Understanding the term

“An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” --National Association of Colleges and Employers

The presence of the word "internship" in a job title does not inherently signify that the job will support your professional development. For an internship to be more than just a fancy sounding student job, it must include structured learning opportunities and professional mentorship.

    Things to look for in an internship

    When you are reading the internship job posting, look for the following indicators of an organized and structured intern position:

    • Position and responsibilities are clearly defined and relevant to the professional goals of your academic coursework
    • Job responsibilities are similar to those of entry level employees
    • Supervision by a professional with expertise and an educational or professional background in the field
    • Opportunities to assist and shadow other professional staff on their projects and tasks and coordinate your own

    Questions to ask before accepting an offer

    Interviewing for an internship is your chance to learn more about the opportunity and make sure the experience is one that will benefit you. Make sure to find answers to the following: 

    • What initial training and ongoing professional development opportunities will you have?
    • Will you receive routine feedback on your performance and guidance in your professional growth?
    • How will you be involved in the operations of the office (staff meetings, department events, etc.)?
    • What opportunities will you have to interact with individuals within the department and in other departments of the company?
    • How will the depth and/or breadth of your job responsibilities increase throughout the internship?

    Internship warning signs

    Not all internships are created equal, but you can increase your chances of finding a great one by recognizing common red flags. If you see any of the following, be proactive, ask questions, and make sure you understand and feel comfortable with all the details before accepting an internship position: 

    • Signs of a low value internship
      • Vague job descriptions that focus on how great the experience is, but don't give details about what you will be doing
      • Strictly repetitive, tasky job responsibilities such as entering data on spreadsheets, answering phones, and filing
      • Acting as a brand ambassador by distributing flyers and leaflets without any more meaningful projects 
      • Supervision by an undergraduate student or by a distant contact person
      • Positions requiring you to pay out of pocket before earning money
      • Completely independent work without the ability to collaborate with coworkers and without active engagement with leadership
    • Questionable legitimacy of company
      • Address of company or organization is actually a residential address
      • Details about the company are not easily accessible online or appear unreliable
      • Internship offers without an interview
    • Safety concerns: these come up rarely, but should be taken very seriously
      • If any of the following occur, contact the Pomerantz Career Center, the instructor of your internship course, and/or local police or University Public Safety
      • Requests for personal financial or identity information such as your bank account or social security number by anyone other than an HR representative setting up payroll 
      • Exposure to physical, chemical, or biological safety hazards
      • Discriminatory behavior or harassment from coworkers, supervisors, or anyone else in workplace