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Things to Consider Before the Internship

Credit vs. Non-Credit Internships

Most UWM programs of study offer an internship for academic credit.  In an academic internship, your internship counts as a course.  You work at your internship site for the semester and register for a course for one to six credits depending on your program’s course credit offerings.  For internships for academic credit, majors will have you work with an internship coordinator or advisor.  Some majors have you complete actual coursework—journaling, academic papers—as well.  Here’s a list of contacts at various departments within UWM who work with students to arrange internships for credit.  These contacts can also be helpful to students trying to locate an internship.

Note: Many departments have various requirements or pre-requisites to meet
before they will allow a student to enroll in an internship for credit.  Be sure to check with your department’s internship coordinator before you enroll in an internship class.

Also, some employers require you to take academic credit for your internship.  Be sure to watch for this on all internship postings.

You do not receive academic credit for non-credit internships. Non-credit internships do not require enrolling in an internship class or paying for academic credit.

Deciding What Kind of Internship Experience You Want

One way to decide what kind of internship you want is through informational interviewing & networking. This is quite possibly the most influential way to learn about various careers and internships.  In an informational interview, you usually talk in person or by phone with a person who is pursuing a career in your targeted career/job area.

Informational interviews are not job interviews.  You can, however, ask about how to locate and pursue employment opportunities or increase your marketability.

            Benefits of informational interviews:

  • Learn about the day-to-day aspects of careers, occupational fields, and work environments.
  • Learn how to make career decisions and get feedback from others about your skills and careers they see as a fit for you.  Learn to describe what you seek from a career.  (This level of informational interviewing is less formal and more easily done with friends/family.)
  • Identify additional contacts.  You can achieve good results by asking, "Who else would you recommend I speak with to learn more?" or "Do you know anyone in ___ career that might be willing to talk to me?"
  • Maintain career knowledge and stay competitive in professional circles.

Informational interviewing and networking is a professional skill that should be used throughout your career both formally and informally.  Successful professionals learn about new opportunities using these skills.

Do a Skills Assessment

Another way to decide what kind of internship you want is through a skills assessment. Take a look at various internships or jobs you may be interested in.  A good resource is www.careeronestop.org.  Go to “browse occupations” and type in any skill, industry or job title to find out more of the basic knowledge, skills and abilities needed to do that job.

Are there any skills that you don’t have, but need to make yourself more marketable after college?  These may be skills to look to gain during an internship.  Remember, an internship will teach you the real world work skills that you do not get from your academic coursework.  It’s okay to not know how to do everything in your job of choice.

Use this skills assessment to get you started.

Writing or Updating Your Resume & Cover Letter

After you decide what kind of internship you will be applying for, update your resume and cover letter.  Your resume and cover letter are one of the first pieces a potential employer will see and use to make their decision on interviewing you for that coveted internship.  A resume and cover letter can also be helpful for informational interviewing purposes.

Check out the Career Development Center’s resume and cover letter writing guides for assistance.  

On your resume, be sure to include experience from classes, group or individual projects, extra-curricular activities and other paid work experience.  These experiences can count as related experience and can help you with your internship and later career! 

Have your resume and cover letter critiqued during UWM’s Express Lane Hours.

Preparing for the Interview

Now, freshen up your interviewing skills and prepare appropriately for interviews.  Check out this Employment Interview Packet for information on preparing for the interview.

 Key things to keep in mind:

  • Know your strengths.
  • Know what you want to gain from the target internship.
  • Research the company for which you are interviewing.
    • Look for an overview of the company. You can find this on their website normally under the “About Us” section.
    • Look at the organization’s recent achievements.  You can usually find this by looking in the company’s “Media Room,” “News,” or even “Press Releases” sections online.  Follow this company on LinkedIn.
    • Gather information about workplace culture.  Some organizations have this listed under their “Careers” section online.
    • Perform a Google search of the company to find other news.
  • Be ready to talk about a few key experiences that show you are a good candidate for the internship.
    • A helpful strategy is using the S.T.A.R. (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or P.A.R. (Problem, Action, Result) method.  For more information, look at Appendix C in the Employment Interview Packet
  • Make an appointment with a Career Advisor at the Career Development Center for a mock interview (a practice interview).  Practice makes a BIG difference.

How Can I Afford an Internship?

This can be especially challenging when the internship is unpaid.  If you are taking the internship for college credit, you may be eligible for financial aid.  Other sources include:

  • spending your savings;
  • finding an internship that will let you live at home and minimize expenses;
  • scholarships;
  • fellowships;
  • loans;
  • balancing your internship with a part-time job;
  • obtaining a grant, either through an outside organization or through financial aid.

Avoid the Bad Internship

Before you accept an internship, evaluate whether the company, position, and even your supervisor is right for you.  Some questions you can ask the potential internship site:

  • Is there orientation or training prior to beginning the position?
  • What are some tasks and projects to expect during the position?
  • What skills or qualifications could I expect to gain as part of this internship?
  • Is the position paid, unpaid, or for college credit?
  • What is the expected duration of the internship?
  • How many hours per week are required?
  • Is it acceptable to adjust hours or take time off during college exams?
  • Who supervises this position?  Are there regular meetings with this supervisor?
  • How does this position interact with other employees or departments?
  • Can I participate in department meetings?
  • Is there a written description for this position?
  • Why does this organization hire interns?
  • Have you had interns before?  What has their experience been like and what have they gone on to do?

o   If this is a brand new internship, take a look at Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program for guidance.  Feel free to share with the employer for development of an internship.

If you find the answers to these questions vague or unsatisfying, see if the organization can put you in touch with past interns so you can learn more.  Google the organization and the word “intern” or “internship” to see if you can gather more information. 

If you sense that minimal structure and supervision will be provided, consider your optimal learning environments.  Can you be independent and self-motivated?   Will you be frustrated if you are not regularly assigned work and “left alone”?  Depending on your own work traits, the internship may be rewarding even if you will have to work harder to develop relationships and do satisfying work. 

If you get the sense that you will just be getting coffee and filing, however, don’t take it!  You’re investing a lot of your time into this experience.  It’s important you have the opportunities to grow professionally.