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Internships are a great way to get firsthand experience in an industry before you decide to make it a career. An internship helps you learn about the day-to-day reality of an industry and can help you determine what you want from your career before committing to 40 hours a week. Unlike a regular position, internships last for a limited period of time, often a summer or a school semester. Internships can be full-time or just a few hours a day. They can be paid, unpaid or may count as class credit. No matter the compensation, the main focus is on learning and gaining experience.

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Why Do an Internship?

Why not? You wouldn't want to jump into a career without knowing if it's for you or not. Internships give you experience in an industry, and they can also help you decide what you want and don't want from a job.

Likewise, many companies use internships to meet and recruit new talent, essentially giving them a trial run before making a permanent hire. They can be a great opportunity to network and meet people within an industry.

Finding the Right Internship

Internships are not difficult to find. The hardest part is often determining what you want from the program. First, you need to figure out what industry you're most interested in. Once you have an idea of what you would like to try, use that information to help frame your search.

If you have a school counselor or class dean at your school, ask him or her for advice. If you don't have an academic advisor, check your school's message boards, job placement center, academic websites and alumni connections. It's always a good idea to ask the people around you if they know of any opportunities or have advice for where to find an internship

There are also several websites with sections devoted to finding an internship. Here are a few sites that will help you narrow down your options:

If there's a specific company or internship program you're interested in, check their career website to see if they list any openings.

What to Look for in an Internship

It's important to do research before starting an internship. Once you find a program that fits your criteria, look at the structure of the program. Here are some important questions to ask:

  • Who will manage me?
  • How many hours a week will I be expected or able to work?
  • How flexible is this position? Will the schedule work around school?
  • For what will I be responsible?
  • What will I receive in return?
  • Is there financial compensation or is this an unpaid internship?
  • Will I be involved in actual projects?
  • Are there exercises geared toward interns?

It can be useful to talk to people who have been through the same program. If there's an internship coordinator, ask him or her if there is a past participant willing to discuss the experience. He or she can give you candid insight into the opportunity.

You should also do an online search for information about the company offering the internship. This could help you gauge what it might be like to work there and alert you to any problems in the company's organization. You want to find a program that fits your schedule, personality and career goals. There are a lot of options for you to choose from, so research carefully, and you're sure to find the ones that will be rewarding.

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