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University of Illinois Springfield

Applied Study Term Program University of Illinois Springfield

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Creating an Internship


Before you can create your own internship, you need a clear understanding of what an internship is and to be able to articulate that well to a potential sponsor. On this page you will find a basic definition of an internship, which you can adapt and modify for your own purposes.

Internships are called by many names – experiential learning, on-the-job training, or cooperative education. But whatever they may be called, they share several common elements:

  • All internships involve some form of work of a para-professional or professional nature. The work may be a special research project, it may be substituting for a full-time vacationing staff member, or it may be performing a variety of regular staff functions.
  • Internships have an educational element. They provide an opportunity for an individual to learn about an organization and career area.Our internship includes seminars in addition to work. Internships also include an educational element in the daily work experience, having the intern work closely with one supervisor, sit in on planning meetings, rotate through different departments, or observe the work of different employees. Sometimes interns learn by assuming the tasks of an entry-level employee.
  • Internships do not necessarily involve pay, but may pay anything from a token sum to a substantial salary. If you are designing your own internship, it is quite likely that you may have to volunteer your services initially. Be realistic in seeking an internship.If you are looking for a business-related internship and have no business background or a public relations internship without demonstrated PR skills, you cannot expect companies to be excited about giving you a salary.

    But if you demonstrate your initiative and your eagerness to learn, they may be happy to accept you as a volunteer intern. If you request a salary, you immediately limit the number of opportunities open to you.

  • Internships can be full-time positions or they may only require a few hours a week. Students who need to earn money over the summer months often choose to arrange a part-time volunteer internship (15-20 hours per week) in addition to a salaried summer job.For four hours of credit, 160 hours are needed. For eight hours of credit, 320 hours are needed.

Step 1: Clarify Your Objectives

Be clear in your own mind about what you hope to accomplish in your internship. Your main task when creating your internship is to convince a potential sponsor that it would be beneficial for him/her to offer you an educational experience. Be prepared to explain your basic goals for the experience in a few sentences.

Some questions to consider are:

  • Why do you want an internship?
  • What kinds of tasks do you want to be doing?
  • What skills would you like to use?
  • What skills would you like to learn?
  • What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the internship?

Since you must convince a potential sponsor that it is worth her/his time, and possibly money, to provide you with an internship experience, be able to tell the sponsor what you have to offer. In many cases you may offer no more than your energy, ability to learn, and strong interest in a particular field.

Or, you may have some specific skills which you can offer in exchange for the experience, skills such as computer programming, research, laboratory work, writing, video-experience, swimming, clerical, accounting, photography.

Obviously, your swimming skills are not appropriate for an accounting firm, but they might be employed by a parks and recreation department or fitness organization. Be selective about which skills you offer to which organization.

Decide what you want to learn in return for your services. You may simply want a chance to have an inside look at the real world of work or a look at the internal workings of a specific organization.

You may want a chance to further develop a skill you already possess by using it in a new way or by working with experts.

Initial objectives for your internship can be established in two ways. You can state your general objectives and then identify organizations which will fulfill your needs, or you can first identify the organization for which you want to work and then tailor your objectives to the needs of the particular organization.

Whichever way you begin, a final statement of objectives and goals will have to be negotiated between you and your internship sponsor.

Step 2: Identify an Organization

An organization may be a business, non-profit group, government agency, citizens coalition, public service organization, educational institution, or any other community working toward a common goal.

Once you have decided what you want to accomplish with an internship, begin identifying organizations which might meet your purposes.

You may already know the organization with which you would like to intern and can begin to contact people in the organization. If you do not know, the time has arrived to do some research and creative thinking.

One way to make your search for organizations easier is to decide on a specific location where you want or have to be. Some students find they have to be in their home town or a place where they can live without high expenses.

If you are in this position, don’t despair; even small towns can provide lots of internship possibilities.

Once you have established a location or locations, you can begin your research. Think creatively; try to identify as many different ways of fulfilling your objectives as possible.

The yellow pages, a local paper, human services directories, internship directories, friends in town can all help you discover different organizations which might be suitable.

