Internships - Can they support your career?

Internships - Can they support your career?

In the movie The Intern, seventy-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro), applies for an intern position, as retirement has become too boring for him and he wants to learn some new skills. He takes up a role with About The Fit, a fast-growing e-commerce fashion startup working with Anne Hathaway, and a journey of learning ensues. 

Seventy-year-olds aren't your typical interns, but the general principle of undertaking a role to learn the ropes is one that can really benefit the parties involved.

Is an internship right for you?

What is an internship?

An internship is a period of work that gives you the opportunity to gain new skills and experience in a profession you want to get into. 

They can last from a few weeks to a few months, and back in my day it was simply referred to as 'work experience'.

Typically, internships are undertaken by younger people, perhaps around college or college leaving age, but there aren't really any hard and fast rules.  If you're a seventy-year-old-Robert DeNiro there's nothing stopping you.

The idea of an internship is that you contribute to the operation of an organization as if you were an employee, undertaking tasks and supporting their work, whilst at the same time developing new skills that you can use as your career develops.

Some internships involve you shadowing a member of the team, whilst others put you in a specific role with their own responsibilities.

How do you find internship opportunities?

How you go about finding an intern role depends upon a number of factors, including:

  • Your location
  • Your experience
  • The industry you're interested in 

Over the past few years as the value of internships to organizations and individuals has become more well documented, more and more internship roles are being advertised.

A search on LinkedIn today returns 88,000 opportunities  in the USA, 4,000 in the UK, and 11,000 in the EU, but with advertising comes increased competition for roles.

One approach you can take is to target organizations that you want to work in and approach them directly to sell them on the idea of an internship.

A less cold approach is to use your existing network to find an opportunity to offer your services.  Do you know someone in an organization you'd like to learn within?  Can someone provide you with an introduction to the Talent Manager or Department Head who might be responsible for hiring interns?

Do you get paid as an intern?

Again, the answer to this question depends on where you are located and the kind of opportunities you are seeking.

In the UK for example, anyone who is defined as being a "worker" is entitled to the minimum wage, however, there are still scenarios where the role is unpaid (for example, if you're doing volunteer work or don't have an employment contract dictating your hours).

In the US, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, for an internship to qualify as unpaid both the employer and the intern must agree that the internship will be unpaid. 

However, many organizations do pay their interns to work with them, so it's worth you finding an opportunity that meets both your experience and financial needs.

Are internships worth it?

This one is really down to you!

I'm of the opinion that whatever it is that you do, there are lessons to be learned and experience to be gained, however, how much value you receive from an internship is down to a number of factors, including:

  • what experience you are seeking to obtain
  • your choice of organization to intern within

What I can say is that if you are just starting out on the journey to a new career, and you don't have all the necessary skills to jump straight into a role, then internships do offer you the chance to fill some of your skills gaps, as well as be able to expand the experience on your CV and provide valuable stories to share in job interviews.