You’ve probably been told numerous times that you need to have an internship. In the Chapter 5: Explore of Creating Career Success, we discuss real-world career exploration, learning by doing, and the benefits of experiential learning.

An internship is the most common way to “learn by doing,” and similar programs may be referred to as externships or cooperative programs. There are also many other ways to learn on the job and from people in the workforce, such as job shadowing, site visits, employer visits to campus, part-time work, volunteer work, temporary work, and informational interviewing.

What is an internship?

An internship is a work experience that has a learning component. You—the intern—get hands-on experience as you contribute to the success of the business or organization. Ideally, internships are for those who lack professional experience, but are eager to explore a field while building skills, experience, and references. They can be paid or unpaid, and there are legal requirements employers must follow to ensure that interns are learning and not simply engaged in work tasks for which they are not being properly compensated. (For more information, visit the website for the National Association for Colleges and Employers.)

Why is it important to intern?

Perhaps most importantly, it will help test your beliefs about your career choice. If you think you want to be an accountant because you are good at math, an accounting internship is a chance to get to know the work environment, people, and culture. Internships also helps you develop critical skills, including specific job-related skills and professional skills that prepare you to manage yourself in the workplace. Finally, you may meet people at an internship who can serve as mentors, advisors, and advocates. Developing workplace connections is essential for building your network and obtaining meaningful professional references.

Before we finish, let’s go ahead and address some of the many myths floating around about internships:

Myth #1: My internship will be interesting and challenging all the time.

No internship— or job for that matter—is going to be both interesting and challenging 100% of the time. Employers sometimes give interns tedious projects that may seem like grunt work but that allow you to become familiar with procedures, accounts and other important aspects of the work. Proving yourself with seemingly unimportant projects may lead to your supervisor trusting you with bigger and more important work. But on the other hand if all you are doing is making coffee, picking up your supervisor’s dry cleaning and making her doctor appointments, you may need to speak to your supervisor or human resources about the purpose and goals of your internship.

Myth #2: If I don’t intern, I can’t get a job.

For the most part you don’t have to intern to get a job, but in today’s super competitive job market you need to make sure you are as marketable as possible—and interning is a great way to do that. In some fields, such as publishing, it is very difficult to get a job without doing an internship first.

Myth #3: I will get hired after completing my internship.

Some students mistakenly expect that they will be hired after completing an internship. Maybe you know someone who received an offer this way, or you’ve seen a company advertise that a position can lead to an offer. While many companies do look to former interns when hiring, there are no guarantees of future employment. The main purpose of the internship is to explore a field and develop skills.

Be on the lookout for our next blog about internships where we will cover how to find a summer internship. The skills, experience, and connections you can build through internships are invaluable in your career development.

Are you interning now or planning to look for an internship? What do you hope to gain through your internship experience?


About The Authora

Francine Fabricant_headshotFrancine Fabricant is a career counselor and the lead author of Creating Career Success. She has an extraordinary passion for career development, and is a frequent speaker on career topics. She has worked at the Columbia University Center for Career Education and FIT’s Career Services. She received an MA and EdM from Teachers College, Columbia University and a BA cum laude from Barnard College, Columbia University. Visit her website at

Jennifer Miller_croppedJennifer Miller, MBA, MSED is an Associate Professor and Counselor in the Career and Internship Center at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) since 2001. She is very knowledgeable and passionate about sustainability and social media. In addition to counseling she taught Career Planning for several years and currently teaches internship courses on Career Exploration and Career Planning. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York and she has two masters degrees; one in Guidance and Counseling from Hunter College in New York City, and one in Business Administration from Binghamton University.