Internships: Pros and Cons

Person presenting in business meeting

Many companies utilize the use of interns, who offer a way to bring in new perspectives and can provide mentorship opportunities for existing employees.

There are pros and cons to internship programs though, so let’s take a look at those in a little more depth.

So, what is an internship? An internship is a short-term work experience offered by companies and other organizations for people – usually students but not always – to get some entry-level exposure to a particular industry or field. Internships can also lead to full-time job offers.

Student Interns Expect To:

  • Gain real work experience and be an asset to the company
  • Have a mentor who provides guidance and constructive feedback
  • Gain experience and skills in a particular field
  • Grow their professional network
  • Be introduced to a company’s mission and goals, and fellow employees who they can go to in the future with questions

Summer internships are typically 40 hours a week over 10 to 12 weeks. Fall and spring internships vary, but are almost always part time.

In short, internships can help people figure out what they want to do with their career, and make it easier to land their first full-time job in that industry. As an intern, one gets the chance to work side by side with accomplished industry professionals and get a pretty good idea of what an entry-level role might entail. 

You can not only gain real work experience, but also meet and learn from the pros. You are given the opportunity to build your own network, anywhere from your fellow interns to seasoned leaders.

Internships give you the chance to try a few things out before committing. They also offer the chance to not just build relevant skills and learn about the field, but to demonstrate those skills and industry acumen on the job. 

Do Interns Get Paid?

How much interns get paid varies widely by company. Interns typically don’t receive health or other benefits that full-time employees get. But, depending on the company, it might include perks ranging from offering a handful of social events or vacation days to covering relocation and even housing.

Why then, do unpaid internships exist? Unpaid internships are mostly learning rather than work experiences. Basically, for an unpaid internship to be lawful, you should be benefiting more than the company.

According to the FLSA’s factsheet, it’s also generally OK for the public sector and nonprofits to have unpaid interns who “[volunteer] without expectation of compensation.”

Some industries are notorious for not paying their interns (or paying them poorly), while also requiring internships in order to get a foot in the door for full-time entry-level jobs. Of course, that means that people who can’t afford to take unpaid internships not only miss out on those valuable learning experiences, but also have more trouble breaking into the field as a whole.

A Quality Internship:

  • Consists of a part-time or full-time work schedule
  • Provides a clear job/project description for the work experience
  • Orients the student to the organization and its culture
  • Helps the student develop and achieve goals
  • Offers regular feedback to the student intern

Benefits of Hiring an Intern:

  • Ease workload of regular employees
  • Enable employees to focus on higher level tasks
  • Meet short-term staffing needs
  • Utilize a cost effective employment strategy
  • Complete finite projects
  • Develop a pipeline of future employees
  • Introduce new enthusiasm and fresh ideas into the organization
  • Provide practical learning opportunities to students
  • Take advantage of students’ tech and social media savvy

So, what’s the difference between an internship, a co-op, and a research opportunity? Internships are supervised, structured learning experiences in a professional setting that allow you to gain valuable work experience in a student’s chosen field of study, and require a minimum of 120 hours.

Co-ops are paid positions that require students to alternate semesters between full-time work during the academic term and full-time academic study for at least two semesters. Students are often, but not always, offered full-time employment with the organization upon graduation.  

Research opportunities are available both on and off campus. These experiences offer a unique way to better understand a student’s academic interests and consider how graduate school may play a role in future paths. Funding may be available for these experiences through organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

There are a lot of opinions about internships these days, and many believe that unpaid internships are unfair and should be done away with. Some believe that having an unpaid internship breeds the same results as not doing an internship at all. 

If done properly and fairly, internships can be a beautiful thing! What are your thoughts on paid versus unpaid internships? Comment below with your opinions! 

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