Internships 101: Everything You Should Know About Internship Programs

This guide is all about internships, from what their purpose is to how to apply to acing the internship interview. Read Internships 101 now!

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Internships may be just a summer or semester in length, a short time compared to your future career or your academic term. However, like a wedding day, this relatively short moment is an important part of your life, and it sets the tone for the years and decades to follow.

But, what is an internship, exactly? Should I do an internship? And, how to successfully apply to, interview for, and complete an internship program?

Not to worry!

In this guide, we detail everything about internships from start to finish, from the definition of an internship, to internship program applications, to succeeding once hired.

Internships 101 Table of Contents:

Section 1: Internship Basics

  1. What is an Internship?
  2. Why Do an Internship?
  3. Types of Internships
  4. Top 15 Internship Fields (Industries)
  5. Top 10 Internship Programs (Companies)

Section 2: Finding the Right Internship for You

  1. How to Find Internship Programs & Intern Jobs
  2. How to Find Internships Through Goodwall

Section 3: Applying for Internships

  1. Writing an Internship Resume & Cover Letter
  2. Internship Essays and a Professional Portfolio
  3. How to Send In an Internship Application

Section 4: Internship Interviews & Job Offers

  1. How to Ace an Internship Interview
  2. Accepting and Rejecting Internship Offers

Section 1: Internship Basics

1. What is an Internship?

An internship is a limited-time work program offered by an organization to an individual, often a student or recent graduate, looking to build experience or skills in a particular field. A person accepted into an internship program is called an intern.

What is the purpose of an internship?

Internships are temporary affairs and tend to attract those with no existing experience but looking to gain some expertise in a particular field.

How long do internships last?

Internships can last from a couple of days or weeks to several months in length. Some companies provide six-month or year-long internships to give interns a comprehensive learning experience, as well as to reduce the burden of constantly locating new intern replacements. 

Others might offer prospective candidates a week or month-long internship to provide a simple overview of the business and determine if the intern and the company are a fit for possibly moving forward together.

What does an intern do?

An intern does just about everything. From shadowing employees to being given research and reporting assignments, interning duties are as varied as they get.

Read Further: Have more questions on what internships are? Wondering if you’ll get paid as an intern or not? Read our short internship definition guide here: What is an Internship? 5+ Basic Questions Answered

2. Why Do an Internship?

So, now you know what an internship is, but why should you do an internship? What are the benefits of an internship program?

Why Are Internships Important?

Aside from the fact that it will help your chances of getting a job, an internship is also a great learning experience.

Working as an intern gives you a chance to learn valuable job skills. You’ll learn how to take direction from a manager, how to communicate with coworkers, how to pace your workday, and much more.

You’ll also get to make professional connections with your mentor, manager, and fellow interns. These connections can be professional friendships that could even lead to job opportunities down the road. 

One of the best things about an internship is that you get to test drive a potential career. If you don’t love every company or industry you try out, that’s okay. Take it as an opportunity to reflect what you like and don’t like about it. 

Plus, if you find out you don’t like your chosen field as much as you thought you would, you can adjust your coursework. Writing research essays and doing projects for your major is important, but it doesn’t show you a typical work day in that industry like an internship can.

If your internship gives you second thoughts about your career goals, talk to your academic advisor. You might be able to pivot your coursework without completely changing majors. It’s better to realize this now than after graduation. 

Aside from the internship itself, the process of finding and applying for it is a valuable experience on its own. It’s a great practice run for your post-graduation job search.

Read Further: Why are Internships Important? 10 Benefits of Internships for Students & Young Professionals

3. Types of Internships

From paid and unpaid internships to for-credit internships and service learning programs, there are a lot of types of internships to consider. 

Paid Internship – Because an internship is a job, essentially, compensation is usually expected and provided in the form of a paid internship. However, unpaid internships are pretty common, as well.

Student Internship – Most internships are student internships, which are internship programs designed for and given to university students. However, there are also internships for career changers or those recently graduated, as well.

Virtual Internship – A virtual internship, sometimes called a remote internship or an online internship, is an internship program which does not require physical presence to participate. A virtual internship may be perfect for jobs where all work is completed online, such as in IT or digital marketing jobs. 

