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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Williams

The definitive guide to Internships

Whether you're leaving school or university, beginning a new internship opportunity is an exciting time.

It's really normal that when you're about to begin a new internship (especially if it’s your first one) it can feel overwhelming or even scary. When you start anything new, you don’t always know what to expect, so we want to give some tips before you start your internship to set you up for success and help you make the most of this great opportunity.

Internships may last a term, a summer or even a few weeks; a short time compared to your future career. But this relatively short period is an important one, and if you approach it correctly, you can get a lot from it.

So, what is an internship? How do you decide if an internship is for you? And how do you successfully apply to, interview for, and complete an internship program? In this guide, we detail everything about internships from start to finish, from the definition of an internship to internship program applications to getting the most from your time once hired.

ID: Older white male stands next to young white male and East Asian female. They are all laughing around a computer screen in a contemporary office.

ID: Older white male stands next to a young white male and an East Asian female. They are all laughing around a computer screen in a contemporary office.

1. What is an Internship?

An internship is a limited-time work program offered by an organisation to an individual, often a student or recent graduate, looking to build experience or skills in a particular field. A person accepted into an internship program is called an intern.

What is the purpose of an internship?

Internships are a great way to gain experience and learn more about a particular field.

How long do internships last?

Internships can last from a couple of days or weeks to several months. Some companies provide six-month or year-long internships to give interns a comprehensive learning experience, as well as to reduce the burden of constantly locating new intern replacements.

Others might offer prospective candidates a week or month-long internship to provide a simple overview of the business and determine if the intern and the company are a fit for possibly moving forward together.

What does an intern do?

An intern does just about everything. From shadowing employees to being given research and reporting assignments, interning duties are as varied as they get.

ID: Three young women, one White, one Black and one Latina hold pieces of paper and lean up against a bank of desks. All are smiling at the camera.

ID: Three young women, one White, one Black, and one Latina, hold pieces of paper and lean against a bank of desks. All are smiling at the camera.

2. Why do an Internship?

So, now you know what an internship is, but why should you do an internship? What are the benefits of an internship program?

Are Internships important?

Internships are a really valuable tool for helping you get a job, and they are also a great learning experience.

Working as an intern allows you to learn valuable technical, transferable and human skills. You’ll learn how to take direction from a manager, how to use basic universal tools, how to communicate with coworkers, how to pace your workday, and much more.

You’ll also have the opportunity to connect professionally with your mentor, manager, and fellow interns. These connections can be professional friendships that could even lead to job opportunities down the road.

One of the best things about an internship is that you get to experience the career you want and see if you enjoy it as much as you thought you would. If you don’t love the company or industry you try out, that’s okay. Take it as an opportunity to reflect on what you like and don’t like about it.

Plus, if you find out you don’t like your chosen field as much as you thought you would, you can adjust your goals. If your internship gives you second thoughts, talk to your friends, mentors and teachers. You might be able to pivot your focus without completely changing your course of direction. It’s better to have these conversations and develop a plan now instead of three to five years into your career.

Aside from the internship itself, the process of finding and applying for it is a valuable experience on its own. It’s a great practice run for how to find the right job for you.

ID: Young white male sits at desk looking at computer screen whilst older white male in glassed explains what's on their screens.

ID: Young white male sits at a desk looking at a computer screen whilst an older white male in glasses explains what's on their screens.

3. Types of Internships

From paid and unpaid internships to for-credit internships and service-learning programs, there are many types of internships to consider. Here are some of the most common.

Paid Internship – Because an internship is a job, essentially, compensation is usually expected and provided in the form of a paid internship. However, unpaid internships are pretty common, as well. So, if you need money to survive, don't accept internships that don't pay you. There are plenty out there that will.

Unpaid Internship - These are usually shorter than Paid Internships and can feel more like work experience than a fully fleshed-out career discovery opportunity. They are still points on your career history, so if you've been struggling to get your foot in the door with other opportunities, they can be a great stepping stone to gaining more experience in your desired career path.

