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Create an Internship

The popularity of internships among employers and students has steadily increased every year, but what is an internship and how are interns integrated into the workplace? The following information is offered as a way to get started in the process of having a successful internship experience. 

What is an internship?

Internships can be full time or part time, paid or unpaid, a few weeks or a full year in length, for undergraduate or graduate students, local or international. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) internships can be defined as a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skill development in a professional setting.

Interns should be given significant work to do for the organization, with minimal hours of tasks such as filing and copying. This expectation differs from a part-time hire who is paid for performing whatever tasks the employer assigns, menial or not.

To ensure that an experience can be considered a "legitimate internship" by the NACE definition, please see the NACE Internship Statement.

The Department of Labor has six criteria that address the acceptability of an internship being unpaid. Please refer to the Department of Labor's website and consult your legal counsel if you have questions. Northwestern University strongly encourages employers to pay the interns.

There are limited opportunities for students to receive credit for their internships, and those that exist require that tuition be paid. The opportunity for a student to receive credit and the amount available will be dependent upon the student’s major and primary college. 

Why do you need an intern?

  • An intern can give you additional talent to complete an existing project or to start a new one, to expand into a new line of business, or to bring knowledge that the current employees might not possess, such as working with social media.
  • Energy and fresh ideas that the interns bring to the workplace.
  • Positive publicity on campus that will be given to your organization by the intern.
  • An internship can be a cost effective and efficient way to potentially hire full time employees.

How do you hire an intern?

Ideally, the internship search begins two to three months before the interns are needed. The best starting point is to evaluate your need for an intern and to select the specific projects or tasks that need to be done. Decide who will be the supervisor of the intern and work with him/her to identify the skills and abilities that the intern will need to be a success. An internship description is then created with all or most of these areas covered:

  • Description of your organization
  • Description of the project or tasks to be assigned to the intern
  • Preferred skills
  • Required skills
  • Description of training opportunities
  • Work days and hours
  • Pay or stipend
  • Transportation options to work site
  • What documents are needed to apply (i.e. cover letter, resume, writing sample, unofficial transcript, media portfolio)
  • How to apply
  • Start and end date of the internship
  • Housing availability or assistance with finding lodging

It is always better to prepare a thorough internship description rather than a brief one.As submitted resumes are received, interviews can begin. Interviews can be conducted on campus, over the telephone, or at the organization's site. Please keep the applicants informed as to your time frame in making the decision to hire.

International students are talented interns since they have wide cultural experiences and are adaptable to changing situations.  They may have the option for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) which will allow them to be your interns. Please refer to our International Office's website for more information and consult with your legal counsel.

Please be aware that students should not sign non-compete agreements and that Northwestern University will not sign hold-harmless agreements unless the student is receiving credit through Northwestern for the internship.

Handshake is NCA’s career platform, and instructions for posting an internship can be found in Handshake’s Help Center.

What do interns want?

  • To be welcomed into the work place (assigned work space, telephone and voicemail, computer log-in password, email access, and a name plate or name badge).
  • An orientation and a tour of the office and meeting of staff should be completed within the first few days of the internship.
  • Inviting the interns to staff meetings or other department gatherings will integrate the interns into the work team quickly. It is best not to have interns on projects where they are the only people working on the tasks since interns can become disconnected with the organization.
  • Interns want to do "real work" for the employer. They want their work to be of benefit to the organization's mission.
  • They want to learn about the career fields and industry of the employer. It is helpful to the interns if they can be given the opportunity to cross train with other work units.
  • Opportunity to network with employees in other parts of the organization, especially senior management.