A Note On Internships

As the school year winds to a close, the summer intern season is getting ready to kick off. Having once been on that side of things as a college student and intern, it’s now a great experience to be on the other side of that fence, being a college graduate and helping to bring the future in. I feel very strongly about internships and about what makes a good intern.

I was talking to a student from the Colorado School of Mines the other day. He called me as part of the Digger Dial, which is a fundraising effort put on from Mines students to Mines Alumni. He’s a sophomore majoring in Geological Engineering. We got to talking about internships and if I thought there were valuable.

“Absolutely,” I told him.

Internships are not only a way to get experience, but to also help set up your career. In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 50 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from 17 percent in 1992.1 With 50% of students holding internships, you really can’t afford not to have such valuable experience.

And I think the earlier you can get an internship, the better of you’ll be. I started as an intern at Boeing after my sophomore year. I ended up interning for three summers (which is kind of unusual) before eventually being hired. But having that experience that early my college career was immensely helpful. It helped me understand what engineering really was (or wasn’t), it helped be understand why I was going to college, and it helped me make better decision while I was in college.

Here are my pointers for being an intern:

  • Apply early in your career. There’s no reason you can’t try and get an internship the summer after your freshman year. As a freshman, I talked with every company I was interested in apply to, even if they were only looking for juniors or higher. If you have what it takes to compete at that level, the company will find a way to get you hired as an intern.
  • Apply early in the year. Don’t wait until April to start apply to internships. They’re probably all gone. Start looking in October or November. January at the latest.
  • Be well rounded. Your education is worth less if you don’t know how to have a balanced life. What do you do for fun? Are you involved in the community? Are you consistent in your level of involvement? Do you take on projects outside of your curriculum and regular education that show your interest in the field? My sophomore year I worked on building up the Mines Internet Radio studio and web site. Amazingly, what I did there transfered quite well to my internship.
  • Have a good resume. There is no template for a perfect resume. Personally, I think my resume is pretty good; although it hasn’t been updated in a while. Here are some pointers: Keep it professional. Lead with your education and then experience. Don’t lie. One page only, please. Spell check. Date check. Fact check. And then spell check again.
  • Be yourself. If you think you’re hot shit, and you’re not hot shit. I will know.
  • Ask questions. We know you don’t know all the answers. We know you have questions. Just ask them! There really are no silly questions. And don’t feel like just because you took Circuits 2, Mechanics of Materials, or Fluid Dynamics that you should how things work. College will teach you some basics, work will teach you how to use those tools. Someone once told, “School is about learning how you learn.” That statement fundamentally changed how I looked at college.
  • Be aggressive. There are plenty of other people who want an internship. Trust me on this. You’re going to need to be a bit aggressive (ladies, I’m looking at you here) if you really want this internship. It’s a fine line to walk, but you’re going to have to walk it.

Finally, make sure you’re getting paid. Yes, some people will take exception to labor laws requiring interns to be paid. But since the law says you get paid, you should get paid. The New York Times recently ran an article in their business section, The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not, stating that “some experts estimate that one-fourth to one-half are unpaid.”2

From www.nytimes.com:

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities – in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.


  1. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html 

  2. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html 

9 Replies to “A Note On Internships”

  1. I really regret not doing summer internships. I think they would have helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life sooner (or at least what I didn’t want to do!). Unfortunately, most of the internships I would have been interested in were unpaid, which wasn’t an option for me financially. 🙁

  2. Why shouldn’t I be able to work for a company for no pay, if I value the experience more than I value my expenditures?

    1. I didn’t say you shouldn’t be able to work for a company for no pay. I said since the law says you get paid, you should get paid. However, this is really a larger discussion about minimum wage requirements and labor laws in general, which is not what I want this to about.

      1. When you state that, “since the law says you get paid, you should get paid,” you are explicitly expressing your own concurrence with the law in this situation. As such, you are saying that one should follow the law (a dubious proposition to begin with), and therefore one should not be able to work for a company for no pay (even more dubious).
        And why can’t this discussion turn into something you hadn’t intended or foreseen in the first place?

        1. I don’t know about you, but I like having money. If there is a legal mechanism for me to have money versus not having money ceteris paribus, I will take the money. That’s what I’m saying. I’m not saying that I agree with the law or not.

          And I’m didn’t say that this discussion can’t turn into something I hadn’t intended. I would just rather it not. This post was about interning and the process of getting an internship; in general, I would like it to stay on topic if possible. But I’m not here to censor you (See rule #5: https://andrewferguson.net/colophon/about-afdn/)

          1. Yes, I like having money too. But I like freedom a lot more than money. The legal mechanism in question is not a payment requirement when all things are equal. It’s a law which forbids a certain kind of exchange of value. There’s no ceteris paribus involved: in many fields, one either takes a job for no pay while you’re in school, or don’t get any real-world experience. Since many people value the experience (and higher salary command later), they choose to work for free. The voluntary-labor ban keeps people who might otherwise be able to move up in an industry from getting their feet wet.

            I didn’t bring up minimum wage requirements, but since you did, I’ll comment. Minimum wage laws do the exact same thing as the free-work ban by keeping people who don’t have the resume to start at a high enough wage bracket (usually unskilled laborers) from entering the job market at all. This allows unions to keep a strangle-hold on the availability of labor, among other things.

            I’m not exactly sure why you don’t want to have this conversation here. I think it’s an interesting discussion of something that’s dirctly related to something you posted, namely, the article. While your post started out on internships, it ended on how many are unpaid (in direct violation of federal labor laws). As such, I think it’s reasonable to have this conversation on this post.

  3. A note on “spell-check” and “spell-check again”: “Spell-check” and then “Get your friends and family to spell-check.”

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