Student Internship – Most internships are student internships, which are internship programs designed for and given to university students. However, there are also internships for career changers or those who recently graduated, as well, as well as those looking to sample careers after leaving college. Increasingly, there are also internship opportunities focused on underrepresented communities.

Virtual Internship – A virtual internship, sometimes called a remote internship or an online internship, is an internship program which does not require physical presence to participate. A virtual internship may be perfect for jobs where all work is completed online, such as in IT or digital marketing jobs.

ID: Young white female sits at desk looking at computer screen whilst young white male explains what's on their screens.

ID: Young white female sits at a desk looking at a computer screen whilst a young white male explains what's on their screens.

4. Top 15 Internship fields (Industries)

Here are a few of the most common internship fields to choose from:

  • Arts Internships – fine arts, performing arts, internships at museums, etc.

  • Business Internships – focuses more on the operations side of things, such as supply chain, logistics, or administration.

  • Business Management Internships – focuses primarily on the leadership side of a corporation.

  • Design Internships – interior design, architecture, graphic design, etc.

  • Engineering Internships – civil engineering, industrial engineering, etc.

  • Fashion Internships – photoshoots, production management, etc.

  • Finance Internships – accounting, corporate tax, etc.

  • HR Internships – human resource analyst, researcher, generalist, manager.

  • IT Internships – web development, cybersecurity, mobile app dev, etc.

  • Law Internships – paralegal, environmental law, international law, etc.

  • Marketing Internships – digital marketing, advertising, etc.

  • Medical Internships – psychiatry, clinical research, etc.

  • Nonprofit Internships – NGO, human rights, etc.

  • Civil Service Internships – legislative aide, White House internship, etc.

  • Sales Internships – commercial sales, consumer sales, market intelligence, etc.

ID: Young Middle Eastern female is holding brightly coloured folders, looking at the screen with her hand clenched in fist. She is smiling and gesturing a feeling of success.

ID: Young Middle Eastern female is holding brightly coloured folders, looking at the screen with her hand clenched in a fist. She is smiling and gesturing a feeling of success.

5. How to find Internship programs & Intern jobs

Most internships can be found on standard job search websites, including Glassdoor, Monster, Indeed, and Google Jobs. But these don't help you focus on the best ones for you and that you stand the best chance of being accepted for.

That's why, shamelessly, we and the people we help find work opportunities think Clu is the best place to go to discover the right opportunities for you, of course!

At Clu, we don’t just give you the tools to get great at articulating what makes you unique and stand out as a candidate. We also have a fully stocked internships board with loads of open intern programs just waiting for your application.

ID: Young black female leans forward next to an older white woman and man looking at a white board. The older white male explains what's on the whiteboard.

ID: Young black female leans forward next to an older white woman and man looking at a whiteboard. The older white male explains what's on the whiteboard.

6. How to find Internships through Clu

Here’s how easy it is to use Clu to find your dream internship program:

Step 1 – Create your skills-based profile in Clu 🌐

To browse opportunities in Clu, first, you'll need to create your profile. We know this isn't like most job boards, but it is different for a really important reason.

Currently, anyone can apply for any opportunity. And whilst that isn't necessarily a bad thing on paper, we have heard stories of people wasting hours of time applying for opportunities that are completely misaligned with their skill sets, so of course, they remain unsuccessful.

To make sure you only ever apply for the opportunities and jobs you stand the best chance of landing, we get to know you first and then present you with the best opportunities for you.

Once you create an account, you’ll get job update notifications, see your matches, and access the amazing Clu community content and events.

Step 2 – Browse your matches 🔍

This one is super simple. Click 'view my matches' and see the best opportunities for you. If you like what you see, click the 👍 button. If you don't like an opportunity, click the 👎 button. Clu's algorithm will take this feedback on board and constantly improve what you're presented with, saving you hours of time and effort.