For-Credit Internship – A for-credit internship is a special intern program related to a specific academic topic and offering college credit for taking part. A for-credit internship is often part of university coursework or a particular class.

Read Further: Listed above are the most common internship types. However, if you want a full breakdown, check out our post: 25+ Types of Internships to Understand Before You Make Your Choice

4. Top 15 Internship Fields (Industries)

Here are a few of the most common internship fields to choose from:

  • Arts Internships – fine arts, performing arts, internships at museums, etc.
  • Business Internships – focuses more on the operations side of things, such as supply chain, logistics, or administration.
  • Business Management Internships – focuses primarily on the leadership side of a corporation.
  • Design Internships – interior design, architecture, graphic design, etc.
  • Engineering Internships – civil engineering, industrial engineering, etc.
  • Fashion Internships – photoshoots, production management, etc.
  • Finance Internships – accounting, corporate tax, etc.
  • HR Internships – human resource analyst, researcher, generalist, manager.
  • IT Internships – web development, cybersecurity, mobile app dev, etc.
  • Law Internships – paralegal, environmental law, international law, etc.
  • Marketing Internships – digital marketing, advertising, etc.
  • Medical Internships – psychiatry, clinical research, etc.
  • Nonprofit Internships – NGO, human rights, etc.
  • Political Internships – legislative aide, White House internship, etc.
  • Sales Internships – commercial sales, consumer sales, market intelligence, etc.

5. Top 10 Internship Programs (Companies)

Here are some of the most popular companies with which to intern:

Read Further: How to Choose an Internship in 5 Easy Steps

Section 2: Finding the Right Internship for You

6. How to Find Internship Programs & Intern Jobs

Wondering where to look for internships?

Most internships can be found on standard job search websites, including Glassdoor, Monster, Indeed, and Google Jobs.

On top of that, there are some websites which cater specifically to high school students, college students, and young professionals looking to find an intern program. These include the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Internships.com.

Read Further: 15+ Best Internship Websites for Finding Programs Near You (or Abroad!)

And also…

Goodwall, of course! 

At Goodwall, we don’t just empower high school students, college learners, and university graduates to connect with like-minded people and share ideas.

We also have a fully stocked internships board with thousands of open intern programs just waiting for your application, many of which can’t be found on any other site! 🎉

7. How to Find Internships Through Goodwall

Here’s how easy it is to use Goodwall to find your dream internship program:

Step 1 – Visit Goodwall Opportunities 🌐

To browse using a regular internet browser, just visit the Goodwall Opportunities page.

But— 

If you want to leverage the full power of the Goodwall platform, download our app! It’s available on Android and iOS

Once you create an account, you’ll be able to get update notifications, save jobs for later, and get feedback and support from the diverse Goodwall community.

Step 2 – Perform an Initial Search 🔍

In the search bar on Goodwall Opportunities, simply type in a few choice keywords (perhaps “summer internship 2020” or “spring internship program,” for example). Then, start typing in a location. A dropdown menu of Google Maps options will appear for you to choose a specific city.

Then, press the bright green “Search” button, et voilà!

Step 3 – Apply! ✏️

Once you click “Search,” you’ll receive a list of relevant, up-to-date internship offers. If you see one that interests you, click on it, and you’ll be taken onto a page with a full description of the internship program.

Still interested? 

All you have to do is click on “Apply,” and you’ll be taken to the official internship job application page with further instructions.

How simple is that, right?

Related Read: How to Find & Get an Internship Through Goodwall in 5 Simple Steps

Section 3: Applying for Internships

8. Writing an Internship Resume & Cover Letter

When you apply for an internship, you’ll always need an internship resume, and, you’ll usually require an internship cover letter. Make sure to follow the instructions in the job listing to see how they want you to submit your intern application. 

A resume for internships details your past work experience, and a cover letter for internships illustrates to the hiring manager why you’re the best candidate.

Internship Resumes

You may have learned how to write a resume in high school, but does an internship require a different resume than a regular job?

Not at all! 

Internships are jobs, so an internship resume is a regular job resume. The only difference in your case may be that your work history will be pretty empty (if not completely so).

As a prospective intern, your educational background will be far more impressive than your work history. In this case, make sure your education section on your resume goes near the top to ensure that the HR rep sees the most impactful, juiciest bits first.

