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Types of Internships


Internal Internship

In internal consulting I-O psychologists are embedded as an “expert” within an organization.  Interning students may work with one sole I-O psychologist, or in a small group of I-O psychologists; in some cases, interns may work with HR employees and no I-O psychologists. 

Internal I-O psychologists work on traditional I-O projects, such as generating selection, training, and performance feedback systems; what typically differs is whether the psychologist is a specialist in I-O within the HR department, or an HR generalist working outside of an HR department with multiple lines of business. However, they may also do activities outside of the typical realm of I-O psychology, such as developing business strategy, coordinating wellness programs, or providing executive coaching. 

Internal I-O psychologists work as a part of a larger business enterprise, and must generate influence within the organizational through interpersonal networking and political savvy. They must often create relationships with various organizational stakeholders and collaborate with staff members from different teams within the organization.

Key Considerations:

  • Interns may interface with non-I-O psychologists within the organization.
  • Interns may engage in less “typical I-O” activities (e.g. business activities, communications planning). Interns may be required to communicate with non I-O savvy audiences, making communication skills very important.
  • Interns may be asked to present results of efforts to company executives.
  • Interns are generally hired in smaller numbers than in external organizations; there may be only one I-O intern at any given moment.
  • Interns may receive strong mentoring experiences given the small numbers of interns and small size of the department.

External Internship

External consulting firms offer expertise, advice, and/or staff augmentation to outside organizations.  With external consulting, a company is hired by an outside organization to come in and provide services, at times for a specific project, for a defined period of time.  Internships in external consulting should provide students with an opportunity to experience a variety of project topics in differing client contexts.  External consulting firms are typically structured by area of expertise, so interns in this context should expect to work with others who specialize in Human Capital or Management consulting and who can share their experiences. Typically, external consulting firms have a large variety of project topics, depending on the client needs at any given time.  Clients and additional work must be “won” by external consulting groups, so interns can potentially be involved in business development opportunities.

Key Considerations:

  • A benefit to external consulting is the opportunity to gain experience in a breadth of areas; a downside is that once a project ends, you are no longer working with the client so you don’t always get to see the full impact of the implementation.
  • Interns may be asked to balance project work for multiple clients at one time, making prioritization and time management very important.
  • External consulting firms have varying billable hour targets; by asking questions about billable targets prior to starting an internship, candidates can have a better idea of what the work-life balance at the company is.
  • External consultants can be placed on-site at the client site as staff augmentation, or can be assigned to multiple projects and only go to the client site for meetings. Experiences will vary depending on this difference.
  • Client location and expected percent of travel are things to consider when looking for a good fit.
  • Some external consulting firms specializing only in Human Capital consulting or Management Consulting, whereas other firms may have a broader focus (e.g., financial, strategic, technology)

Government Internship

Internships in the U.S. Federal Government follow a program called “Pathways for Students and Recent Graduates: Internship Program.”  The Internship Program replaces previous programs called the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). This Program is designed to provide students enrolled in a wide variety of educational institutions, from high school to graduate level, with opportunities to work in agencies and explore Federal careers while still in school and while getting paid for the work performed. Students who successfully complete the program may be eligible for conversion to a permanent job in the civil service. Additional information about the Internship Program can be found at www.usajobs.gov/studentsandgrads/.

Key Considerations:

  • Internships in the Federal space will vary depending on the hiring agency; however, they will be uniform in some guidelines regarding eligibility for permanent hire, qualifications for initial hire, etc.
  • Federal agencies are held to more regulations than private companies are (e.g., Merit System Principles, Prohibited Personnel Practices), and therefore, policies and processes within the Federal space may have less flexibilities than those in the private space
  • Internships may require extensive lead time in order for an intern to begin. This varies depending on the background information and investigation required for an intern to start work.
  • Interns may be asked to communicate with individuals outside of the agency or department, or to complete high- visibility assignments requiring excellent communication and presentation skills.

Research-Oriented Internship

Research-focused or academically-oriented opportunities will use behavioral and social science research as the foundation for implementation. Empirical research will likely drive the approach to providing solutions to clients and methodological rigor will be of high importance. Students should expect to draw upon I-O and related research to inform the approach to achieving results. Furthermore, there will likely be strong emphasis on methods and quantitative skills. Clients of research-focused internship opportunities may be either internal (e.g., an organization’s Institutional Research & Development group) or external focused (e.g., government agencies; professional associations).

Key Considerations:

  • Classroom knowledge will (often) directly translate to projects and activities.
  • Conference and peer-reviewed publications are encouraged and perhaps rewarded.
  • Interns will have access to data with expectations for large-scale data management.
  • Interns may be asked to manage research projects for multiple clients.
  • Deliverables (often) presented to research audience
  • The internship will often provide access to analytic software (e.g., SPSS, SAS, R) with the expectation that interns are proficient with the software and possess the ability to interpret results.

International Internship

Students interested in developing an international consulting career may want to participate in an internship outside of his or her home country.  Interns may work in an international branch of a multinational firm, or may find an internship with an organization based outside of their home country.  International consulting internships may be internal, external, research-based (e.g., Fulbright Fellowship), or government based, and the respective concerns for each of these settings apply.

Travelling abroad requires interns to manage a number of additional considerations, such as adjusting to a new culture, managing language barriers, managing insurance, housing, and general cost of living.  For students interested in working abroad after graduation, these types of internships may be a useful means of networking and learning about the lifestyles in other countries.

Key Considerations:

  • Strong networking skills are important to finding these opportunities.
  • For those entering a new culture, culture shock creates additional stressors.
  • Interns may need to learn about the ethical and regulatory concerns within their host company and country
  • Communication within a multicultural setting may require interpersonal flexibility
  • Interns may need to check their health insurance policies to ensure healthcare is available while abroad
  • Housing may or may not be arranged by the host organization
  • Interns may wish to verify the language requirements meet their abilities

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