Updated: Jan 30, 2020
Internships have become more and more prevalent in recent years. They are a degree requirement for many colleges, have proven to be a cost-saving hiring tool for employers, and can be a useful way for individuals to gain experience and skills in a competitive job market. But because of their prevalence, it can be difficult to wade through the many internship options out there. There are many things to consider when applying for an internship, and this article aims to address the various factors one should consider. These include level of training, level of mentorship, overall company ratings, opportunities for personal and professional growth, potential for future employment, and whether it is paid or unpaid.
At Mindful Ways to Wellness in St. Petersburg, Florida, we have considered all of these factors in creating our Healing Arts Internship Program. The program director is passionate about providing a robust, in-depth 7-month internship experience. With the extensive training and educational background in various wellness fields that our CEO and clinical staff have received, we understand the importance of a rigorous program that prepares you for work in your field.
But whether or not you are in the wellness industry, we hope that we can share our expertise in order to help you find a quality internship that is right for you.
Why are internships beneficial?
There is plenty of healthy skepticism about internships out there, and it's good that the public is turning a critical eye to the practice of hiring interns; there are certainly exploitative practices out there. And just because something is popular doesn't automatically mean that it's positive or useful.
On balance, though, the right internship can be beneficial for all involved. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door of an exciting company, to test out the waters of a field you may be interested in, and to gain transferable skills no matter where you want to go next in your education or career.
They've also become a popular way to gain college credit, with the additional benefit of hands-on, practical learning. You can gain insight into what does or does not appeal to you about an industry or career path, receive mentoring and expand your professional network, and experience personal growth as you overcome new challenges.
The benefits of internships have even been documented in recent studies. They have been shown to increase your chances of being hired right out of school, often by converting from intern to employee with the same company. (Crain, 2016). Findings also show that "internships provide students […] with a means of bridging the gap between career expectations developed in the classroom and the reality of employment in the real world" (Gault, Redington, & Schlager, 2000).
Alumni who complete internships before graduating also report "higher salaries and […] greater job satisfaction" than those who graduated with no internship experience (Gault et al., 2000). And, they end up feeling more prepared for the work they go on to do: "business undergraduates with internship experience reported better preparation in job acquisition skills and obtained their initial employment positions more quickly than noninterns" (Gault et al., 2000).
But advantages are also there for those who are no longer students. If you are considering a new direction, whether it's in a different area of your current industry or a total about-face in your professional life, taking on an internship may be the right move. In much the same way that an internship can serve as a trial run in a given field for a college student, it can serve the same purpose for adults at any stage of their life.
It's a way to dip your toe into a different field without having to give up your current source of income or even commit to paying for college courses before deciding it's what you want to pursue. And whether or not you decide to follow through with the change after your internship, you will have gained new skills, personal insight, and exercised your curiosity.
What to Look for in an Internship
However, not all internships are created equal. In the worst cases, interns are hired as nothing more than office grunts, hired to do menial work rather than be guided through significant tasks related to their field of interest. The key to any good internship is value - your work will provide value to the company, but it should also provide significant value to you.
Internships should first and foremost give you an opportunity to gain new, transferable skills that allow for professional growth. Your duties should provide insight into the broader context of the field.
For example, you may have to do data entry as an intern, but you should also have projects that allow you to learn how that data is used in the industry. Dig deep into the list of duties and make sure that the work you will be doing will offer you chances to grow, learn, and engage meaningfully with your prospective industry, whether or not you stay with that company.
The educational aspect of an internship should also include "soft" skills like public speaking, engaging with clients, or coordinating with a team. While these are things that can be practiced in a classroom, the real-world stakes of contributing to a business can make the learning experience more enriching and valuable.
Another hallmark of a worthwhile internship is the opportunity for mentorship. Being able to have a supervisor who is invested in your professional and personal growth within the program is invaluable. You should have someone you can go to with questions and who will give you guidance and feedback on your progress in the program. A smart company, and a smart boss, will be engaged in making sure you reach your fullest potential, and you should come away with relationships that can be relied on for recommendations and networking down the road.
Beyond what a mentor can offer, an internship should provide you with plenty of opportunities for personal growth. This is something that will be highly personal - what is challenging or new to one person may be boring to another. Do your best not to dismiss a program just because it includes aspects that are outside your comfort zone. It's a unique chance to stretch your capabilities and build your confidence. For an internship with ample opportunities for introspection and personal growth baked into the program, consider the Healing Arts Internship Program at Mindful Ways to Wellness.