Oh, and if you're unsure but think you like the look of an opportunity, you can click the ❤️‍ icon to pin it to your home page to view it again quickly later.

Step 3 - Follow companies 🏢

We've spent ages making Clu more clever than other job boards. We don't just recommend opportunities for you to apply for, we also recommend companies to express interest in proactively. This is based on your skills and what you care about most, we just also know if they've recently hired for or are regularly looking for your skills.

If you like the look of a company in your recommendations, give them a follow, and you'll be added to their 🔥 talent pool. Then, if they like the look of your profile, they will reach out to you directly.

Step 4 – Apply! ✏️

If you see an opportunity that interests you, click on it, and you’ll either be taken to Clu's application page, or you’ll be taken to the official job application page with further instructions. How simple is that!

ID: Young black male sits at desk looking at camera smiling.

ID: Young black male sits at a desk, looking at the camera and smiling.

7. Writing an Internship CV & cover letter

When you apply for an internship, you’ll need to ensure your CV is up to date, and you’ll usually require an internship cover letter. Make sure to follow the instructions in the opportunity listing to see how they want you to submit your intern application.

  • An internship CV details your past work experience, the things you're best at and the things you want to get from an opportunity.

  • A cover letter for internships illustrates to the hiring manager your plans and goals for your career, how you think their organisation can help you realise your plans, and why you’re the best candidate for the opportunity.


You may have learned how to write a CV previously, but does an internship require a different CV than a regular job? Not at all!

Internships are jobs, so an internship CV is the same as a regular job CV. The only difference in your case may be that your work history will be pretty empty (if not completely so).

As a prospective intern, interviewers will usually look at your educational background before your work history. But going to a great school, getting top grades and attending a fancy university only showcases your academic attainment - not your holistic talent. So if you have loads of life experience and human or transferable skills, make sure you create a skills profile front and centre and write a short sentence about how you developed the skill you mention and why you think it's important for the type of job you're applying for.

Cover Letters

Writing a cover letter for an internship may be optional in some cases, but I strongly recommend that you include one anyway. The only time you should omit an internship cover letter is when the job description specifically says not to include one. Use your cover letter to explain why you have the most important skills to succeed in this internship.

Don’t use an internship cover letter to repeat items you’ve already listed in your CV. Instead, use your cover letter to explain some CV bullet points in more detail or inform them of an advantage you have that you couldn’t easily include in the rigid structure of a CV.

Finally, address the cover letter to one specific person because “to whom it may concern” can feel impersonal and a bit cookie-cutter. You can visit the company’s website or LinkedIn profile page to try and locate the hiring manager or recruiter managing the process and address your letter to them. But what other documents should you prepare?

Clu Web Profile

Your web profile is not a physical document that you present alongside your CV, but rather it is presented alongside your application in Clu.

See, here’s the thing— In this day and age, employers are looking for job seekers who go the extra mile and make more effort to demonstrate who they are holistic as a candidate and a person.

This is why we've created the Clu profile builder, so that you can add all the need-to-know info Employers want to know, to your profile, for you to add and edit in one centralised place.

In your Clu profile, you can add your educational accomplishments, work experience, hobbies, interests and other achievements and, most importantly, your complete skills profile. The Clu Profile Builder makes pulling together this information very simple and helps you showcase your achievements beyond just grades.

That’s more than any paper CV, or cover letter could ever do!

ID: Young South Asian male sits on desk with Tablet device looking at camera smiling whilst a diverse group of colleagues are enjoying team building activities behind him.

ID: Young South Asian male sits at a desk with a Tablet device, looking at the camera, smiling whilst a diverse group of colleagues are enjoying teambuilding activities behind him.

8. Internship essays and your professional portfolio

Depending on the internship offer you’re considering and the industry you’re looking to base your internship in, you may need more than an intern CV, cover letter, and web profile.

Internship essay 📝

Sometimes, a company may ask you to write a “why do I want this internship” essay.

