If you’re one of millions of young people planning career moves, you’ve probably thought about internships. High school internship experience can help you secure an entry-level job or get into your dream school while a college internship can help you network and land your first gig in the real world. Whatever your motivations, paid internships are a surefire way to build and launch your career.
But how do you pick the right one? With thousands of internship opportunities and different types from paid internships to unpaid gigs and seasonal training programs, the options are endless. Here, we’ll go over the different types of internships, compare unpaid and paid internships, and give you tips on how to get the gig. Plus, you’ll find the top industries for landing a paid gig and discover how to find high-level paid internships.
Different Types of Internships
There are several types of internships to choose from to gain valuable work experience. There are part-time, full-time, and even seasonal options to suit different individual needs.
In general, most internships fall into one of the following categories:
- Paid internships: Programs where individuals receive a stipend or salary in exchange for work.
- Unpaid internships: Trainee programs that must meet strict Department of Labor standards and offer mentoring, apprenticing, or training opportunities in place of monetary payment.
- Seasonal internships: Training programs that take place for shorter periods of time such as over the summer. Some internships may also run concurrently with academic semesters or quarters.
- Industry internships: Programs that are tailored to a specific subject matter area such as marketing internships, technology internships, public relations internships, or human resources internships.
- Credit internships: Programs where participants receive college course credit instead of a monetary payment. To receive credit, these internships must be closely aligned with your study program and you may need to document your duties using a journal or do a presentation to receive full credit from the college or university.
There isn’t one internship type that is better than all the rest. For some people, a full-time paid internship will be a better choice than a summer internship. It really comes down to what you want to get out of your internship. If you want to spend the summer learning, try a seasonal internship. If you want hands-on training in your study area, try an industry-specific internship.
If your main goal is to make money to pay for tuition next year, a paid internship will be the better option. Let’s go over the main differences between paid and unpaid internships and then we’ll show you different types of paid internships in various industries.
Paid Internships vs. Unpaid Internships
If you’re thinking about finding an internship to launch your career path or supplement your college education, it’s important to understand the distinction between paid and unpaid internships. It’s not just about the money either. There are key differences when it comes to rules and regulations for the two different types of internships.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires for-profit businesses to pay employees for their work. Since interns aren’t paid in unpaid internships, these employment arrangements must meet certain criteria under the Department of Labor’s legal standards. These criteria ensure that unpaid internships do not abuse students’ time and must be strictly educational.
These standards include the following:
- Both parties must be informed that the internship is unpaid.
- The intern must not do work that displaces part-time or full-time employees.
- Both the intern and employer must acknowledge that the internship does not entitle the intern to regular employment upon completion.
- The internship should be limited to the period where the intern is learning and working under the supervision of regular employees.
- The training should occur in an educational environment or can be tied specifically to coursework at an academic institution.
Unpaid internships should be more like educational or training programs rather than real employment. Interns that choose unpaid internships should not spend more than 1/5 of their time doing busy work, including answering phones and emails. These trainee programs are designed to teach students, not to have them do the work of an in-house employee.
A paid internship is pretty straightforward. You’ll do certain job duties in exchange for payment. These internships are different from unpaid internships in that you’ll be treated more like an employee than a trainee.
There are different types of compensation for paid internships. You may receive a monthly stipend to cover expenses or you may get a real monthly internship salary. You may be paid weekly, biweekly, or monthly depending on the arrangements.
According to Glassdoor, interns make an average of $19 per hour. Actual intern pay varies dramatically depending on the type of internships, the industry, and even the location. An intern in New York City may make significantly more than an intern in a city with a lower cost of living than NYC. An internship with a big company, like a Shopify internship or a Kraft Heinz internship, will typically offer better compensation compared to a local internship at a small business.
Alternatively, some internships may offer payment in the form of college credits. In these arrangements, students may receive a stipend to cover commuting or travel expenses to the office, but the main reward is credit for college coursework. These types of internships may be more engaging for students than attending regular lecture classes. Plus, you’ll still get credit for coursework so you can get work experience and stay on track to graduate on time.
The 5 Best Industries for Paid Internships
There are well-paying internships in just about every job category, but that doesn’t mean there are equal opportunities. Some industries are well-known for paying interns higher salaries in order to attract the top talent. Here are the top five industries when it comes to paid internships.
Don’t be discouraged if your major or subject area isn’t on this list. You can still find great internship opportunities that pay well or offer incredible value when it comes to training and education. Discover how to find internships in any industry and learn tips you can use to land the intern position.
It’s no secret that internships in banking can help you rake in some money — with the top Wall Street internships paying between $3,400 to $5,600 per month — and also add valuable experience to your resume. Getting a paid internship at a hedge fund or another huge banking institution like Goldman Sachs or Bank of America can help launch your career.
In addition, the banking industry is growing, meaning there is more demand for highly qualified applicants. While these types of internships pay well, they’re also highly competitive, so expect to work hard to stand out from the crowd. To find these internships, head to the careers section of the banking website. Many of these institutions also feature a dedicated page for internships. You can find the internships page for U.S. Bank here and Bank of America’s college opportunities here.
