Internship Development Guide
Students who come to the Career Development Center while conducting a search for an internship tend to have many questions and concerns related to their search. This resource guide was developed with the intent to address some of these issues and to guide students through the process of obtaining an internship. Faculty may also find this guide useful when working with students on internship related issues.
Any student who is interested in securing an internship can first begin by checking with the chairperson from his/her academic department as soon as possible to determine all policies related to internships. Some academic departments help to arrange internships for their students. In such situations, this guide might not prove as useful. This guide is meant to provide a general introduction to internships. A follow up appointment may be scheduled with a career counselor to address questions or concerns that were left unanswered.
An Internship - Different Perspectives
A. What is an Internship?
An internship is an extended, supervised, learning experience which can take place either on or off campus. The experience consists of an agreement between the student, the academic department and the employer to determine learning goals, activities and experience evaluation. Participating students are registered as usual for a credit bearing course. The number of credits to be earned may vary depending on the amount of time committed to the experience and according to academic department policies. The experience could be a part time one that lasts one or two semesters during the academic year or a full time one during summer, depending upon the requirements of specific academic departments.
Internships can be obtained for most career fields and in a variety of work environments. Whether an internship is a paid one is usually determined through employer/student negotiation and by the nature of the work as well as the supply versus demand for a worker in that particular field. Some academic departments require students to participate in internships. Others may offer this as an option. Again, it is important to check with one's academic department regarding policies.
B. Internship versus Volunteer Work
If a student prefers, he or she could work as a volunteer to gain hands on experience in a career field of interest. In this case, neither academic credit nor pay is received for the experience. There is no faculty sponsor in this situation and there is no minimum time commitment. Such an experience offers the student greater flexibility, yet the student must take it upon him/herself to draw up a verbal or written (preferably written) agreement of objectives to be achieved. This will help avoid miscommunications about responsibilities.
C. Benefits for the Student
The benefits offered to a student through an internship experience are many.
The following list covers some of these benefits:
- An opportunity to explore career fields of interest first hand
- Application of academic knowledge in a practical work environment
- A chance to gain "hands on" experience and contacts useful for future employment
- Increased familiarity with the world of work and how it functions
- A setting which broadens experiences and promotes increased self-confidence, maturity and accomplishment
- A source of recommendations for graduate study or for post graduate employment
- In some cases, payment for work which can help with costs of education
D. Academic Department Requirements
Prior to exploring internship opportunities, a student must speak with the chairperson from his or her academic department. Only the department chairperson can determine whether it is possible to participate in an internship and whether the proposed internship is worthy of academic credit. Evidence must be presented to demonstrate a relationship between the work experience and the academic discipline in which the credit is pursued.
As noted earlier, internship requirements can vary from department to department.
The student should review the following with his/her department chair for final confirmation:
- Is there a requirement that a certain course or that a certain number of credits be completed prior to pursuit of an internship? Is one's grade point average a consideration in determining internship eligibility?
- Is the student able to earn a letter or a pass/no pass grade and carry up to four credits?
- How many weeks or hours are required? Are Fall or Spring internships possible? Can a summer internship be authorized?
- Is the student free to pursue internships independently, among employers not pre-screened by the department chairperson or program director? If yes, does the independently obtained internship need to be reviewed for academic approval and at what point would this be so?
- The student must register and pay as one would for any academic course. An additional fee may be required to obtain internship liability insurance.
- Typically, the student intern is assigned a faculty sponsor from the department through which credit is sought. The faculty sponsor sets academic requirements to be fulfilled (as per academic department policies) and determines the final internship grade.
- There will be contact between the faculty sponsor and the employer by phone and/or in person to ensure student and employer needs are being fulfilled.
- The student should evaluate the experience so it can be determined whether this is a good site for future student internships. A copy of the student evaluation can be given to the employer.
- The academic department may need background information on the employer if not already obtained. This could include a detailed job description for the internship along with student goals and objectives.
