How to find a quality internship

How to find a quality internship

Internships are perhaps more widely available than ever.

According to new research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 44 percent of organizations have increased the number of internships since the start of the recession, with 34 percent of organizations offering more internships in 2013 than they did in 2012.

But just because more internships exist, that doesn't mean they're all good. Here are three ways to find quality internships.

1. Talk to people and do research

Before searching some of the many internship websites, such as Internships.com and InternMatch.com, ask around: Do any of your friends, family members or professors know of any quality internships? If you have someone's first-hand experience, it's easier to trust that the internship will include relevant, real-world job experience and not just menial tasks.

If you don't find any good leads through your personal network, then it may be time to start applying online or sending emails to companies that interest you (if they don't advertise their internships). Make sure to research the company, especially if you hear back from them, perhaps even contacting current or past interns to hear about their experience as an intern there.

In this day and age, it's not difficult to find information, either through people or the Internet, to ensure the internship's quality.

2. Read the job description thoroughly

Of course, it's unlikely a job description will read, "We're looking for an intern to pour our coffee and not much else." But read through each of the tasks and you may be able to get a sense of how structured it is. Are the tasks specific or vague? Is the language respectful-sounding?

Also, make sure it sounds legal if it's unpaid. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following six criteria must be met for an unpaid internship to be legal:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

An unpaid internship that meets those criteria is likely to be a quality internship. At the same rate, just because it's paid doesn't mean it's quality. Gaining relevant experience makes it quality, and you may be able to gauge from the job description if that's the case.

3. Ask the right questions in the interview

In the interview, ask the right questions so you can discern if it's a quality internship.

In an interview for Marketplace Money, Intern Queen founder Lauren Berger, author of the book "All Work, No Pay," said asking questions during the interview is key.

"So when you're in an interview in an internship a great question to ask is, 'Can you describe a day as an intern at your company?' This is really going to show you if the employer is aware of what the interns are doing. And if they're not aware, it's not a good sign. You want to know what you're getting yourself into."

Other questions to ask may be, "What might I expect to learn during this internship?," and "How will the skills and experience gained from the internship translate into my future career or transfer over on a practical level?" Merely learning "critical thinking skills" may not be specific enough of an answer, so probe further to figure out what the internship will practically achieve.

Landing an internship somewhere is often not the difficult part. Landing a quality one that will not only boost your resume but also boost your skills and knowledge can be tricky. But if you consult your network, do research, read everything carefully and ask the right questions, you may be on your way to a quality internship.

Sources:

"Internships on the Rise Since Recession, SHRM Survey Finds," SHRM, Nov. 2013, http://www.shrm.org/about/pressroom/pressreleases/pages/2013internships.aspx

U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act, April 2010, http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf
 
"Yes, you're an intern, but you still have rights," Marketplace Money, June 2013, http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/yes-youre-intern-you-do-have-rights
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