Internship Cover Letters

Writing a cover letter for an internship may be optional in some cases, but I strongly recommend that you include one anyway. The only time you should omit an internship cover letter is when the job description specifically says not to include one.

That being said, use your cover letter to explain why you are the best fit for this particular internship.

Don’t use an internship cover letter to repeat items you’ve already listed in your resume. Instead, use your cover letter to explain some resume bullet points in more detail or inform them of an advantage you have that you couldn’t easily include in the rigid structure of a resume.

Finally, address the cover letter to one specific person, because “to whom it may concern” just feels lazy and impersonal. Visit the company’s website or LinkedIn profile page to locate the hiring manager, and you’ll get bonus points for doing so.

But, there’s one more internship document you should prepare— 

Internship Web Profile

An internship web profile is not a physical document, but rather your online profile on Goodwall.

See, here’s the thing— 

In 2020, it’s a safe bet that the recruiter or hiring manager will look up applicants online. So, you need to make sure you have a professional online presence.

This doesn’t only include purging your social media profiles of questionable materials—though you should definitely at least make private any Facebook videos of drunkenness or ranting Twitter feuds!

It also includes creating a professional profile specifically made for hiring managers to see your educational accomplishments, work experience, and relevant job skills.

The Goodwall web profile makes this a breeze.

Not only does it let you document your schools, past jobs, employment skills, and other standard items as a resume or LinkedIn profile might, but it goes way further.

The Goodwall web profile lets you showcase your achievements beyond just grades. You can add photos, highlight personal accomplishments, post your ideas, and even include a video introduction so they can really get to know you.

That’s more than any paper resume or cover letter could ever do!

Read Further: Introducing the Goodwall Web Profile

9. Internship Essays and a Professional Portfolio

Depending on the internship offer you’re considering and the industry you’re looking to base your internship in, you may need more than an intern resume, cover letter, and web profile.

Internship Essay 📝

In some cases, a company may ask you to write a “why do I want this internship essay.”

I know, you thought the written assignments would end with college, right?

Anyway, if this is so, you’ll need to write a paper that’s essentially a list of why you are the perfect intern candidate to be hired, though it shouldn’t be formatted like a list, of course.

Highlight your most important advantages first, just as on your internship resume, as many recruiters will skim rather than read. You want them to see the most powerful points first!

Make sure you mention all your skills—this includes both hard skills (such as computer programming, Adobe Illustrator, etc.) and soft skills (such as communication skills or teamwork).

Give them any relevant experience you may have, even if it didn’t come from a job or school. These could include design competitions, freelance work, or even volunteering in your community.

Finally, follow all the guidelines! 

Check the internship job description to see what they require, such as minimum or maximum word count, topic choice, etc.

Internship Portfolio 📁

One other important addendum to your internship application may be a professional portfolio.

While a portfolio for an internship is only useful in some industries, it’s a crucial inclusion when relevant.

A portfolio is a compilation of your best work, showcasing your knowledge of modern procedures, relevant job skills, and how capable you are. 

A professional portfolio is particularly useful for project-style work, such as graphic design, web development, or writing.

In these cases, create a website or page that lists the projects you’ve undertaken in the past, the tools and skills you used, and the results of your efforts.

10. How to Send In an Internship Application

After you’ve gathered the various documents together, proofread them to be sure they’re error-free. Get a friend, family member, or someone from your university’s career center to give it a review behind you, as well.

Even a single typo may turn off a hiring manager!

When your documents are flawless, it’s time to actually apply. This may be as simple as clicking a few buttons and uploading your digital resume online, but it may also be that you must write an email to officially request the job.

How to Write an Email for an Internship

As in your internship cover letter, my most important piece of advice is to address someone specifically by name. In modern internship programs and companies, you’ll be fine with addressing them by their first name. However, at more traditional institutions, such as a venerable law firm with all mahogany everything, last name is probably best.

Also— 

In some cases, your internship email could be the same as your cover letter, in which case you can simply copy and paste its contents in the email body. However, if the internship job description says to “attach” both a resume and a cover letter, do that instead—they want an intern who knows how to follow instructions! 

Letter of Recommendation for an Internship

Finally, you may also have to include a reference letter with your internship application. 