Finally, on a more practical level, an internship should also have a pre-defined duration. It's not worth committing to the rank of "intern" indefinitely; a year at most should be enough time for you to gain the skills needed for you to either become an employee, or be free to move on to other opportunities.
Paid vs. Unpaid
One of the most important questions to ask yourself when considering an internship is whether to do a paid or unpaid internship. Which is the right fit for you is personal and can depend on different factors.
A paid internship should still be an internship - i.e. dedicated to your learning and growth. Just because you are being compensated monetarily, doesn't mean you shouldn't also be compensated in less tangible ways, like mentorship and learning transferable, valuable skills. Because an internship has a set duration, it should also prepare you for your next step, whether that's with the same company, a different one, or simply your next year of schooling.
Remember that, while there's nothing inherently wrong with a job that only consists of doing the office photocopying, that job should not be considered an internship! An internship is meant to provide you with knowledge and skills related to a particular career or industry. Make sure that you'll have the opportunity to do things like sit in on relevant meetings, assist on projects, and do independent work that is significant to the team you join.
Unpaid internships should provide just as much value to you, the intern, as they do to the company. Anything less is exploitative and not worth your time; be sure to confirm that the internship complies with the Fair Labor Standards Act. It's also important that the weekly time commitment required by an unpaid internship doesn't interfere with school work or prevent you from also having a paying job that meets your financial needs.
While an unpaid internship may be less likely to convert into full employment with the company (e.g. with a smaller company that can't afford to take on anyone new in a long-term position), it should still provide you with some measure of advancement. This can include school credit, a formal certificate of completion, direction and guidance toward further opportunities in the field, and recommendation letters. The value of these things is, of course, subjective. But depending on your situation, a well-designed program can provide enough of a benefit to you to compensate for your time and effort.
Now that you know what to look for, it's time to do your research! Dive deep into all the opportunities on offer. Ask questions of the employers, and remember that if they are evasive about specifics, dismissive in tone, or just plain unresponsive, they are not worth your time and energy. Tap into your university resources to get in touch with alumni who have completed the programs you're interested in. And even if you're not in school, it doesn't hurt to ask the companies' internship coordinators to put you in touch with past interns.
Take the time to consider your priorities as well. Do you want something highly specific to a particular career path, or an internship that gives you a broader sampling of the paths within a given field? An unpaid program with a smaller time commitment, or a paid opportunity that puts you on a company's fast track to a full-time gig? Do you need college credit, or is that not an issue for you?
Finally, for those interested in holistic approaches to health, I highly recommend the Healing Arts Internship Program at Mindful Ways to Wellness. It is a 7-month personal & professional development program intended to introduce each individual to a variety of alternative and holistic healing modalities that can be applied to personal growth and development.
The program explores the foundations and applications of 7 healing modalities: mindfulness practices, sound therapy, yoga philosophy and practice, nutritional therapy, neurofeedback and brain chemistry, motivation activation, and naturopathic medicine. It also includes training in business-related skills like client engagement, social media and print marketing, hosting events, classes, and workshops, publication and web writing, professional code of ethics training. Interns also receive individual and group mentoring.
As a graduate of the program, I can personally attest to its tremendous value. I discovered new interests, honed existing skills and learned new ones, forged deep, ongoing friendships with my fellow interns, and was guided and inspired to make positive changes in my life.
While employment at Mindful Ways to Wellness is not a guarantee at the end of the internship, you are guaranteed to gain a wise and caring mentor in the company's owner and founder, Basia Toczek, who is highly experienced and well-connected in a variety of wellness-related fields. She will be there to guide in you exploring further education in healing modalities and provide a letter of recommendation for any path you might pursue going forward.
Whether you are interested in the particular modalities covered, holistic approaches to health in general, or the inner workings of building a small business, you are certain to find the Healing Arts Internship useful and engaging. But I hope that no matter your field of interest, this article is useful to you in finding the perfect internship for you!
Crain, A. (2016, December). Understanding the Impact of Unpaid Internships on College Student Career Development AND Employment Outcomes [Scholarly project]. In NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition. Retrieved July 29, 2019, from https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2016/guide/the-impact-of-unpaid-internships-on-career-development.pdf
Gault, J., Redington, J., & Schlager, T. (2000). Undergraduate Business Internships and Career Success: Are They Related? Journal of Marketing Education, 22(1), 45-53. doi:10.1177/0273475300221006