Internship Advice

What Is an Internship and How Do I Find One?

Ever wonder what exactly is an internship and how to find one? Here's a breakdown of the benefits of an internship and tips on finding the right one.

Michael Yan Tanishi Naik Shri Kolanukuduru
Published: (Updated: ) - 10 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 Israel Andrade / Unsplash

"Where are you interning this summer?" is a question you might hear casually asked among college students, referencing an important opportunity to kickstart your career: Internships.

Although internships are in high demand by most college students, it can be challenging to understand what an internship really entails, where to apply to them, and what they mean in the grander scope of your career. Read on to explore our detailed breakdown of the benefits of internships, and how to find one.

Definition of an Internship

An internship in the US can commonly be identified as a full-time job which only lasts for a few months, introducing you to a field and career of your interest as a trainee or student. Summer internships are most common, lasting for 8 to 12 weeks on average, and are becoming increasingly offered as paid internships.

During an internship, you can typically expect to receive mentorship and guidance in your role since internship positions are frequently seen as learning opportunities for students, as opposed to a chance to hire another full-time employee.

What does this mean for students? Your main responsibility during an internship is to learn, be inquisitive, and explore your position and company to the fullest, soaking in the benefits.

What else do internships look like?

Internship opportunities are vast in how they're offered, who is willing to offer one, the kind of work exposure you'll gain while interning, and how you can go about finding them as well.

Some internships, less commonly, are offered on a part-time basis with a more limited exposure, but part-time internships have the upside of generally being able to intern while taking college courses as opposed to taking them in the summer.

Student opportunities can also look like unpaid internships. These jobs are more commonly offered for high school students who are looking for volunteer-like positions that they can manage during the school year or as a summer internship. An unpaid internship in high school is also a great way to gain practice writing cover letters, try out the internship search process, and gain familiarity with how to research companies for future internships.

Internships are also commonly offered for PhD and Masters degree students, generally lasting for longer than 8 weeks at a time. These internships can extend to 16 weeks or sometimes a year as there is a greater emphasis on earning relevant skills and gaining specialized exposure to a specific job or industry at this level of education.

It's become increasingly common to also find internships that have flexible work options, allowing you to work from one of several business locations, or in a hybrid or remote capacity.

College internships are typically offered by a myriad of companies across industries including tech, finance, healthcare, media, and more.

Internships are also offered by:

  • Startups – Although smaller companies, startups are usually looking for someone who's willing to take on a role with a variety of responsibilities, work for a small team, and won't mind a growing company.
  • Charities
  • B-Corporations
  • Non-profit organizations (NPOs) – Commonly NPOs offer paid internships too!

These types of internships often focus on building careers around working towards social good.

Remote jobs and startups even have their own job boards! Interested? Head to Simplify's lists of Best Work From Home Jobs and Y Combinator Internships!

Benefits of an Internship

What are the benefits of getting an internship? Through an internship, you will learn transferable and technical job skills, build relevant experience for future career opportunities, begin growing your network of professional connections, and ultimately kickstart your career journey.

In particular, internships offer the chance to build valuable skills, projects, and experiences that you can add to your resume to find future internships, and entry level roles, and explore full-time positions upon graduating. The internship experience also provides an invaluable chance to build your professional connections and receive mentorship at a crucial stage in your career journey.

Making connections and receiving mentorship will help you land future jobs or return offers as well as help you learn more about your career interests and how to access them. Sometimes company websites list a surface-level description of their internship listings and benefits, but these hardly cover the breadth of positives that come out of the intern experience.

Continue reading to explore the benefits that college internships have to offer and how to find one.

Develop your professional skills

An internship offers you the chance to gain relevant knowledge and build both soft and hard skills through hands-on experience. Real-world experience can mean building new schools and working on refining existing ones too.

Technical skills, also known as hard skills, are particularly important to consider when finding an internship as these skills will be built from job experience, and are not always going to be built through coursework or extracurricular activities for reasons including that some technical skills, like those needed in audio-visual or marketing jobs, may need expensive software to build. Internships are a good opportunity to try working with tools you can't access otherwise in a trial capacity and with lots of learning.

Want to deep-dive into one of the most common technical backgrounds? Learn all about a computer science degree to explore tech-heavy internships!

Examples of technical skills you might be looking to build include:

  • Working with medical equipment in the healthcare industry
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) software and social media management in marketing
  • Payroll and talent recruitment platforms in human resources (HR) or talent acquisition careers

So when applying to an internship, be on the lookout for technical skills you might be interested in working on developing.

Just as important as technical skills, college internships help you build transferable skills as well. Transferable skills, commonly known as soft skills for the variety of jobs these skills can be built by and used for, are highly valuable both during and after your internship is over. These skills don't require any particular software or tool, these are everyday skills you might find being used outside of a job and during everyday life too.

Chances are, if you've ever done extracurricular activities like participating in a club or volunteer work, or ever done a group project and taken a college course, you're already familiar with at least one of these skills because they're that common and also that important to driving success.

Some of the soft skills most commonly built by internships include communication, time management, organization, project management, and problem-solving.

To put into perspective how common these skills are, together, many of these skills are being engaged when you're completing a group project for a class!

Since these skills are so common, you might wonder how valuable they actually are to finding jobs and how often they're going to be used during your internship too. These skills allow you to work on and build teams, manage your workload and set deadlines, create project plans to demonstrate leadership and knowledgeability, create solutions with tangible metrics, and more.

So once you become acquainted with what these skills look like, depending on the job, you'll notice them not only being used during your internship but in all of your future job opportunities!

Still curious about transferable skills? Learn more about the importance of soft skills in the workplace.