The employer may or may not have had previous experience with student interns. Let's take a look at each possibility separately.
Previous experience with student interns:
For the most part, if an employer has worked with student interns in the past, one could more likely expect that the process of setting up an internship would be a smoother one. This is especially true if the employer has successfully worked with Rivier or another school in the past. The employer would be apt to have a prepared job description if the internship is one that tends to be filled on an ongoing basis. Prior experience with interns could be a negative one if the experience(s) did not work out well on the employer's behalf.
No previous experience with student interns:
If an employer has never worked with a student intern before, he or she may have no idea what an intern could do and how an intern might help meet organizational goals while still ensuring that the internship is a positive quality learning experience for the student. In this situation, the employer would need to be educated to ensure that the experience is positive and worthwhile for both parties. Negotiation regarding potential pay for an internship may also be more of an issue if employers have never had interns before.
In evaluating any potential internship, it's important to know which of the above is applicable. In either case, the student and academic chair need a clear description of the tasks to be performed prior to a contract agreement being prepared. A clearly outlined agreement between the academic department, the student, and the employer should help ensure that the prescribed objectives and tasks are worthy of academic credit.
Typically, the employer has a major role in the student evaluation process. At some point, an evaluation may be completed by the employer to be shared with the academic sponsor and the student intern.
How to Obtain an Internship
A. Work with Academic Department
In some situations, internships are arranged for students directly by their academic area. At times, internships are arranged right on campus. In other situations, department chairs or faculty may provide students with listings of area employers who have shown an interest in Rivier student interns in the past. This provides the student with a starting point for contacts. It may also be possible for a student to independently approach an employer of interest who is not listed as a potential contact. A student should see his/her department chair if there are questions about this.
If the academic department does not provide a list of potential internship sites, the department chair or department faculty may have some suggestions related to pursuit of an internship. Names of contacts in area organizations may also be provided.
B. Work Well in Advance
All too frequently, internships are pursued without there being substantial time given for a thorough search. The time to start looking could vary depending on whether one desires a Fall or Spring internship and whether internships are arranged through one's academic department or sought independently. Generally, a student would want to begin pursuing an internship six months prior to a desired starting time. If an employer has a well defined internship program, then on their end it makes sense that they would like to work well ahead to allow time to publicize the position and to screen, interview and select from interested applicants. If an employer has never worked with interns, time is needed to determine how an intern might fit in and plan for orientation, training, supervision, and internship objectives.
C. Work with Career Development Center
There are a number of ways in which the Career Development Center can help to facilitate the search for an internship. First of all, employers are in contact with our office on a regular basis regarding staffing needs. At times, employers contact us specifically requesting student interns. When they aren't, we often suggest that they consider taking on interns, especially if they are not familiar with this as an option. If an employer is looking for a student intern, we obtain as much detail about the position as possible. We request information such as title, responsibilities, qualifications, salary (if any), hours, semesters during which an intern is requested, contact person, etc. Copies of the listing are sent to the appropriate academic chairperson and department faculty. In addition, a copy of the internship notice is posted on our homepage. If a student is independently pursuing an internship, he/she can visit our homepage on a regular basis and check our internship listings to see what is posted. Students have already been encouraged to speak with their academic department. The department chairperson can tell the student if there is a standard procedure for posting the notices that have been received from our office.
In addition to the listings we receive, an appointment may be scheduled with a career counselor regarding an independent internship search. Since the listings received may or may not be in line with a student's preference, our career counselors may have employer contacts and may have additional suggestions for students about how best to approach the search.
D. Resume Preparation, Interview Skills and Internship Development Skills
A resume is not always required by an employer who is seeking a student intern, yet it is best to have one prepared just in case. At the very least, preparing a resume can help a student decide what aspects of his/her background to play up in the interview. In addition to helping prepare a student for an internship interview, the resume also provides the employer with an organized concise review of the individual's work and educational background. Finally, the student will be a step ahead when a resume is necessary for a post graduation search.