A visit to the local chamber of commerce might provide additional information about different organizations, businesses and services in the community.

An example of creative thinking: if you’re interested in helping people (some form of counseling), organizations which might be potential sponsors are a youth drop-in center, a local hospital, Planned Parenthood, a substance abuse agency, social services agencies (public and private), local churches, or a Girl Scout/Boy Scout Troop.

If you’re interested in museum work, how about the local historical society museum, or a recent restoration project? Your chances are better at a smaller, local or regional level than with a nationally-known museum which has its own highly competitive internship program.

The local experience might help qualify you for a national experience in the future.

If you are interested in computer work, you could try not only local computer firms but other companies which might use computers in their work—a phone company or a large corporation, for example.

When you are trying to identify organizations, talk to people in town for their suggestions—parents, parents’ friends, friends’ parents, other people you know in the area.

One of them just might be willing to take you on as an intern. Let people know what you are trying to do without specifically asking them to sponsor you. Ask for their advice and information.

By approaching them in this way, you do not put them on the defensive about having to say no to you. Instead, you give them some time to think without pressure, and to reflect on the good impression you made on them when you visited. In a week, they may decide they could use you as an intern.

If you are one of the fortunate people who can afford to go anywhere, your task might be a little more difficult, since you have no built-in focus. One way to start is to identify a specific organization.

If you are unable to decide on one, define the type of organization and compile a list of organizations that fit that description. Then, select several that sound appropriate and begin your contacts.

We have a number of directories to help you identify potential internship opportunities.

Step 3: Identify the Person to Contact

After you have decided where you want to be an intern, make contact with that organization. You will be much more successful in your attempt to create an internship if you communicate directly, by name, with a specific person within the organization.

The person with whom you communicate should also be in a position to make a decision about your proposal. This means you will need to contact the director, president, or the head of the department where you want to work.

You could also speak directly to the person with whom you would like to be working during the internship. If he/she likes the idea, he/she will usually be able to sell it to the powers that be.

If you do not know anyone in the organization, do some research. Names of appropriate personnel can be secured through a number of sources:

  • Standard and Poors
  • a comprehensive listing of publicly held corporations
  • placement directories (CPC Annuals)
  • chamber of commerce
  • publicity from organizations (annual reports, house organs)
  • visit to offices
  • call to switchboards
  • word of mouth.

Step 4: Contact

Now that you have done all the background work, you are ready to begin communicating with the person or organization with which you would like to intern.

One of the best ways to begin is with a letter, even if you already know the person to whom you will be writing. In the letter, ask if you might meet the person to discuss the possibility of doing an internship with her/him.

Do not ask directly if she/he will sponsor your internship. By asking to discuss the possibility of an internship, you give her/him some time to think about your proposal before responding.

In your letter, briefly explain what you mean by an internship, how you can help the organization, and what you hope to accomplish from the experience.Indicate clearly whether you need a salary.

Emphasize the advantages to the organization of having you as an intern. The letter should be an outline of what you would like to discuss in person. Indicate that you will be calling to set up an appointment to talk in more detail about your proposal.

Once you have secured an appointment, begin to confidently sell your idea to the organization. This means doing your homework. Be able to discuss clearly your objectives, why you chose their organization, how you can help them, what they can do for you.

Your goal during this meeting is to interest them enough to agree to investigate the possibilities. If you are lucky, they’ll agree to sponsor you on the spot.

If the organization is not interested or is unable to sponsor you, ask for names of other organizations which might be interested in your proposal and for other suggestions they have to help you in your search.

Whatever the outcome of the meeting, write to the people with whom you spoke, thanking them for their time and help.

When you identify someone willing to sponsor you, be sure you both clearly understand what you will be doing.

Discuss your expectations of the organization and the organization’s expectations of you. The UIS Career Services and Placement Office can help you writing your cover letter and resume. Feel free to ask for help.

With careful preparation, you will be able to create an enjoyable internship, explore a career field, and strengthen your experience for future job searches.