AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

It's an infamous Catch 22: You need experience to get experience, but how do you get experience without experience? 

What Is an Internship?

An internship is, in short, a taste of real-world experience, which can be as valuable (if not even more valuable) than anything you learned in your studies. This is because you can truly understand what a job or industry is all about by working in that environment for a period of time and getting the opportunity to speak directly with professionals in roles you aspire to someday fill. 

"An internship is a period of work experience offered by an employer to give students and graduates exposure to the working environment, often within a specific industry, which relates to their field of study," according to All About Careers. "Internships can be as short as a week or as long as 12 months... and they can be done in a range of sectors, including sales, marketing, engineering, graphic design, management, I.T. and many, many more. Throughout an internship, you will develop a variety of soft skills, including communication skills, personal effectiveness, presentation skills, creative problem solving and influencing skills."

An internship can help you decide whether or not a field is really for you, as well.

"Your career aspirations may change when you’re faced with the true realities of a role," according to All About Careers. "Internships ca, therefore,e be used as a ‘try before you buy’ option, before you embark on a career and confirm if this is what you want to do in the long term. An internship can give you a real insight into the world of work, allowing you to build on the theory you learned at university and helping you to gain practical skills that will help strengthen your CV and make you more employable. Internships offer you the chance to test your skills in real-life situations, explore your career options and gain an insight into an organization or career path."

But do you get paid to do an internship? That's up to the employer. Many interns work for free in exchange for college credit, while others work for free but earn a stipend for their commuting and housing costs.

Many internships, however, are paid. This is because unpaid internships are technically illegal unless the employer meets the following criteria, according to Find Law:

  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 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 providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded."
  5. "There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship."
  6. "Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship."

That said, "interns used as substitutes for regular workers or to provide a needed boost in personnel must be paid at least minimum wage and any overtime," according to Find Law. "But if the intern is receiving job shadowing opportunities without performing more than a minimum of work, the relationship is more likely to be viewed as an unpaid internship."

Likewise, "employers should establish the duration of the internship from the beginning and avoid making any promises of a permanent position or calling it a 'trial period.'"

When Should You Apply for an Internship?

You can apply for internships at any stage in your career, but you should typically take an internship while you're in school or before you dive into a full-time job. This is because it gives you experience to put on your resume, as well as a taste of the industry in which you want to work.

That said, many adults (especially those who are looking to change careers into different industries) will take internships to get their feet in the doors of new opportunities or pursue other interests or passions later in life.

What Is the Best Way to Get an Internship?

There are tons of different ways to get an internship. Of course, you should always put yourself out there and let people know that you are looking — but there are some places you should look and people with whom you should speak to get started looking for an internship.

1. Network with Your Professors

Your professors are people who've worked in the field you're studying for, likely, years. This means that they probably have a lot of contacts in the field. If your journalism professor has ever worked for magazines or newspapers, for example, they may still have contacts at those magazines or newspapers. And because your professors know your work ethic and passions, they'll be great references for you and middlemen to help connect you with others in the field.

2. Reach out to Family and Friends

No one will want to help you out more than your family or friends. Turn to your inner social circle to let them know that you're looking for an internship in your field of study. Chances are that you know someone who knows someone who is looking to hire an intern for the summer or winter break. Consider posting a message on social media asking friends and family if they know anyone in need of an intern.

3. Apply on Internship Job Boards

There are tons of job boards out there specific for internships. A few notable options include Internships.com, Ed2010 and InternJobs.com.

4. Take Advantage of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great networking tool you should absolutely use to check out internship opportunities. You can use LinkedIn's job board and search for internships, and you can also share a post on LinkedIn letting potential employers know that you are seeking internship opportunities.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.