The Career Development Center has a videotape on resume preparation which can be taken out on loan for viewing. If a student does not have access to a TV/VCR, the video can be viewed at the Career Development Center. The Career Development Center also has a resume preparation guide and sample resumes which can be used to support resume development. Once a resume draft is completed, an appointment can be scheduled with a career counselor for a resume critique session. Critiques conducted by appropriate faculty and others knowledgeable about the student's career field of interest are also suggested.
An interview for an internship can be very unpredictable. It can be formal or informal, short or lengthy, professional or unprofessional, etc. It is difficult to know what to expect, but it is still best to develop interviewing skills and to be prepared. Advanced preparation can help to provide details about internship responsibilities and to ensure that the student gets a clear picture of the internship prior to beginning the experience. The student can also get a jump start on skill development for future job interviews.
As with resume preparation, the Career Development Center can offer assistance with interview skills development. First, a video on this topic can be taken out on loan which covers the basics on this topic. While the video focuses on job interviews, the process for internship interviews is identical and so the video is a good starting point. Along with the video, the student receives a number of handouts which relate to this topic. One handout covers questions that one might be asked during an interview and how to respond to them. A second handout covers questions that one can ask an employer. Questions related to internships are included in this handout. A third handout offers a sample thank you letter that can be sent to the employer following the internship interview. An additional tip on internship interview preparation would be to conduct research on the employer prior to the interview. Such research can make quite a difference in preparation when interviewing for an internship position. This is especially so when there is competition for the internship. The employer will tend to see a student as that much more interested in their organization if some homework has been done. The employer might have a web site that you can review. If not, contact a member of our staff for employer research tips. Once the video has been seen and the handouts have been reviewed, some practice interview role plays can prove extremely helpful. A friend or relative can be given a copy of the student's resume and instructed to ask whatever questions come to mind. Questions from the corresponding handout can also be asked. In addition, an appointment can be set up with a career counselor so that an interview role play can be videotaped. The actual taping and joint critique takes about one to one and a half hours.
Internship Development Skills:
As noted earlier, an internship may possibly be arranged through contact with a student's academic area. In some situations, a student may be able to work on his/her own to independently develop an internship that is more specific to individual needs. When working to develop any internship, especially when a student is working on his/her own, it is important to consider the following questions. Being able to answer these questions may help bring a focus and direction to your search. Be aware that these questions may not offer much insight or help students in certain academic disciplines, especially those in which internship situations are highly structured.
- What is it that you want to get out of an internship?
- In what career field or area of specialization do you want to gain exposure?
- What industry or industries interest you?
- With what type of an organization would you like to intern?
- What kind of office environment interests you?
- Do you have any geographical limitations?
- Do you have any time limitations?
- Does your situation require that the internship be paid?
- How much reading have you done on your career field of interest?
- How familiar are you with what you would be qualified to do as an intern?
The Career Development Center can guide the student in conducting research to answer the above questions. In addition, if a student is clear on a field of interest and employers of interest, then a career counselor can work with that student to determine the best strategy for approaching these prospects. Pay negotiation strategies can also be explored at this time.
Internships can offer a student great opportunities for "reality testing" an occupation of interest. All too often, students graduate without ever having conducted research on career fields of interest, without ever having spoken to people employed in career fields of interest, and without gaining hands-on experience in career fields of interest. In many situations, these graduates go on to work in occupations that they thought they would love only to realize that their perceptions of this type of work were not in line with the realities of work. This can be a sad and frustrating experience for a graduate. What is even sadder is that this situation could have been avoided.
Accurate information about the world of work is vital to the decision making process. Trying to make a sound decision about one's future career plans is difficult, if not impossible, without having gathered sufficient information about options. Internships represent one way of gathering information. They can help a student confirm his/her interest in an occupation or lead a student to reconsider a first choice.