Internship Advice

What Does a Human Resources Intern Do?

HR plays a crucial part in the day to day operations of a company. Keep reading to learn about what HR interns do and how to get an internship!

Michael Yan
Published: (Updated: ) - 5 min read
Michael Yan is the co-founder & CEO of Simplify. Previously a software engineer at Meta, Michael dropped out of Stanford to found Simplify. He is a part-time career coach & Y Combinator alum.

Photo by Scott Graham / Unsplash

The world of human resources is a lot more varied and diverse than most people realize, and the kinds of internships you can do are just as diverse. If you’re struggling to know what to look for in an HR internship or just not sure about what one would even involve, keep reading!

What do you do as an HR intern?

The kind of work a human resources professional does largely depends on where they work and where they fall in the hierarchy of an HR department. As an intern, you’re most likely to either assist someone quite senior or bounce around as a general go-to for administrative tasks.

That’s often the ideal position for an intern to hold because it means you get a chance to see what everyone does and hopefully, gain a better idea of what you would like to do in the future. There are many areas of human resources where you could choose to do your internship, each involving its own set of responsibilities. Let’s break them down:

In-house Human Resources Department

This is the version of HR that you’re probably most familiar with. It’s a vital business department that can include a range of roles and responsibilities. At its core though, in-house HR is about supporting the relationship between a business and its staff.

In smaller businesses, such as tech startups, there are usually only a handful of people doing everything from office management to recruitment and managing employee experience. These small teams can be quite intense but an internship in this environment often allows an up-close look at the variety of tasks HR can encompass. You'll often get to interact with the full spectrum of HR, as opposed to being siloed into one specific task/team.

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For much larger organizations, the roles in an HR department only expand. Bigger departments also require more organizational and administrative roles which, if that’s an area of interest, is important to keep in mind when looking at internships. With larger offices and staff, there also tends to be a greater focus on office management and employee events which is exactly where an intern will likely be pulled in to assist. Anything from ensuring that the office environment is run well (public fridges are stocked, printers are operating) to helping review candidates and responding to job-seekers are part of HR tasks at a larger company.

Recruitment Agency

While recruitment is sometimes done in-house, recruitment agencies hold their own place in the world of human resources. This is an aspect of HR that is focused primarily on matching people to jobs and requires an in-depth knowledge of different companies’ hiring procedures, the benefits available, and salaries. If recruitment is something you’re curious about, an internship at a recruitment agency is a great way to gain experience in all angles of the job hiring process.

Whether working at an agency or in-house, recruiters will often go out to schools and job fairs to attract talent. The difference of working at an agency is that you won’t just be representing one company or one set of jobs but acting as a bridge between multiple individuals and the job opportunities you feel best match them.

A simple glance at ads for account manager internships at recruitment agencies will show that there is often a sense of urgency required in the job. Finding talent and aligning them with the right company can be a competitive process. If you’re looking for a job in HR that’s a little more fast-paced, this could be the area where you need to target your internship applications.

Labor Relations Specialist

Again, as with every divergence in HR, a Labor Relations Specialist can work in-house or independently. We wanted to give this position its own attention because internships in this world have a unique set of requirements.

A Labor Relations Specialist is generally tasked with labor arbitration and negotiations. Internships in this field will often require that you have a good knowledge of labor and human-resources-related law. You'll most likely be given administrative tasks and have to assist with organizing documents or even gathering confidential information for cases.

Interning for a Labor Relations Specialist can be particularly helpful if you’d like more exposure to the legal side of human resources. It generally involves on-site work that will force you to become adept at navigating federal and state labor codes. It's a great way to experience the intersection of HR and the legal/policy side of working at a company!

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Find a Mentor

In any HR internship, the most crucial task is to find a mentor, if you’re not already assigned one. As we’ve covered, HR encompasses an array of positions and the best way to learn about them is to find people who can teach you.

No matter how qualified you are, an HR internship will always come with curve balls. The first time you have to screen a job application or sit in on a labor dispute will probably be quite jarring. Having someone who understands the industry and can guide you through that makes it a much easier process.

No matter which part of HR you end up in, you’re probably going to have a million questions as you go through your internship. Don’t sit in your ignorance; use it as an opportunity to reach out to someone who can help you grow.

Dig into The Details

Regardless of the area of human resources that you end up in, many HR interns are hired simply to support administrative tasks. This doesn’t just mean paperwork, sometimes you’ll be responsible for onboarding new employees or helping set up larger HR projects. Some of the most common tasks for an HR intern include:

  • Initiating background checks
  • Assisting with the coordination of company events
  • Filing and archiving documents
  • Creating job alerts
  • Screening applicants
  • Onboarding and Offboarding
  • Scheduling interviews

However big or small your responsibilities may seem, it’s important to give them the same degree of attention. Doing administrative work may seem annoying but in big human resource departments especially, it’s something even HR directors have to concern themselves with.

Working in HR usually requires that you be able to work in a team. Performing those seemingly “small” tasks well and without complaint is an important way to build trust with your colleagues and hopefully, will encourage them to give you larger responsibilities later down the line. Who knows, you might even get a return offer!

Note the Environment

The kind of work you’ll be doing in an HR internship will also be shaped by the kind of organization you’re in. Take note of the size of the company and what their specific concerns are to get a better idea of what the job will look like day to day. Working for the human resources department in a hospital for example will be very different from being in a corporate environment.

Wherever your HR internship is, just remember to stay curious. There are so many avenues to take in the world of human resources, it’s important to allow yourself to discover which of those might suit you best.

Looking for your next internship? Check out Simplify's list of top summer internships here!