What is an internship?
Internships are short-term work experiences that allow you to observe and participate in professional work environments and explore how your interests relate to possible careers. They are important learning opportunities that can help you make informed decisions about your career path. More specifically, doing internships is beneficial because they provide the opportunity to:
- Get an inside view of an industry and organization/company
- Gain valuable skills and knowledge
- Make professional connections and enhance your network
- Get experience in a field to allow you to make a career transition
Increasingly, employers are looking for students who have gained experience through internships. Internships should be substantive learning experiences that provide you with a better understanding of an industry, a position and of yourself. They should also provide you with a chance to improve your skill set and learn from those you are working with.
Types of Internships
Internships can vary from industry to industry and from one organization to another. Typically, interns have an opportunity to work at an organization for a selected number of hours per week over a finite period of time. They can vary greatly in terms of intensity, work style and compensation. Internships are available during the summer as well as the academic year.
Remember that the purpose of an internship is not to make money; it is to explore a career interest, develop skills, and gain experience. It is up to you to make the most of the internship by learning as much as you can, asking questions and making contacts, the value of which far exceeds most internships compensation. When considering an internship, focus on the skills you will learn and the experiences you will have, not simply on the company name.
Finding an Internship
In general, there are three different ways you can find an internship:
- Advertised opportunities are those that are posted, much like traditional jobs, and are often posted in the same places, such as company websites, job boards and other job posting systems. Many advertised internships are a part of established internship programs that offer additional support and learning opportunities.
- Hidden opportunities are not advertised. They are often found in newer and/or smaller companies. Hidden opportunities are primarily identified through networking with friends, family members, former employers, classmates and other personal contacts.
- Self-created opportunities are created by the intern and the employer together. Often, a student will approach an organization in which he or she is interested in working and propose a project or simply offer his or her skills. This is a great way to intern for a company that has not had interns, does not normally hire interns or does not have an established internship program. While this takes initiative and time, self-created opportunities can be especially rewarding because the intern has a hand in designing the experience.
An effective internship search will involve applying to advertised opportunities as well as networking to find hidden opportunities. Keep in mind that there are many resources for finding an internship, so do not limit yourself to only one website or networking contact. A good place to start is LionSHARE, CCE's on-campus recruiting platform and job posting site. Explore our industry-specific resources for a variety of industries, as well as our information on international opportunities. Additionally, CCE provides internship programs that go on throughout the year in a wide variety of industries.
All industries recruit at different times, so it is important to become familiar with the recruiting cycles in your target industry. Knowing when companies recruit on campus or collect resumes is critical for the interview process. Moreover, you will want to give yourself plenty of time to apply because it can be time consuming once you find an internship to which you would like to apply.
Many organizations, including some government agencies and large media companies (and virtually all financial services and consulting firms), conduct their recruiting well in advance of their start dates, while others hire on an as-needed basis, usually 2-3 months in advance. Generally, the less structured the internship, the more the company will hire as needed and on a rolling basis.
Remember that internships are available throughout the year. Make sure to fill out your LionSHARE profile to get the most up-to-date information.
Columbia University expects companies to appropriately compensate students for the work that they perform during an internship. We expect that all employers abide by the standards established by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and accompanying regulations.
When conducting an internship search, students need to make themselves aware of the FLSA as well as the following six criteria for unpaid internships at for-profit companies as outlined by the U.S. Department of Labor. If any of these criteria are not met, the intern must be paid.
The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern; The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent
in the internship.
Additionally, for employers seeking interns to work in the State of New York, strict attention must also be paid to the requirements set forth by the New York State Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders.
The New York State Department of Labor requires the following criteria in addition to the federal requirements above.
- Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of people who are knowledgeable and experienced in the activity.
- The trainees or students do not receive employee benefits.
- The training is general, and qualifies trainees or students to work in any similar business. It is not designed specifically for a job with the employer that offers the program.
- The screening process for the internship program is not the same as for employment, and does not appear to be for that purpose. The screening only uses criteria relevant for admission to an independent educational program.
- Advertisements, postings, or solicitations for the program clearly discuss education or training, rather than employment, although employers may indicate that qualified graduates may be considered for employment.
Not-for-Profit organizations seeking to hire interns in the State of New York are also required to review and adhere to the guidelines set forth by the New York State Department of Labor
Academic Credit as a component of Unpaid Internships
An employer may request that students receive academic credit for their internship. Please be aware that the decision to award academic credit is made between students and their academic departments, and most schools/departments at CU do not offer academic credit for internships. Academic credit should not replace compensation for work performed during an internship.
Frequently Asked Questions about Internships
Can I get academic credit for my internship?
CU does not offer academic credit or course points for internships.
Are there internship opportunities for First and Second-year students?
Although many employers are looking for juniors and seniors, there are opportunities available for first and second year students, including some CU sponsored programs. Using general search engines will be a good starting point. It is also important to consider sources beyond on-campus recruiting for internship positions, such as volunteer and community activities, research for professors, and part-time positions.
What should I expect from an internship?
Expect to gain a greater understanding of the organization and industry through direct participation in its mission. Don't be surprised if the internship also includes general administrative work and office assistance. Successful interns demonstrate that they're team players and willing to contribute to an organization in any and all capacities. Interns are encouraged to remember that it's their responsibility to get the most out of the internship experience. Meet with a career counselor to learn how to maximize your internship experience.
How do I get access to On-Campus Recruiting in LionShare?
The first part of applying for internships is to register with LionShare through the Center for Career Education's website . You'll need to fill out your profile and attach a resume. Next, you will request access to On-Campus recruiting by agreeing to the policies and procedures of the program and signing this form. It takes 2 full business days to receive access, so leave yourself enough time before an application deadline!