An internship is a period of work experience offered by an organization for a limited period of time. Once confined to medical graduates, the term is now used for a wide range of placements within businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies. They are typically undertaken by students and graduates looking to gain relevant skills and experience in a particular field. Employers benefit from these placements because they often recruit employees from their best interns, who have known capabilities, thus saving time and money in the long run. Internships are usually arranged by third-party organizations which recruit interns on behalf of industry groups. Rules vary from country to country about when interns should be regarded as employees. The system can be open to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.
Internships for professional careers are similar in some ways, but not as rigorous as apprenticeships for professions, trade, and vocational jobs. The lack of standardization and oversight leaves the term "internship" open to broad interpretation. Interns may be high school students, college and university students, or post-graduate adults. These positions may be paid or unpaid and are temporary.
Typically, an internship consists of an exchange of services for experience between the intern and the organization. Internships are used to determine if the intern still has an interest in that field after the real-life experience. In addition, an internship can be used to create a professional network that can assist with letters of recommendation or lead to future employment opportunities. The benefit of bringing an intern into full-time employment is that they are already familiar with the company, their position, and they typically need little to no training. Internships provide current college students the ability to participate in a field of their choice to receive hands on learning about a particular future career, preparing them for full-time work following graduation.
Internships exist in a wide variety of industries and settings. An internship can be paid, unpaid, or partially paid (in the form of a stipend). Internships may be part-time or full-time and are usually flexible with students' schedules. A typical internship lasts between one and four months, but can be shorter or longer, depending on the organization involved. The act of job shadowing may also constitute interning.
Another type of internship growing in popularity is the virtual internship, in which the intern works remotely, and is not physically present at the job location. It provides the capacity to gain job experience without the conventional requirement of being physically present in an office. The internship is conducted via virtual means, such as phone, email, and web communication. Virtual interns generally have the opportunity to work at their own pace.
Companies in search of interns often find and place students in mostly unpaid internships, for a fee. These companies charge students to assist with research, promising to refund the fee if no internship is found. The programs vary and aim to provide internship placements at reputable companies. Some companies may also provide controlled housing in a new city, mentorship, support, networking, weekend activities or academic credit.
Some companies specifically fund scholarships and grants for low-income applicants. Critics of internships criticize the practice of requiring certain college credits to be obtained only through unpaid internships. Depending on the cost of the school, this is often seen as an unethical practice, as it requires students to exchange paid-for and often limited tuition credits to work an uncompensated job. Paying for academic credits is a way to ensure students complete the duration of the internship, since they can be held accountable by their academic institution. For example, a student may be awarded academic credit only after their university receives a positive review from the intern's supervisor at the sponsoring organization.