If this is so, you’ll need to write a paper that’s essentially a list of why you are the perfect intern candidate to be hired, though it shouldn’t be formatted like a list, of course.

Use sub-headings to highlight your most important points, goals and skills, as many recruiters will skim rather than read. You want them to see the most powerful points first!

Make sure you mention all your skills—this includes technical skills like computer programming, Adobe Illustrator, Social Media Marketing etc. and transferable and human skills (such as communication skills, relationship skills or teamwork.

Give them any relevant experience you may have, even if it didn’t come from a job or school. These could include design competitions, freelance work, or even volunteering in your community.

The working world is also becoming more aware that you learn important things outside of school and the workplace, including that you were captain of a sports team, run a small side hustle, or even have amassed a big social media following or played a key role in raising your siblings are all great and important skills - flag them.

Finally, follow all the guidelines! Check the internship job description to see what they require, such as minimum or maximum word count, topic choice, etc. and stick to it.

Internship portfolio 📁

One other important addendum to your internship application may be a professional portfolio.

While a portfolio for an internship is only useful in some industries, it’s a crucial inclusion when relevant.

A portfolio is a compilation of your best work, showcasing your knowledge of modern procedures, relevant job skills, and how capable you are. A professional portfolio is particularly useful for project-style work, such as graphic design, web development, or writing.

In these cases, create a website or page that lists the projects you’ve undertaken in the past, the tools and skills you used, and the results of your efforts. If you can't afford to buy and build a website, great free tools to do this are Medium, posting articles showcasing your work on LinkedIn or even creating a Pinterest or Instagram page for it.

ID: Young East Asian female in black suit sits at desk explaining a printed report to a young East Asian male.

ID: Young East Asian female in a black suit sits at a desk explaining a printed report to a young East Asian male.

9. Sending an Internship application

After you’ve pulled your documents together, proofread them to be sure they’re error-free. Using free tools like Grammarly can be really helpful if you're not confident with your spelling and grammar.

Also, get a friend, family member, or someone from your school or university to give it a review for you as well, if you can. Typos aren't always a deal breaker, but some Employers take them much more seriously than others. And if it's between you and one other candidate and they have no mistakes in their documents, that lack of checking might be why you don't get moved forward in the process.

When you are finally confident with your documents, it’s time to apply. This may be as simple as clicking a few buttons in Clu, but it may also be that you must write an email to request the job officially.

How to write an email for an Internship

As in your internship cover letter, the best advice we can give is to address who you're sending the email to by name. In more progressive companies, you’ll be fine with addressing a hiring manager or recruiter by their first name. However, at more traditional institutions, such as a venerable law firm or an investment bank, the honorific and last name are probably best. But do be careful not to assume someone's gender when doing this, and you don't address a Dr, Cllr or even a Sir or Lord by a less respectful title. Check public records and notices to ensure you call the person you're messaging by their correct title.

Sometimes, your internship email could be the same as your cover letter, so you can simply copy and paste its contents into the email body to send. However, if the internship job description says to attach a CV and a cover letter, do that and just write a few simple sentences to cover your interest and what you're sending them—they want an intern who knows how to follow instructions!

Letter of Recommendation for an Internship

Finally, you may also be asked to include a reference letter with your internship application.

A letter of recommendation, or a letter of reference, is a document from someone else giving their recommendation for you for the job.

The most impactful recommendation letters come from professors, people of notable public standing, former colleagues, and past employers. Don’t submit any recommendation letters from parents or friends!

Follow up after applying for an Internship

Don’t yet have a reply? Don’t worry. Dozens of applicants, if not hundreds, apply to every job opening, so it could just be that they need more time. Most places will eventually respond to you—it is the professional thing to do, after all.

If you want to take the initiative, wait at least a week before following up after sending a CV. According to one recent study of hiring managers’ preferences, 43% say to wait for one to less than two weeks before following up, while another 30% say to wait between two to less than three weeks.

