Recruiting, Talent

Changing Nature of Internships

For many driven individuals, the right internship can be a key stepping stone that connects a solid educational background with a lucrative career path. Internships offer the opportunity to translate learning into practical experience, with little to no financial risk or long-term commitment from the employer, which gets cheap or even free labor out of the bargain.


But students’ turning an unpaid internship into a lucrative career post-graduation may be a fading tradition, according to some recent research.

A Shifting Landscape for Today’s Interns

Researchers at LiveCareer asked 1,000 Americans about their internship experiences to see if internships are worth the effort and generally improve someone’s chances of getting hired in the future.

Here is what they found out:

  • Unpaid internships are a thing of the past. Seventy-seven percent of interns report they completed a paid internship vs. an unpaid one.
  • Most young adults undertake one (38%) or two (47%) internships. Completing two or more internships positively impacts people’s income at a later career stage.
  • As many as 93% of interns admitted they had to perform menial tasks at some point during their internship.
  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents said the company didn’t have a structured intern policy and made up tasks as the internship unfolded.
  • That said, nearly 78% of interns felt they gained useful professional experience that later elevated their employability chances.

There are several key insights for employers in these data.

Important Takeaways for Employers with Interns

This research suggests that while interns generally feel they gained valuable experience in their internships, there is vast room for improvement. Many employers treat interns as a source of cheap labor for menial work. This isn’t necessarily part of some intentional scheme but rather is a result of poor planning.

While many interns are thrilled to simply have the opportunity, the highest achievers are likely to have multiple internships, and their experiences are certain to have an impact on where they decide to start their careers.

Professional internships have been popular for years because they offer benefits to both interns and the companies sponsoring the internships. Although they provide great experience and résumé fodder for young workers, internships also give employers an inside track with the bright minds of the future. It’s essential that employers not squander these opportunities by failing to adequately design and plan their internship programs.

What changes might you make to your internship program to improve these experiences for your interns and your organization?

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