How Internships Work

Do We Really Need Internships?
College admissions consultant Irena Smiths says internships are very useful for students in STEM fields where they can get hands-on experience. Vladimir Smirnov/TASS via Getty Images

"Internships are not a must for all students," Irena Smith, Ph.D., a college admissions consultant in Palo Alto, California, says via email. "They tend to be most useful for students interested in research-based STEM fields (biology, chemistry, neuroscience, biotechnology, data analysis, artificial intelligence) as well as fields in the humanities and social sciences (psychology, history, political science, economics)." She says internships in these fields can be good ways to get hands-on experience, most frequently in a university, laboratory or research library environment.

That said, many people in non-STEM fields have still seen success as a direct result of their internships. Take Emilia Varshavsky Shapiro, for example. She spun a Silicon Valley college internship into a long-term stint at Yahoo. "Getting the internship, and then the full-time job, came down to relationships," the 31-year-old says. "My uncle was an engineer at Yahoo and passed along my resume for the summer internship as a technical writing intern."

But Smith sees the value in internships across other industries, too, including marketing, law, urban planning and architecture, and says students can also gain valuable experience through volunteering, coaching or summer jobs, particularly if they don't know what their career path yet.

But what about non-students and more mature job-seekers? Should the Chandler Bings of the world consider seeking out internship opportunities or are those solely reserved for high school and college-aged kids (as evidenced by Chandler's fellow interns referring to him as "sir")?

Smith says post-grads can definitely benefit from internships, especially if they're training in competitive fields. "Internships can be a good way to get a foot through the door," she says. "Once you've made yourself indispensable in your (initially minor) position and become familiar with the workings of the company in which you're interning, a job offer may follow."

That's what happened for Shapiro at Yahoo. Although she did land the internship during her college years, the opportunity paved the way for a long-term gig. She proved herself by doing a good job during her internship but also worked hard to make connections while there, including someone who became the manager of her internship team. "I reached out to [her former internship manager] just before graduation and he gave me a three-month contract that three weeks later turned into a full-time offer," Shapiro says. "I ended up working at Yahoo for about six years."

Newman's own experience was similar: During college, she interned on the assignment desk for one local news station and then hopped to another station where she worked as a research intern. "I worked very hard and proved myself to my supervisor at the time and I was offered her job [when] she became a full-time producer," Newman says. "If it hadn't been for that internship, I may have had a much harder time getting a job in a large market such as San Francisco."