An internship provides practical experience related to your professional field of interest, and an opportunity to develop academic knowledge, career skills, and new competencies within the ‘world of work’. Internships can be paid, unpaid, supervised, unsupervised, for or not for academic credit.
Since standardized internship guidelines do not exist for employers, educators, or students, NACE recommends the following definition to describe an internship (Position Statement: U.S. Internships, 2011):
An internship is a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.
To determine if an internship opportunity meets the defined standards set forth by NACE, the following criteria must be met ():
- The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
- The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
- The experience has defined beginning and end, and a job description with desired qualifications.
- There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the students’ academic coursework.
- There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of experience.
- There is routine feedback by the experience supervisor.
- There are resources, equipment, and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.
An unpaid internship is an opportunity to gain professional experience within an industry of interest. The United States Department of Labor has developed six criteria set forth under the Fair Labor Standards Act to measure if an intern is entitled to minimum wage. The criteria must be applied to determine employee status (Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 2010):
- 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;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- 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;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
According to the Department of Labor, all six objectives must be met for the internship to be unpaid. The experience should focus on educational training and holistic development of the intern.
The Office of Career Education supports the following principles, stated in the Reasonable Offer Deadlines Guidelines Position Paper (2012) published by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
- If offers are extended early in the campus recruiting cycle, the Committee recommends that employers (1) provide students a minimum of three weeks to decide and not require decisions earlier than six months prior to the candidate’s graduation; and (2) provide students the opportunity to request deadline extensions to allow a reasonable period for investigation of other recruiting opportunities for comparison. However, we recognize that the definitions of “sufficient time” and “reasonable period” will vary, given industry standards, a student’s prior experience with the employer, offer timing, and proximity to the graduation date / start time.
- Providing sufficient time for students to evaluate the employment opportunities offered to them allows them to make the wisest decisions for all concerned, creating a positive experience for candidates and employers, and ultimately reducing renege and attrition rates.
- We expect employers to honor all offers made to students and that no conditions will be placed on the offer (e.g., “You have by the end of the day to make a decision”, “We have 10 offers outstanding for 8 openings and will accept the first 8 students who get back to us,” etc.). No incentives may be offered to induce students to accept offers early (e.g., “We will provide a $5,000 bonus if you sign today,” etc.).
- An official offer from an employer should be in written format and contain the position title, salary, start date, and work location.