Which Internships Pay Off?
Career Fit

Which Internships Pay Off?


It’s enough to bring some students to tears, literally. You can’t get a job without having had an internship, and it’s hard to land an internship unless you’ve had a previous…internship. What, you didn’t have an internship in the womb?

The internship market has changed drastically over the past decade. People in their 30’s and 40’s remember internships that involved stapling, mailing, running errands and other grunt work. Paid? Oh, no. It was for experience, or maybe college credit. And sometimes, students had to even pay the college for the privilege of working somewhere for free.

This has changed due to a slew of lawsuits from former interns—fight the good fight, millennials!—and the Labor Department cracking down on companies that violate minimum wage laws.


In order not to be a slave, basically, an intern can’t do the work done by other paid workers; the work must have academic or vocational training merit; and the employer should derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees. That pretty much rules out everything, because of course a company is gaining an advantage. Free labor.

If you look at the cases filed by interns, there are two main issues. Either they had performed the same work as paid workers around them, high-level stuff like coding, graphic design and audio engineering. Or, interns complained that they were doing work that wasn’t helping them learn anything at all, such as copying files or fetching coffee. Both types of work are violations.

Many colleges, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth, do not offer credit for internships, in an attempt to push companies to compensate their interns. And plenty of companies have become gun shy about hiring interns, or are plain old too cheap to pay them, so they have done away with their internship programs.

So should you still bother with trying to land an internship?


There’s the networking and the learning, of course, but there’s also good data showing other advantages.

First, you’re shaving time off your job hunt. As The Wall Street Journal reported, at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Engineering, nearly every student with two or more internships during their school years found jobs within six months of graduation last year. Of those with one internship, 84 percent found jobs, compared to 73 percent of all graduates from UIC’s engineering school.

Second, you’re able to find out if you even like the company. According to a yearly study of 264 companies done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employees who completed an internship program are more likely to still be with the company at the five-year mark, meaning an internship gives you a great chance to see if a business is the right fit for you.


Your best bet geographically is the Northeast, where 10 of the companies reporting to NACE reported they were increasing their intern hires in 2014. More of the employers in the Midwest planned to decrease their number.

Searching for an internship that pays you to relocate? I would have thought “Look in Hell, when it freezes over,” but shockingly, half the companies told the NACE that they provide relocation assistance.

To connect with an opportunity, be sure to attend career fairs and on-campus recruiting events, because that is where companies said they tend to invest the most of their recruiting budgets.

Obviously, your industry of choice is going to come into play here. LinkedIn did a great chart on which industries offer the most internships, and of those, which are the most likely to lead to a job offer. Here’s the scoop:

Industries just dripping with internships and subsequent job offers:

  • Accounting
  • Semiconductors
  • Aviation/aerospace
  • Investment banking
  • Design

Lots of internships! But we’re not going to hire you.

  • PR/communications
  • Museums
  • International affairs
  • Architecture
  • Entertainment

Slim pickings on internships, but once you get in, good chance of landing a job:

  • Cosmetics
  • Biotech
  • Computer software and IT
  • Construction
  • Management Consulting

And these industries, well, good luck!

  • Human resources/recruiting
  • Real estate
  • Leisure and tourism
  • Broadcast media
  • Hospitals/health care


Don’t panic! If you can’t land an internship, you can still make yourself a more attractive future job candidate. Seek out professors who might be looking for research assistants. Start a website or a blog. Write a book or research paper, or conduct your own research project. Launch your own damn business and become an entrepreneur. Travel. Become fluent in a business-useful language, like Spanish, Chinese or Portuguese.

I once hired an intern for a paid Society of Professional Journalists internship largely because he had his own website for poultry hobbyists. It made him stand out in a huge sea of applicants. Chickens? The joy of raising chickens? It sure caught my attention, as did his online skills and self-starter attitude.

My point is, work on you, and being the best you possible. Chickens are entirely optional.