The federal government offers internships for a huge range of subjects. Whether you studied liberal arts, history, or political science, there are endless opportunities in government internships. Pay varies dramatically from organization to organization, but is typically anywhere from $14-$36 per hour.
Almost every federal agency, from the CIA and the Department of State to the Arctic Research Commission hires interns. Many of these internships are set up as summer gigs, though you can also find long-term arrangements and even internships overseas. Many of these positions are in Washington, D.C., but you’ll also find opportunities in dozens of other cities.
If you’re interested in a government internship, the best place to start your search is at USAJOBS, an official site run by the United States government. There, you’ll find resources regarding eligibility plus information on the Pathways Program at the Justice Department. You can also access the full database of government internship opportunities from hundreds of different agencies.
Communications and Marketing
The communications and marketing industries have experienced exponential growth, especially since industries are increasingly building an online presence. Social media marketing and email marketing skills are among the most sought-after in the industry. While pay for these internships may not be as lucrative as for banking internships — the average is around $13 per hour — you’ll learn valuable skills that can be used in most jobs.
To find these types of internships, talk to your campus representatives or reach out to businesses you admire in your area. Agencies like Scholars that help connect recruiters with highly skilled college students are also a great tool for finding paid internships. You can also identify companies you’re interested in and visit the company websites to find open internship opportunities.
Like banking, accounting is another industry that offers extremely competitive, high-paid internships and important training. The average internship salary for accounting positions is around $15 per hour, but internships at large corporations can pay higher rates. Landing an internship at one of the big four accounting firms (KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, or Ernst & Young) can add credibility to your resume.
To get these types of internships, you’ll need to have consulting and accounting skills as well as business acumen. Many of these programs involve lengthy interview and application processes, so expect to put in some time and effort if you want to get the gig. Apply early — some companies begin accepting summer intern applications during the fall before the summer program.
Computer science, programming, and information technology are among the fastest-growing industries. Technology internships cover a wider range of subjects from coding and web development to engineering.
Not only is there significant demand for skilled students, but the pay for these positions is also higher than other industries. For example, an information technology intern makes an average of $39 per hour. The most lucrative tech internships are at large firms including Cisco, Apple, and Dell.
Tips to Get the Gig
Assess Your Skills
It can be tempting to apply to every internship you come across. That’s also a surefire way to decrease morale and get more rejections from hiring managers. Someone isn’t going to hire you as an intern if you don’t have the skills required to do the job.
Instead, identify your skills, work experience, and subject matter expertise. Look for internship opportunities that list these skills as prerequisites or desired attributes. By targeting opportunities that fit your profile, you have a much higher chance of actually getting the internship opportunity.
This doesn’t mean you can’t reach just outside your skill level. If you have most of the required skills, but are missing just one, it’s still worth applying. It just means that you shouldn’t waste your time applying to internships simply for the sake of applying or to ones that are in a completely unrelated field. Spend your time applying to internship opportunities you have a reasonable chance of getting.
Prepare Application Materials
Make sure you have a tailored resume and internship cover letter that you can use to apply to different internship positions. Treat these application materials as templates and adjust them to fit each opportunity you are applying for. For example, you may want to add relevant skills to your expertise section or you may want to include solid quantitative examples of what you’ve accomplished in a cover letter. These examples can be modified and changed to directly address what the internship provider is looking for in a candidate.
Here are some tips for preparing your resume:
- Use the STAR format: Use bullet points to explain a situation, task, action, and result (STAR) for all of your work experience.
- Use quantitative measurements: Attach numbers to your success whenever possible. Instead of saying “sold merchandise” try “sold $2,000 of brand-name women’s clothing every day.” This helps add value to your work instead of just using generalizations.
- Be concise: Keep your resume short and to the point. Only include valuable information and try to focus on listing your accomplishments rather than just daily job duties.
Nail the Interview
If you’ve spent time preparing your application and targeting internships that fit your profile, you’ll likely land a couple of interviews. Here are some tips to help you make it past this stage in the hiring process so you can secure the internship of your dreams.
Do Your Research
Find out what the interviewer might ask you. You can check out Glassdoor’s list of the most common interview questions or use their search tool to find interview questions and reviews from applicants that previously applied to the company. Practice answering these questions in case they come up during your interview.
Hiring managers interview thousands of recent graduates and college students during their careers. Don’t bore them with generic answers and platitudes. Instead, be thoughtful and include specific details when answering questions. Metrics and quantitative values can make your answers more concrete and informative for the hiring manager.
Have a Positive Demeanor
People want to work with people they like and find engaging. If you’re grumpy, disinterested, or combative, you’ll be much less likely to get the internship. Try to answer questions with a positive or enthusiastic attitude. Being passionate about the subject can also help a hiring manager see why they should hire you instead of the other applicant that’s just going through the motions.
Find Paid Internships With Scholars
Need more advice on how to find or get great internships? Check out our podcast, The Internship Show, where we interview the heads of internship programs to get firsthand insight on what you can do to get the internship of your dreams. There, you’ll find tips from hiring managers at tech companies like Cisco and Dell to financial firms like Fidelity Investments and hospitality internships at Royal Caribbean.