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Career skills

How Old To Be An Intern?

We hear about college students landing internships all the time, but what if you’re an ambitious high school student who wants to jumpstart their career? How old do you have to be to get an internship?

How old do you have to be to get an internship? 
It's never too early to be an intern. Or a boss.
It’s never too early to be an intern. Or a boss.

It’s never too early to get a head start on your career and learn more about a field you’re interested in.

Why pursue an internship when you’re younger?

The age you’re legally allowed to work varies from state to state and there are some restrictions on the number of hours and timeframe you’re allowed to work for pay.

An internship, however, is open to you at any point and doesn’t come with an age restriction. There’s also no downside to learning more about a potential career when you’re younger. No one is going to hold going after your career early against you!

How to use an internship as a way to develop skills

Being able to say that you completed an internship isn’t the goal. Rather, the point of an internship is to give students the chance to develop their skills and complete projects and tasks that show they’ve learned something.

Potential internships

For example, you could walk away from an internship with several newly acquired skills to your name, including:

  • Writing content for a blog
  • Selling solar installations door-to-door
  • Designing engineering drawings using AutoCAD
  • Assisting product designers with improving a product
  • Testing the user flow of a website and provide improvements
  • Creating social media campaigns to bring in site traffic

These are just examples of projects you could find yourself working on. The possibilities are virtually endless, and you’ll be able to determine a project that fits your interests.

How early internships can help you

When a future employer or college admissions office sees that you’ve gained some practical experience in the field, they are more likely to hire you for a position or offer you an acceptance letter into their school. Completing an internship shows that you not only have the drive to learn more about a subject, but you’re also able to commit to finishing what you set out to do. You’ll also get the chance to network with individuals who actually work in the industry— an opportunity many high schoolers don’t get!

Internships can also help you get an idea of what a certain job or field will be like. Even if you aren’t sure you want to work in a certain industry, an internship can give you a taste of the work environment. Trying out an internship can even help you streamline your interests, making selecting a future college major easier.

Quality matters more than quantity

On the other hand, you don’t want to use an internship as an excuse to just try to pad your resume. If you don’t walk away from an internship with any significant accomplishments, and you didn’t find the experience that enjoyable, there wasn’t much point in investing so much time into it.

Why? Because you’d be better off finding an internship that can actually support your future employment prospects. Do your research ahead of time to find an opportunity with an organization that you respect and can see yourself enjoying working for.

How to Get an Internship in High School

As we mentioned above, there is typically no age limit for an internship. However, making the right connection to land an internship can seem difficult for a high schooler. Fortunately, the process isn’t as complicated as you might think!

One of the best ways to get started with an internship as a high schooler is through informational interviews.

What’s an informational interview?

Basically, you seek out a person in a field that you’re interested in getting more information about. For example, if you’re interested in helping design video games, you can seek out a video game programmer in the area to interview. You’ll chat with the person to learn more about their field and what they do on a day-to-day basis. Whether you conduct the interview over the phone or in person, you’ll want to try to get as much information about the person’s work as possible.

In this instance, your age is leverage, not a barrier. Your younger age will likely impress people, and they are more apt to help you in your career plans. So don’t be shy to ask questions to try to get an accurate picture of the person’s work life.

To learn more, here is a complete guide with templates on how to get an internship through informational interviews.

So how can an informational interview help you get an internship?

During this interview, you can offer to “work” for free for a short period of time. Perhaps during the conversation, you noticed something the person you’re interviewing needs support with. If you’re able to secure an unpaid internship with the company, you’ll have the chance to get your foot in the door, which is often the most difficult part of finding an internship. You can then show off your skills and prove that you’re able to learn and use new information.

Once you’ve demonstrated to the company that you’re willing to work hard and learn, you can even ask that they begin to pay you (if you’re old enough to legally receive payment). You might find that you enjoy the paid internship so much that you want to come back in future years as a regular employee!

Other resources

By Taylor Thompson

Taylor is a co-founder at Purpose Built Ventures, where he helps launch mission-driven companies. Before Purpose Built, Taylor led growth at Almanac, strategy for Curious Learning, and product at PharmaSecure. His work helps 100,000s of people collaborate at work, 4 million children learn to read, and protects billions of medicines from counterfeiting. He has hired dozens of people, helped raise more than $50 million, and contributed to HBR.org as a researcher with Clay Christensen. Taylor is an Echoing Green Fellow, and he has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School.

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