What is an Intern?
An intern is one who works in a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment, making it similar to an apprenticeship. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be other adults seeking skills for a new career. Student internships provide opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit.
An internship may be either paid, unpaid or partially paid (in the form of a stipend). Paid internships are most common in the medical, science, engineering, law, business (especially accounting and finance), technology and advertising fields. Internships in not-for-profit organizations such as charities and think tanks are often unpaid, volunteer positions. Internships may be part-time or full-time; typically they are part-time during the university year and full-time in the summer, and they typically last 6-12 weeks, but can be shorter or longer.
Internship positions are available from businesses, government departments, non-profit groups and organizations. Due to strict labor laws, European internships, though mostly unpaid, are popular among non-Europeans to gain international exposure on one's resume and for foreign language improvement. In Canada the term cooperative education is used more often to describe this same type of program.
Are internships really worth it?
Internships can give the experience you need for success after graduation.
The pay can be a real issue at times with internships. However, most companies look for real world experience when they're doing their hiring and the best way to get the kind of experience they're looking for is through an internship. Additionally, in many industries, especially within the finance and accounting sector, there are summer vacation positions available which run during the summer of your final year (though you apply during your penultimate year) which can pay very competitively.
Some people may think the point of an internship is to serve coffee or run mindless errands. It's not always like that. Most companies offer different opportunities for interns to get hands-on experience and learn the right technology. Whatever the case, chances are you'll play an important part in any process and receive a great opportunity to watch the real thing in action. People who work around you are generally very open, knowledgeable and willing to help, so ask as many questions as you can in order to get a more complete picture of the career.
Internships offer a good insight into a possible career.
What's the best-case scenario? If you work hard enough and impress the company, there's a chance they might offer you a full-time position. Even if you decline and eventually decide to find work elsewhere, getting an offer out of an internship will look great on a resume.
If you don't get an offer, that's OK, too. The company may not have a position available, or maybe you just wouldn't want to work there. An internship provides you with two great tools. First, you gain excellent real world experience and a great resume builder. Second, you get an inside look into a field of work you're interested in, helping you make that career path a little less sketchy.