Internships: The Good, the Bad and the (not so) UGLY

By iCIMS blogger, Katie Meeker

Somewhere in between cramming for finals and moving out of their dorms for the summer, college students find the time to search for a summer internship. As a former multiple-time intern-er and a current intern coordinator, I thought it might be a good idea to make this post two-fold: 1st part for potential interns and 2nd part for potential organizations looking to recruit interns.

Whether your interest is invested in the legality of paid vs. unpaid internships for your company, or the summer’s approaching and you’re a student in need of some experience, keep reading…

It’s no secret that internships are on the rise: according to a national 2006 study, 84 percent of college students at four-year institutions had completed at least one internship before graduation. Whether its’ evolving college requirements, post-grads looking to gain an extra edge on the competition, or simply the market’s lack of available entry level jobs, internships are becoming more competitive and more important for both students and organizations.

Part I: The Quest for the Summer Internship

First and foremost, whether your school requires it or not, you need at least one internship prior to graduation…but as with most things in life, the more the merrier. Just recently, I’ve interviewed two candidates from the same schools, with the same classes and the same clubs…but the differentiator was their prior internship experience. As a (kind of) recent college grad, I speak from experience that it’s a tough world out there, and any edge you can get will help you get a job (and thus help you pay off all of those student loans). So, now that you know why you need an internship, let us learn how you attain the internship.

First off, if your school requires an internship make sure you know all of the details surrounding it. How many hours? Do you need to keep a journal? Interview directors? Create a portfolio? How many credits will you get? All of these details are good to know for yourself and for the company you’re interviewing at. Once you’ve got the background down, start searching. I began my search by looking at companies I would potentially like to work for or admired. Depending on their career sites, many even had their own section devoted to all things interns.

Not sure where you see yourself? Check your student email accounts for internship suggestions from your schools’ job placement center or department heads. Job boards are another great outlet…and there’s even some niche ones for interns and entry-level professionals like InternWeb and Career Rookie. And, who could forget social media? I always use “#intern” when posting opportunities on our twitter page. So now, search some hash tags and let the internship hunt begin.

When you eventually land the internship interview at your dream company, come prepared. Internships are competitive!! Just because you are interviewing somewhere does not mean you’ll be automatically selected. Internships are meant to benefit the student – which means LOTS of time spent with current employees teaching and mentoring the newbies. Before you’re brought on board and share valuable company time, an organization wants to make sure you’ll be a good fit for the position. Here are a couple of quick interview tips:

  • Bring your resume or portfolio and, if possible, make copies. If you’re meeting with multiple employees, you don’t want them squinting over a single copy of your 12-point font resume.
  • Do your research!! It’s always impressive when an intern knows about your company and then references recent news or blog posts about the company. It shows you care and are a quick learner who pays attention to details.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. If this is your first interview take the time to have a couple of practice run throughs with a friend. There are TONS of sample questions on the internet and you’re bound to be asked one of them. What’s your greatest accomplishment? Describe a time you overcame an obstacle? If I were to ask your professors to describe you, what would they say? Don’t make these questions any more awkward then they have to be… have some answers prepared. And hey, if you think these questions are bad, how much does a 747 weigh?
  • Keep eye contact with your interviewer. Like I said, don’t make this any more awkward then it has to be by looking at the floor or the ceiling or both.
  • Follow up with a thank-you after the interview. Nothing makes you more memorable post-interview then when you remind us that you interviewed. A simple email will do it.

Once you’ve got the perfect internship, take advantage of it! Here at iCIMS, we’ve had an amazing number of interns turned employees. When you go the extra mile, you get noticed. And hey, even if your internship doesn’t turn into a job at that specific company, you now have real world experience. Remember those awkward interview questions? Now you have some substance to back them up! Looking for an example of someone who did it all right? I think her title says it all: Intern Queen Lauren Berger and the news of her 15 completed internships across her 4 years of college, is all over social media outlets. After starting her own Intern company, the Queen now educates others through her college tours and conferences. Oh hey, speaking of which, iCIMS is hiring interns!! Sales, Marketing, Customer Support – you name it! Take a look here for a list of our available internships.

Part II: The Quest for the Intern (A lesson in legality)

As most of you have probably read by now, there are some tricky rules involved when recruiting interns… especially when they are unpaid. A Workforce article from a few years back offered 10 Rules for Hiring Unpaid Interns. Some highlights included:

  • Training must be general, not for the immediate advantage of the business, and it may even slow normal operations.
  • Interns can’t be used to replace paid employees.
  • High schools, technical schools and colleges can partner with businesses to set up compliant unpaid internships in which the student receives course credit. This lends credibility to the internship’s benefit for the student.
  • Decide beforehand if the business has the time and personnel to closely supervise and mentor an unpaid intern.

And, if you want to be a little more sure of your compliant internship practices, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division’s six factors to “evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of FLSA:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Bottom line: make sure you have the time for interns! It’s not about you…it’s about them, so make sure you’re recruiting the right fit for your department/company and that they want to learn.

Does your company recruit a lot of interns and/or recent grads? Give them their own space to search and apply for jobs! University Career Centers are a popular option amongst organizations that are looking to tailor their recruiting. A UCC links directly within a corporation's website and allows college students to browse job openings specifically targeted to their audience with specific marketing information and more. Applicants can then complete an online application tailored to your college recruiting campaign. Career Centers dedicated to new graduates are an extremely effective method of giving your organization that competitive edge in reaching quality talent. One last quick iCIMS plug…our very own marketing interns Brittney & Allison have already written a couple of great posts on the internship process. Check them out here: It’s a Jungle Out There - Are you Ready? & Finding an Intern – Is the Cake Worth the Candle?

Views: 481

Comment by Steve Sill on May 6, 2010 at 12:39pm
We do intern hires here at Tagged and we take a different approach and this would be my suggestion to Engineering Interns.

- Know what you will be working on during your internship. (I will usually not call a new Grad, if the intern work was boring and/or not very technical.)
- Know your stuff (Algorithms, optimal run times, etc.)
- Be good at solving puzzles (exercise your brain) *Given an n x m grid, how many rectangles are there?
- Most standard interview questions do not apply with us. They only show that you can prepare for an interview (nothing more)

Employers must haves:
- Have your interns do real work... not just implementing someone else's work (I cannot tell you how excited interns get, when I let them know that they will be doing original work that will be posted to our site during their internship) *also see my first bullet point above.
- Work with you interns to show them their mistakes and how to avoid in the future. If it is a work methodology issue, teach them how they need to do it in the "real world" (We work with our Interns to help them optimize their code *its about fast run times)
- When you hire an intern... is this a person you might consider as a future hire (Interns who show the ability to learn and adapt quickly often leave us with job offers in hand)
- For us, it is a competitive market to get highly technical interns, so we pay them well. (Not FTE pay, but very good pay for most Americans)

Hope you find my 2 cents helpful :)
Comment by Karen Bucks on May 6, 2010 at 12:49pm
That's great Steve, thanks! I think some companies forget the main purpose of the internship, which is to teach. It's teaching these young men and women how to be successful. And, in order to be successful they must know how to do the job.
Comment by Karen Bucks on May 17, 2010 at 9:16am
It is true! Getting that first internship can often be difficult for students, but once they do, it can open up a lot of new doors.


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