So, about three-quarters of all hiring managers say you should follow up after one week and no later than three weeks from the date you send your internship application. Also, do so by either email or phone. From the same study, 46% prefer an email, while 39% prefer a phone call. The few outliers preferred in-person, social media or text message follow-ups.

ID: Young woman in white checked shirt sits at desk being interviewed by an older mixed race woman with short curly hair and an orange jumper.

ID: Young woman in a white checked shirt sits at a desk being interviewed by an older mixed-race woman with short curly hair and an orange jumper.

10. How to ace an Internship interview

Did all that work above pay off, and now you’ve gotten yourself an interview?

Congratulations!!! Now, let’s prepare for your important meeting.

Getting ready for the Internship interview

Here are a few things to do to strengthen your chances of interview success:

  • Reread the job description – Yeah, you already read it once, that’s how you found out about the job. However, there are pertinent details in there, likely, that you should know for the interview. When they ask you about how well you can perform the job, it’s good form not to need a reminder.

  • Research the company – Show them that you’re interested in more than just a paycheque or experience. Researching the company you might intern at will give you talking points for your interview, and it’ll give you bonus points with the interviewer.

  • Prepare questions for them – An interview is for them to assess how well you’d fit, but you should use it also to get to know more about them. Ask them questions to show interest in the company, its goals, the company culture, and what the interviewer likes about working there.

  • Practice! – Because that old adage about practice making perfect is so true.

Prepare for the most common Internship interview questions

The best interviews are a conversation where you get to know them and the organisation, and they get to know you to see if you’re the right fit for the company, the team, and the jobs you’ll be tasked with.

You’re going to have to answer a lot of internship interview questions, and the best thing to do is to practice your responses and make sure you always take your answers back to the skills you have and how you want to grow them with this opportunity.

Some of the most common internship interview questions to practice:

  • Why do you want this internship?

  • What do you hope to gain from this internship?

  • Why are you interested in this internship?

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Why should I hire you?

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

  • Tell me about your proudest accomplishments.

  • Give me an example of how you dealt with a difficult situation at work/school.

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are your weaknesses?

Have a friend or family member give you a mock interview to test and improve your ability to answer these questions easily, effectively, and without sounding like you memorised them!

Following up after an Internship Interview

After the interview, send your interviewer an email within 24 hours. Thank them for their time, tell them how great it was to meet them and even more interested you are in the internship opportunity. Perhaps ask one more question you forgot to mention at your interview.

If you haven’t heard back after a week or two, send one more follow-up email, just in case. At some larger companies, as well as small organisations short on staff, the process could take longer than usual.

If you were not granted the internship opportunity this time, don’t worry! It's not personal, even though it might feel like it at the time. Use the process you went through as a learning experience, and then try to get an internship elsewhere.

ID: Three young interns sit at computers on a desk and smile to camera. Two are female and wearing hijabs and suits and one is a young black male who is standing between them.

ID: Three young interns sit at computers on a desk and smile at the camera. Two are female and wearing hijabs and suits, and one is a young black male standing between them.

12. Accepting and rejecting Internship offers

Once you’ve interviewed for a few internship program positions, hopefully, the job offers will start flooding your inbox. Here’s how to deal with them:

How to Accept Internship Offer

To accept an internship offer, write back immediately with enthusiasm and gratitude, thanking them for the opportunity. If they have additional instructions, follow them to the letter. Finally, confirm you understand the terms of their offer by reiterating some of the main points in your letter, especially regarding hours, wages, and key dates.

How to Reject an Internship Offer

You applied to the internship, so why would you reject it? Though rare, there may be circumstances which require you to turn down an internship offer, particularly if you’ve accepted another offer.

In these cases, always send an email instead of ignoring them. It’s not only professional and common courtesy, but you don’t want to burn bridges as a career newbie!

Now, let’s end it with one of the best quotes for interns, college students, or just anyone:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go!

Dr Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

That’s our Internship Guide, and we hope it’s been helpful for you! Got any questions, feedback, or other internship topics you’d like us to cover? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!


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