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What Is an Internship and How to Get One


Are you interested in securing an internship in 2024? Look no further than this guide to getting an internship. Whether you’re a post secondary student yourself or you’re a parent who wants to help their child choose a career, keep reading to learn all there is to know about internships in Canada.

What is an internship?

Choosing an internship can be just as important as choosing the right post secondary program. To make sure you choose one that is right for you, you’ll need an understanding of internships and how they work in Canada.

Internships are short term employment opportunities or programs that allow people to gain hands-on, practical experience with a certain occupation. Interns are typically post-secondary students in the middle of their studies or those who have just finished their studies.

The purpose of an internship is to allow a young person to learn what a specific job is like and for them to develop their skills in a particular field. Interns also make valuable connections and gain insight into the day-to-day life of various occupations, which can help them decide what type of career to pursue once they have completed their studies.

Although internships may range in length, most are a few months and they often take place during the summer when post-secondary students are off from school. However, you might also be able to get an internship during a gap year. You can learn more about how to budget for a gap year here.

The benefits of internships

Internships have a number of benefits for students and young professionals. Internships provide valuable networking opportunities, teach you how to communicate in the workplace, and might even give you an opportunity to travel and explore a new part of the world. Keep reading for more benefits.

You will get to test-drive a new career path

One of the most significant benefits of doing an internship is that it will get to test out a new career path. If you are a post secondary student, you can usually only gain theoretical insight about a certain field from the courses that you take. When you become an intern, you gain hands on experience in the field that interests you. In other words, you will get a chance to apply the information you learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. Internships are really one of the best ways to determine if a specific career or occupation is right for you.

You will work with professionals in your field of interest

A second advantage of internships is that they give students an opportunity to work with professionals. You may be able to work under or alongside someone who has the exact job you hope to have one day. Not only will you get a feel for what the job is like, but you have someone who can answer any questions you might have and access to mentorship opportunities.

You can start building your professional network

Another perk of internships is that they give young professionals a chance to start developing their network. Internships are like one long networking event. You will have access to people in your field, giving you a chance to ask questions, make connections, and develop relationships with your peers. This will only serve you later on in life, whether you’re looking for a job or need someone to write a letter of recommendation for a post-graduate program.

You may be given an opportunity to travel

Another reason that many students love internships is that they can provide them with an opportunity to travel. Although this isn’t the case with all internships, some might give a student the chance to relocate for a summer. Many Canadian universities have relationships with employers or other educational institutions around the world. So if you are interested in working abroad for a period of time, an internship located in another city or country is a great option.

You can improve your CV

Internships look good on CVs. Since they give you practical job experience, having an internship on your resume could give you a leg up when you start applying for jobs after graduating from post secondary school. Completing an internship shows future employers or recruiters that you have the necessary training to do the job. It may also indicate how seriously you took your studies that you went the extra mile by getting an internship.

You will learn how to communicate in the workplace

A sometimes overlooked benefit of internships is that they teach young professionals how to communicate in the workplace. The reality is that professional communication is very different from personal communication. A class environment is not the same as the workplace. Thus, by doing an internship, you will start to develop interpersonal skills that will make it easier for you to transition into the workplace after completing your studies. The communication skills you learn might even set you apart from other candidates and increase your odds of a successful job interview after graduation.

Paid vs. unpaid internships

No discussion of internships is complete without talking about paid vs. unpaid internships. Unlike co-op placements, which we will discuss in greater detail below, many internships around the world are unpaid. It is perfectly legal for a company to offer an unpaid internship. That said, many students prefer to find paid internship opportunities for obvious reasons.

The main reason that a company will offer an unpaid internship is because they view interns as employees-in-training rather than full-fledged employees. This is due to the fact that most interns are students who have yet to complete their studies and thus do not yet possess the necessary skills or qualifications to do the job. Depending on the responsibilities that the employer is asking of the intern, sometimes they are so minimal that it makes more sense for the internship to be unpaid.

If you are deciding whether to accept an unpaid internship, you should consider a few factors:

First, think about the company’s reputation. If they have a good reputation, whether among their employees or in the industry at large, it may be worth accepting an unpaid internship opportunity because it could boost your resume for future opportunities.It’s also good to think about the level of competition in your feild. For example, if you want to work in a competitive field, like professional sports, there may be very few paid internship opportunities available. In this case, you should be prepared to take an unpaid role if you are offered one because having work experience under your belt can set you apart.

Please note that paid internships, while often preferred, typically do not pay a lot.. While some money is certainly better than no money, many employers only pay their interns minimum wage.

Ultimately, if you are deciding between a paid and an unpaid internship, make sure to consider the pros and cons before accepting one over the other.

Tips for finding an internship in Canada

If you’re ready to embark on your internship journey, you will first need to secure an internship offer. Just as if you were hunting for a new job, there are several steps you should take if you want to find an internship in Canada.

1. Take advantage of post-secondary resources

If you are a post secondary student, be sure to take advantage of the career resources at your university or college. For example, many universities in Canada have career or recruitment fairs throughout the year. There may also be school-specific job boards or classifieds pages. You can even make an appointment with an advisor or professor on campus who might have contacts they can reach out to if you want to secure an internship.

2. Search for internships online

This might sound obvious, but another tip for finding an internship in Canada is to search online. There are tons of databases where you can find job and internship postings. You can also search up specific companies or organizations that you are interested in working for to see if they have any internship postings on their websites.

