen the Right Career Path
Internships can be a great way to help you figure out if you’re choosing the right career path for yourself. If you change your mind during or after the internship, you can save yourself months — or even years — of working in an industry that doesn't suit you.
Opportunity to Get Hired
An internship can help you land a job right after graduation, and it might even be your first professional role. If you love the company you're interning for, be sure to express your feelings to your supervisor. Ask if they're hiring before your internship contract ends, and put yourself at the front of the line as a potential permanent team member.
Find your next internship with Joblist today to enhance your CV and work experience!