Career Development

What Is an Internship: Everything You Need To Know

June 29, 2021

Internships are a form of work experience that allows professionals to develop their knowledge in a certain field. An internship can provide you with real-world skills in your chosen industry. Learning information about internships can help you gain work experience and make contacts for future work. In this article, we describe what an internship is, look at different types of internships, how to find one and how an internship can help you with career development.

What is an internship?

An internship is a fixed period of hands-on work experience commonly given to students or young people. During an internship, you can work for a company and participate in projects, meetings and job shadowing opportunities. Internships are all about learning and gaining skills in your chosen industry. These are heavily guided opportunities, with plenty of time for reflection and asking questions. It's a good way to transition from studying to working, as you can gain valuable contacts within your chosen industry. These contacts may help you learn about job opportunities after you leave the internship.

Internships can last from a few weeks to a few months. They can even lead to full-time work. Internships can be paid or unpaid. Listing an internship on your resume can help you demonstrate your experience and abilities on your resume. Potential employers can view an internship on your resume favourably, which is why many young people pursue these opportunities.

What are the different types of internships?

Each company or industry will structure their internships differently. Below are some examples of the different types of internships:

Paid internships

Larger companies that have extra money allocated to such programs usually offer paid internships. Paid internships exist in both the private and public sector. Companies are recognising the value that interns provide and paying them for it. They also understand the scrutiny and backlash they may face when they are seen to be taking on free labour. For this reason, more and more paid internships are being offered.

Unpaid internships

Many smaller companies cannot afford to pay their interns. Though, this does not mean they don't offer fantastic programs and provide great learning environments. For many, the experience and on-the-job learning during an unpaid internship opportunity are worth the lack of payment.

Non-profit internships

These types of internships are like volunteer programs. Not-for-profit organisations do not have stockholders or owners. They are often charitable organisations. You usually won't be paid as an intern in a non-profit organisation. However, non-profit internships can be very rewarding as well as teach you valuable skills to add to your resume.

University internships

Many universities now require students to undertake internships. Even if they are not required they may still offer internships to their students. They are great resources as lecturers and tutors strictly manage these opportunities. Sometimes there are opportunities to take your internship abroad. These opportunities are usually unpaid, however, the company providing the internship can arrange for your accommodation and food.


An externship is a short version of an internship. It may be just a few days or weeks. Externships are generally less about working and more focused on job shadowing. They offer students the ability to learn what a particular business is like. They also offer networking opportunities.

How to find an internship

There are a few ways to find an internship which we list below:

1. Look online

Many job search websites now have internship or volunteering sections. Start with an idea of what type of internship you might like before you begin searching for opportunities. You may also find opportunities on government websites. Another useful tool is social media, as many brands will post when they are looking for new interns. So, follow your favourites and keep an eye out for an opportunity.

2. Ask your learning institution

Whether you are in high school, TAFE or university they have resources to help you find an internship. Being proactive is a good thing. Teachers and professors are usually happy to help. It's a good idea to keep an eye on posters, flyers and pin-up boards as internships will often be advertised there.

3. Check with your favourite organisations

You'll never know if you don't ask. If you have a favourite company or brand, then check their website for internship opportunities. If they have nothing advertised, you can send them an email. At the very least, they may keep you in a pool of candidates for future opportunities.

Paid vs. unpaid internships

Some companies simply do not have the cash flow to offer paid internships. It's important to note that unpaid internships can still offer valuable learning opportunities. We discuss the benefits of both types of internships below:

Benefits of paid internships:

  • The intern receives income in exchange for their work
  • The intern can continue studying during their internship without looking for another job
  • The intern gets a real-world experience of a paying job

Benefits of unpaid internships:

  • There is more of an intern/mentor bond
  • Less focus on work and more about learning
  • The intern may not feel as much pressure as they would in a paid role

There are benefits and drawbacks to both paid and unpaid internships. As an intern, it is up to you to ask questions to get the most out of your experience. Even in a paid role, it is important to remember you are there to learn, don't be afraid to ask questions- you are not expected to know everything.

How can an internship help with career development?

As an intern, you get real-world experience and tutelage from industry professionals. You gain skills that cannot be taught at school or university. You also start creating a network of workers and other interns, which may help you in the future.

An internship gives you great insight into what an entry-level job at a specific company looks like. Therefore, it allows you to decide if it is right for you, before formally committing to the job. Students will often undertake more than one internship. This is a great way of trying out different companies and organisations. An internship can also lead to full-time work. Many businesses use internships to spot talent and fill their full-time positions. It is like an extended interview or trial program, so always put your best foot forward.

Are there education requirements to get an internship?

Technically, there are no education requirements to get an internship. However, each company will specify their requirements in the internship advertisement. Some may require you to have a degree or be currently studying. Others may want you to have some prior work experience. Some may ask you to demonstrate your portfolio of work to be considered. The latter is particularly true for creative industry internships.

Frequently asked questions about internships

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to internships:

What does an intern do?

This depends entirely on the business you are interning for. Most internships allow you to contribute and assist others in the workplace. You will most likely have a manager or another experienced professional to guide you and supervise your work. The main purpose of your internship is for you to learn and gain experience. As an intern, your tasks may include:

  • Clerical duties
  • Researching
  • Monitoring social media accounts
  • Drafting emails and letters
  • Assisting event planning
  • Creative work

How long do internships last?

Each internship differs. The average length of an internship is between 3 to 6 months. If you are doing an internship as part of a university course, you can have a specific number of hours to complete at the internship to gain the credit.

When is the best time to begin an internship?

As soon as you begin your tertiary studies, you should consider that your career has already begun. As mentioned earlier in this article, employers are likely to hire graduates who have completed an internship within their company. It's a good idea to start the internship process early in your studies.

How much does an intern get paid?

Internships are either paid or unpaid. Unpaid internships must abide by strict rules to prevent exploitation. The rate of a paid internship depends on the company. Usually, it will be around the minimum wage for that industry, taking into consideration your age and experience.


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