Since there are likely going to be so many internship opportunities out there, we recommend narrowing down your search by adding some additional keywords related to the field you are interested in, such as “computer science internship” or “mechanical engineering internship.”

3. Reach out to your preferred companies or organizations

It never hurts to ask! If there is a specific company or organization that you have always dreamed of working for you, why not reach out to them directly? Visit their website, get their contact information, and either give them a call or send them an email to see if they are looking to hire an intern. Even if they aren’t hiring, it never hurts to start developing these types of connections early.

4. Don’t wait too long to start looking

Our next tip for securing an internship in Canada is to start your hunt early. Lots of students apply for internships, and often the summer is the most popular time to do so. Thus, if you hope to get an internship for the summer, we recommend starting to look for opportunities in the fall prior. Career fairs are often held in the fall, making this a great time to start narrowing down your options and applying. If you are aiming to secure a winter or spring internship, aim to look and apply at least one semester ahead of time.

5. Update your CV and cover letter as necessary

Anytime you apply for a new job, including a cover letter, we recommend updating your CV and cover letter. Remember that your cover letters should be unique to each internship that you apply for. You should also tailor your CV so that it includes your most relevant work and academic experience.

When applying for internships, don’t get too caught up on what the right type of experience to have is. Employers know that interns are young and just starting their professional careers. Don’t hesitate to include information about relevant extracurricular or volunteer experiences you have.

6. Do practice interviews

After applying for internship positions, it’s time to start preparing for interviews. Practice interviews with a friend or family member, or even on your own, where you can answer questions about yourself, your experience, and why you are interested in interning at a particular company. A few trial runs will make you feel more comfortable talking about yourself and what you bring to the table.

Whatever you do, make sure that you research the company, including what it does and what projects they are currently working on or recently launched. We also recommend doing a bit of research about the specific person who will be interviewing you. Check out their bio on the company website or search them up on LinkedIn. This way, you can tailor your questions to their specific experience and expertise.

7. Don’t hesitate to use your network

Your network is probably bigger than you think. Professors, academic advisors, and even peers can be part of your professional network. Using these connection when when applying for internships can give you an edge of familiarity. It’s always helpful to have someone who can vouch for you!

It’s worth asking around to see if anyone in your circles knows of any internship opportunities. There is a good chance that a professor or teaching assistant has contacts at companies in the area.Many students and post-grads get jobs due to networking, so don’t hesitate to use yours to your advantage.

Internships vs. co-ops

Let’s quickly go over how internships differ from co-ops. Many people mistakenly use these two terms interchangeably. But internships differ from co-ops in a number of ways. Since we have already described what internships are, here’s a quick overview of co-ops.

What is co-op placement?

Co-op programs, or cooperative education programs, are a type of work placement that gives students a chance to gain experience in a particular field or with a specific profession. In that way, co-ops are very similar to internships.

Where they differ is that co-ops are the result of a joint effort between a post secondary school, the student, and an employer. In most cases, the school has a pre-existing relationship with the employer, and the school takes an active hand in securing the internship on behalf of the student. The educational institution is less involved in helping students land internships. While they have certain resources that students are encouraged to use, like internship job boards or advisors, it is generally up to the student to independently look for and secure an internship.

Further, co-op programs are usually longer term than internships. Where an internship might be as short as two to three months, co-op programs usually run over multiple terms. Since internships are short, one-off opportunities, they do not usually delay a student’s graduation date. A student will complete an internship over the summer so that it doesn’t interfere with their studies. Meanwhile, a co-op student may alternate between their work and their studies, taking one term of school, followed by one co-op term, and alternating between them for a year or more. This is likely to increase how long it takes for them to earn their diploma or degree.

Due to the fact that internships are so short, students can choose to do multiple internships over the course of their studies. For instance, they could do a different internship each summer if they wanted to, and these internships could be with different companies or even in completely different fields. In contrast, since co-op placements are longer term, most students will only do one co-op throughout their studies. This makes co-ops less flexible than internships.

The upside to longer co-op placements is that the student gains even more hands-on experience in a certain field. They also have more time to develop connections with employers, which may increase their odds of being offered a full-time job upon graduation.

As with internships, co-ops come in all shapes and sizes. For example, you can find co-ops in a wide range of fields or occupations, like engineering, business, government, education, and more.

The differences between internships and co-ops

If you are deciding between an internship and a co-op, we outline a few of the main differences between the two below.

  • Length of the program: Internships are usually much shorter than co-op placements. The former may be as short as a couple of months whereas the former can span a year or more.
  • Remuneration: The vast majority of co-op placements are paid, whereas many internships in Canada are unpaid. If both types of programs are paid, the pay is usually minimal.
  • Flexibility: Internships are usually more flexible than co-op placements because they are shorter. For example, a student could do a different internship every summer if they wanted to.
  • Completion of your degree: Both internships and co-ops can impact the completion of your degree. While they shouldn’t interfere with your being able to complete it, they can increase how much time it takes to complete it, especially co-ops. Since some students choose to alternate between co-op terms and study terms, your graduation might be extended by a year or more by doing a co-op placement. Internships are less likely to impact when you graduate, unless you choose to take a fall or spring internship and still take the summer off.
Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.