What are some examples of these skills in practice?

Strong communication skills are important to build in public relations and journalism careers as the ability to communicate information like public relations strategies or investigative work to your team and clientele or audience is highly important.

Teamwork is commonly seen in roles like project management and even software development as these jobs often involve large tasks or projects that are assigned to whole teams and broken down further from there. In these roles, it's important to learn to work with superiors or colleagues to have a steady flow of efficient work hitting key milestones that often other teams, like marketing or sales, might be reliant upon.

Problem-solving isn't always about the big problems that are being solved not necessarily by interns. A lot of roles tackle problems in their own way, and learning to problem solve as a practiced skill will help you solve some of the world's biggest problems one day.

Problem-solving is used in data analyst positions and consulting jobs to comb through data and extract the valuable information that's relevant to creating easier work within your own company, this might mean streamlining an existing workflow or providing a solution for a company seeking a way to refine their processes.

There will always be a job that benefits from transferable skills, so be sure to take the opportunity to build these during your internship.

Enhance your resume and cover letter

Not only are internships good for developing your professional skills, but just as these skills are a part of your career portfolio, adding a project you've worked on during your internship is a great way to enhance your resume. Your resume, cover letter, and personal website are one way of connecting internships to your dream job and helping you find an entry level job and future career opportunities.

Internships provide a lot of great hands-on experience that put soft and hard skills to work, giving you something tangible to take with you after your summer internship has ended.

It's important to learn how your resume should encompass your new experience, since you don't want to overwhelm a future hiring manager, and you want to show that you're willing to try something new. Or in the case of trying to land a similar internship, you're perfect for the role you're seeking because of your prior experience.

When writing up internship experiences on your resume, be concise and include metrics wherever possible to back up the skills and tangibles you claim to have received from your internship:

  • Describe your projects objectively
  • Reference what you worked on or built and why
  • Investigate the outcome of your project before your internship is over to have a clear idea of how impactful your work is

You might know the work you did was valuable, make sure hiring managers know why too!

Writing a great cover letter also provides a chance for you to use what you've learned through your internships to apply to future job listings and job boards.

After an internship, or when looking for one, you'll want to reference those soft and hard skills, but make sure you provide context or make apparent why these skills are important for the job you want. Just as it's not important to include every job experience you've ever had for every job application, you only want to include the most relevant skills for the job type you're interested in to maximize your job offers.

Personalizing resumes can be challenging. Learn more about optimizing your resume to attain your dream job!

Gaining exposure to the professional world

Take your time exploring your internships since every job is a great way to explore an industry, learn about the kinds of jobs offered at varying companies, and soak in the lessons of career journeys that might really interest you!

An internship opportunity will help you build those professional contacts that you might want to reach out to when finding internships or an entry level role in the future or they could even connect you with someone at one of your dream companies! In any case, there will be all kinds of employees during an internship that are willing to guide you.

Be curious and ask questions, that's what your boss is there for! It's likely to hear this from your colleagues and superiors, but it's important not only to perform your everyday work at an internship well but asking questions is what an internship is for.

Seek out supportive individuals who can help guide you through your internship, and ask questions about how they ended up there, what interests them about the work, and any advice they have for you as an intern.

Remember to get contact info and follow up with your connections to start forming a professional network you can utilize in the future.

Internships will help you become more acclimated with networking and professional decorum. Not only will having this exposure help you smooth the transition between college and a full-time job, but you'll be able to show any interviewer that you're becoming a seasoned professional.

Tips for finding the right internship

Identifying the lifestyle that works best for you, the skills you wish to build, and your dream job are all key to helping you find the right internship.

Some jobs are inflexible on providing a remote position, and some may be heavily focused on technical skills, so take your time to research different job titles and see what they look like in practice.

A company website is a great starting point for you to learn about a company's culture and what they do. Reach out to previous interns at the companies you're interested in on LinkedIn, and don't be afraid to ask for a coffee chat so they can recount their experience to you.

Finding a great internship will likely include thinking about what kind of job is a part of your dream career. What you identify as your ideal career might change over time, but there are plenty of internships to choose from, so you want to make sure you pick ones to apply to that will be promising and rewarding to you.

So to find an internship that works for you, tune your search criteria to include lifestyle choices that matter to you, including remote or hybrid positions.

Other tools that benefit from close examination include company reviews or even the basic job description from an initial job ad posting. These tools could include information about new skills you'd be able to build through the position and the type of intern an employer seeks for the role.

Carefully examine internship openings to find a particular position or specific company that aligns with the values important to you.

Finding summer internships you'll enjoy might also include drawing on experiences like volunteer positions or courses from your college that you particularly enjoyed or wished could have been more rewarding as a way to start thinking about the kind of internship you're looking for.

Not sure what an ideal internship is for you? Try asking family members and drawing on their vast experience within the work field to understand what a great internship could look like.

If the internship you end up finding turns out to be not all that relevant to where you hope to be, don't worry! Being able to connect your internships to future jobs is done through career tools like networking, personalized resumes, and a great cover letter. The key is to connect what you hope to learn and the internship you actually want with what you did learn in your past experiences.

Ready to get started?

You might be familiar with college job fairs, and Simplify is just like that, but better for helping you find exactly what you're looking for. Simplify offers a wide range of internships for you to apply to and choose from with postings that include a list of desired requirements, perks, and a job or company description to let you know what the role will be like. Every position offered on Simplify is a paid internship!

Not only that but Simplify offers specific lists key to some of the most trending criteria that job seekers are looking for in their internships, including remote work life, the chance to work for a unicorn or industry-specific. Ease the job search part of finding the right internship by using Simplify today!