Internships: Do they count as ‘work experience?’


When you’re just starting out on your chosen career path, it is often difficult to convince prospective employers to give you the chance to prove your worth. This is especially true when you have little or no work experience to list on your resume. After all, today’s employers want to know that you can make an immediate impact on their bottom line. As a result, they will generally want to see how well you have performed in similar situations in the past. But what if you are applying for your first job in your chosen field? What if your only work experience consists of an internship? Do internships count as work experience?

This question is a common one among prospective job applicants. At first glance, the answer might seem straightforward enough since internships are a great way to gain new skills and knowledge as you prepare for your chosen career. However, some might argue that an internship can’t replace real-world experience and years of learning how things operate professionally.

That internship you landed during or after college may not seem like something employers will be interested in, but it is. Moreover, that’s true regardless of whether it was a paid or unpaid position. For many entry-level workers, an internship may be the only way to acquire valuable experience in their industry. And, as internships have evolved over time, the distinction between an intern and a full-time employee has blurred. In fact, many workers acquire internship work experience that is every bit as valuable as that received by those full-time employees.


The companies offering internships get great help at a hugely reduced cost. Depending on the type of work they have the interns doing, they could be saving millions of Kwacha a year on their bottom line. Companies love saving money!

The companies hiring for entry-level roles are most likely going through applications from recent college grads. These companies know the importance of internships and the skills taught. They would rather have someone with exposure to the industry via an internship. This means less money and time wasted training the new hire, and less of a learning curve. It’s like teaching someone Chichewa after they lived in Dowa for a year.

Internships are like a four-month interview for both the intern and the organisation. Employers often turn to their intern pool whenever they’re looking to fill positions because they already know the person’s work ethic, the level of work they can produce and their commitment to the organisation.


Employers can also count on candidates who have interned, worked on campus or volunteered to have skills that are hard to train but sought after by employers, namely: Working positively and collaboratively with colleagues and clients; understanding what it means to have colleagues depending on your presence and professional contributions while balancing personal responsibilities; working and communicating between generations and cultures and differences. With this professional foundation set, employers can focus on specific training required for their company.

Internships offer you the opportunity to learn on the job and make mistakes without the pressure of it being your full-time job. Organisations expect interns to make mistakes and learn from them. This growth makes it easy for your supervisor to be a reference for you in the future, too, because they can speak to how you received feedback.

As someone who has been in the HR profession for some years, I can tell you the reason employers include a minimum work requirement: Employers want to hire people who’ve done it before. They’re looking for people who have made mistakes, developed processes and succeeded in the past – people who’ve gone to the right school of experience for the job they need to fill.

A good internship is probably the fastest you will ever move up the learning curve: you get to see how people do a job, you have some responsibility and you’re constantly learning – so if a job requires “prior experience”, you can certainly add your internship to your total employment experience to qualify for a job.

The author is a Human Resources Practitioner currently working and writes on Labour Relations.


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