A letter of recommendation, or a letter of reference, is a document from someone else giving their recommendation for you for the job.

The most impactful recommendation letters come from professors, former colleagues, and past employers. Don’t submit any recommendation letters from parents or friends!

Follow Up After Applying for an Internship

Don’t yet have a reply?

Don’t worry.

Dozens of applicants, if not hundreds, apply to every job opening, so it could just be that they need more time. Most places will eventually respond to you—it is the professional thing to do, after all. 

If you want to take the initiative, wait at least a week before following up after sending a resume. According to one recent study of hiring managers’ preferences, 43% say to wait one to less than two weeks before following up, while another 30% say to wait between two to less than three weeks. 

So, just about three-quarters of all hiring managers say you should follow up after one week and no later than three weeks from the date you send your internship application.

Also, do so by either email or phone. From the same study, 46% prefer an email, while 39% prefer a phone call. The few outliers preferred in-person, social media, or text message follow ups.

Section 4: Internship Interviews & Job Offers

11. How to Ace an Internship Interview

Did all that work above pay off and now you’ve gotten yourself an interview?

Congratulations!!! 🎉

Now, let’s prepare for your important meeting.

Get Ready for the Internship Interview

Here are a few things to do to strengthen your chances of interview success:

Reread the job description – Yeah, you already read it once, that’s how you found out about the job. However, there are pertinent details in there, likely, that you should know for the interview. When they ask you about how well you can perform the job, it’s good form not to need a reminder.

Research the company – Show them that you’re interested in more than just a paycheck or experience. Researching the company you might intern at will give you talking points for your interview, and it’ll give you bonus points with the interviewer.

Prepare questions for them – An interview is for them to assess how well you’d fit, but you should use it to also get to know more about them. Ask them questions to show interest about the company, their goals, the company culture, and their history.

Practice! – Because that old adage about practice making perfect is so true.

Read Further: How to Prepare for an Internship Interview

Prepare for the Most Common Internship Interview Questions

Interviews are all about them getting to know you, to see if you’re the right fit for the company, the team, and the jobs you’ll be tasked with.

You’re going to have to answer a lot of internship interview questions, and the best thing to do is to practice your responses.

Here are some of the most common internship interview questions to practice:

  • Why do you want this internship?
  • What do you hope to gain from this internship?
  • Why are you interested in this internship?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Tell me about your proudest accomplishments.
  • Give me an example of a difficult situation you’ve encountered and how you dealt with it.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?

Have a friend or family member give you a mock interview to test and improve your ability to answer these questions easily, effectively, and without sounding like you memorized them!

Follow Up After an Internship Interview

After the interview, send your interviewer an email within 24 hours. Thank them for their time, tell them how great it was to meet them and how even more interested you are about the internship opportunity. Perhaps ask one more question you forgot to mention at your interview. 

If you haven’t heard back after a week or two, send one more follow-up email, just in case. At some larger companies, as well as small organizations short on staff, the process could take longer than usual. 

If you were not granted the internship opportunity this time around, don’t worry! 

Use the process you went through as a learning experience, and then try once more to get an internship somewhere new.

Read Further: What to Bring to an Internship Interview

12. Accepting and Rejecting Internship Offers

Once you’ve interviewed for a few internship program positions, hopefully the job offers will start flooding your inbox.

Here’s how to deal with them:

How to Accept Internship Offer

To accept an internship offer, write back right away with enthusiasm and gratitude, thanking them for the opportunity.

If they have additional instructions, be sure to follow them to the letter.

Finally, confirm you understand the terms of their offer by reiterating some of the main points in your letter, especially regarding hours, wages, and key dates.

How to Reject an Internship Offer

You applied to the internship, so why would you reject it?

Though rare, there may be circumstances which require you to turn down an internship offer, particularly if you’ve accepted another offer.

In these cases, always send an email instead of ignoring them. It’s not only professional and common courtesy, but you don’t want to burn any bridges as a career newbie!

Now, let’s end it with one of the best quotes for interns, college students, or really just anyone:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go!

Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

That’s our internship guides, and we hope it’s been helpful for you! Got any questions, feedback, or other internship topics you’d like us to cover? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Warsaw, Poland. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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