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.” --National Association of Colleges and Employers
The presence of the word "internship" in a job title does not inherently signify that the job will support your professional development. For an internship to be more than just a fancy sounding student job, it must include structured learning opportunities and professional mentorship. Read on for more guidance on what characteristics to seek out in an internship.
Six fundamentals for every internship
When you are reading the internship job posting, look for the following components, which indicate a well developed intern position:
- Position is clearly defined and related to your academic coursework and/or professional goals
- Job responsibilities are similar to those of entry level employees with a bachelor's degree; tasks should require critical thinking and complex problem solving
- Training and orientation to the job and company provided when the internship begins with additional training opportunities offered as needed
- Opportunities to assist and shadow other professional staff on their projects and tasks and eventually coordinate your own
- Frequent guidance and feedback provided by a professional with expertise and an educational or professional background in the field
- Inclusion in the operations and happenings of the office through attendance at staff/department meetings, committee membership, etc.
Four questions to ask the employer of your internship
Interviewing for an internship is your chance to learn more about the opportunity and make sure the experience is one that will benefit you. Conducting thorough online research into the company and asking thoughtful questions during the interview will help you evaluate the quality of the internship; before accepting a job offer, make sure you find answers to the following questions:
- How will you be given feedback on your performance and guidance in your professional growth?
- Which routine operations of the company or projects will you be involved in (meetings, committees, teams, etc.)?
- What opportunities will you have to interact with individuals within the department and in other departments of the company?
- How will the depth and/or breadth of your job responsibilities increase throughout the internship?
- Requests for personal financial or identity information such as your bank account or social security number by anyone other than an HR representative setting up payroll
- Exposure to physical, chemical, or biological safety hazards
- Discriminatory behavior or harassment from coworkers, supervisors, or anyone else in workplace.
Although the University of Iowa can't control an off-campus internship experience, students should expect their employers to provide a positive learning experience free from discrimination or harassment of any kind. University recourses are available to help students understand their rights as interns and to support students if they encounter harassment or discrimination.
We know you have lots of questions; you are not alone. Find the answers to the most commonly asked questions about internships and internship courses. If you can't find an answer you're looking for, let us know!