The University of Tennessee, KnoxvilleThe Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy

Student Internship FAQ

What is an internship?

An internship is a temporary supervised work experience designed to help you learn more about the field or industry and gain an introduction into skills utilized in this field. To make the most of your internship, you’ll want to pick something that is in a field directly related to your major or career path. Internships may span 10-weeks in the summer or for the entirety of a semester.

Why take time to intern?

Work experience is a great way to set yourself apart from other college grads applying for jobs in your field. The knowledge and skills gained from your college courses is great; however, pairing this with work experience in a relevant field in the form of an internship can make you a very attractive job applicant. The connections made during your internship may even yield opportunities for full-time employment upon graduation. Internships allow you to “test-drive” your chosen career and make sure it will excite and fulfill you in the future. It may give you insight into new tracks within your field, or even allow you to realize this career isn’t for you. Either way, this experience can be invaluable to your future.

How do I find out about internship or summer job opportunities?

Hundreds of resources exist for finding internships, and it’s often difficult to sift through so much information. Here are a few tips we find helpful:

  1. Use Hire-A-Vol.
    1. If you’re not familiar, this is the database of jobs and internships posted by UT’s Career Services. Most of what is here is within the state of Tennessee, so if you’re looking to save some cash while still getting great work experience, staying local is a great option.
  2. Apply for a Congressional or State Legislative Internship
    1. The Baker Center and the Political Science department partner to recruit for these programs that can place students in a semester-long internship in Nashville or a summer experience on Capitol Hill. These are great opportunities as they can easily count for course credit, and the connections you can make at the state and national level will be crucial for your future career.
  3. Check idealist.org
    1. This website is dedicated to listing jobs and internships in non-profit industries. Their listings are expansive and you can even search for those elusive paid internships.
  4. Start early!
    1. The early bird gets the…internship? If you’re looking to work at the State Department for the summer, you’ll need to begin that process in August. Most summer opportunities don’t require you to begin the process quite that early, but narrowing down your options early gives you a head start on the competition. Often, organizations require you to submit recommendations from professors, and its polite to make this request two weeks in advance.
  5. Explore all your options
    1. Speaking of professors, they are a great source of information about internships. If they’re well established in their fields, they know quite a few academics and other professionals in their area and may be able to connect you to a great opportunity.

 

 What Can I Expect to Earn as an Intern?

Okay, good news and bad news here. First the bad: many internships in the public or non-profit sector are unpaid. If you happen to find one that is paid—fantastic! But often, organizations cannot or will not monetarily support temporary workers. This can be difficult for students who require employment during the school-year or summer to finance their education. It can become even more challenging when the internship requires you to temporarily relocate, like a summer internship in Washington, D.C. would.

Now for the good news: help is available!

  1. Apply for scholarships
    1. You might have thought sites like Fastweb were only for high school seniors, but sites this host many scholarships that seek to fund students in unpaid internships. Write those essays! Every little bit helps.
  2. Ask your department for funding
    1. We know academic departments are strapped for cash, but they may be able to give you funding in exchange for writing something about your experience or engaging in research while you’re there.
  3. Undergraduate Research Internships
    1. Speaking of research, you can apply for the Chancellor’s Summer Research Internship Grant if you’re planning to conduct research as part of your internship. They prefer you being on campus/in Tennessee for these, but several student have had success in funding out of state internships.
    2. The Chancellor’s Honors Program also has grant funding available for research that you could use during an internship while conducting research.
  4. Ask the Baker Center!
    1. As a Baker Scholar, you are eligible to apply for internship support funding.
  5. Consider living in campus housing.
    1. Many popular internship destinations (D.C., NYC, others) host student interns in their college dorms. While the dorms might not seem like the best value during the year, they often lower their rates for the summer and some organizations even negotiate deals for additional discounts. This can be a great option because most of them come furnished and include utilities in the upfront fee.

 

Can I get academic credit for my internship?

Often, the answer is yes, but you need to organize this before you begin the internship. Once you secure your internship offer, meet with your advisor to see what your department’s rules are on this. Many times they’ll want you to write some type of paper about your experience, so make sure to document what you’re doing throughout the internship.

 

How can I make the most out of my internship?

Sure, we’ve established that completing an internship looks great on your resume. But future employers will want to know that you actually learned valuable skills as well. Organizations all structure their internships differently; some involve shadowing full-time employees, some involve actually working on projects with a supervisor, and some allow you to become close friends with the copier and coffee machine. Regardless of what your day-to-day duties might be, seek out experiences and connections with full-time staff members. Often, employers will allow you to set up meetings with staff to learn about their job responsibilities. These are a great way to learn more about the organization as well as make a good impression on someone who might want to hire you in the future. Keep that in mind: even making copies with enthusiasm signals to employers that you’re invested and can be trusted with more responsibility. If you feel your skills are being used effectively, you can say so, but tread carefully and tactfully; you don’t want to be perceived as the pushy intern. If you find yourself in this situation, ask you supervisor if they need any help researching for their current project or if you can provide an extra set of eyes on an article for the website. Offering additional skills is much more appealing than saying you’re bored.

Additionally, make the most out of the city you’re in. If you’re an out of towner, connect with other interns and explore your new surroundings. Asking full-time employees for restaurant suggestions or fun weekend activities is a great conversation starter. Just make sure that this exploration doesn’t impact your ability to make it to the office on time in the morning.

 

How do I communicate my experiences to potential employers?

As UT’s Career Services will tell you, being able to communicate what you learned in an internship is almost as important as the internship itself. Focus on the big picture of what you did, rather than the day-to-day activities. Think about how your worked contributed to the mission of the organization. Employers understand that work of all kinds contributes to the larger focus of the organization. If you need help with this, contact Career Services and set up a mock interview.

Most importantly, don’t forget to consider your internship site as a possible future employer if you enjoyed your experience. Even if your career plans don’t include returning to this organization, consider asking your supervisor for a recommendation if you worked well together. A reference from a professional in your field is very appealing to future employers, and shows you can thrive in a real-world setting.