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Everything You Need to Know About I-O Internships: Results From the 2003 SIOP Internship Survey

Liberty J. Munson and Geneva Phillips 
The Boeing Company

C. C. Clark
Hay Group 

Rose Mueller-Hanson

In December 2003, the Internship Subcommittee of SIOPs Education and Training Committee conducted a survey to investigate all types of applied experiences (e.g., paid and unpaid experiences, internships, supervised experiences obtained while pursuing licensure, co-ops, practicums, etc.) available to graduate students interested in I-O psychology. The goals of the survey were to identify common characteristics of internships and identify practical guidance for graduate students seeking applied experiences. For reporting purposes, we refer to these experiences as internships and the students who participate in them as interns.

An e-mail invitation was sent to all SIOP members who work in applied positions according to the membership database. Recipients were asked to participate if they currently offer or have offered internships within the past 5 years. Because the e-mail invitation was sent to all SIOP members in applied positions, it was likely that more than one person from a given organization would be asked to participate. To increase the accuracy of reporting, we asked that only one person in an organization complete the survey unless multiple internships were offered. For those organizations offering internships in multiple areas, we asked that information be provided for each. We received 100 responses to the survey. 

The survey included questions about recruitment and selection, job responsibilities, supervision and performance feedback provided during internships and licensure (if applicable), length of internships, and compensation, including benefits and perks. We also asked respondents to describe the differences between outstanding and ineffective interns and what expectations they have of interns that are typically NOT met. The results are described below.

Organizations Offering Internships

Respondents were asked to classify the I-O-related work done by their organization. Not surprisingly, most of the respondents indicated that their organizations did external (41%) or internal (37%) consulting while 10% primarily conduct government research. The remaining organizations (12%) indicated that the work done by their organization could be classified in more than one category (e.g., external consulting and government research). When appropriate, we will comment on differences between internships at organizations that classified their work as solely internal or external consulting.

One of the deliverables from this project was to identify organizations that offer internships to graduate students. As such, some respondents provided the name of their organization and department where the internship occurs (see below).

  • American Institutes for Research
  • Caliber AssociatesPersonnel Research Group
  • City of Santa ClaraHuman Resources Department
  • CPSHuman Resource Services (I-O Consulting)
  • Defence R&D, Canada TorontoStress & Coping Group
  • Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management InstituteDirectorate of Research
  • Department of DefenseDefense Manpower Data Center
  • Donnoe & Associates, Inc.
  • DRI Consulting
  • EntergyEmployee Development
  • Gobierno VascoPublic Administration
  • Hogan Assessment SystemsResearch Services Department
  • Human Performance Systems, Inc.
  • Humber, Mundie & McClary, LLP
  • IBMGlobal Workforce Research
  • Jackson Leadership Systems
  • Jeanneret & Associates, Inc.
  • Los Angeles Unified School DistrictPersonnel Commission
  • Mercer Human Resource ConsultingOrganizational Research & Effectiveness
  • National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug AbuseHealth Services Research Branch
  • Nucleus SolutionsForceffect Consulting
  • ODR
  • PepsiCoOrganization & Management Development
  • Personnel Decisions International
  • Personnel Decisions Research Institutes
  • Polaris Assessment Systems
  • Primetrics, Inc.
  • Resource Associates, Inc.
  • Rocket-Hire 
  • Sempra EnergyPeople Research
  • SHL Americas Region (US, Canada, Mexico)
  • SprintNational Staffing
  • State Farm Insurance CompaniesHuman Resources Research Unit
  • The Dow Chemical CompanyWorkforce Planning Strategic Center
  • The Lesowitz Group, Inc. (LGi)
  • The Timken CompanyStaffing and Development Department
  • Tiffany & Co.Leadership & Organization Development
  • U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • U.S. Office of Personnel ManagementAssessment and Training Assistance Services
  • VerizonAssessment and Selection
  • viaPeople
  • Wolosin and Associates


Most organizations recruit interns by contacting faculty in I-O programs (66%) or through informal contacts/professional networks (56%). Some use internship or career placement programs at universities and/or within specific departments (26%) or direct mailings to schools and professors (23%). Career fairs (1%), TIP (4%), and non-SIOP placement services (7%) are the least frequently used methods of recruitment. Approximately 19% do not actively recruit for interns. Interestingly, external consulting firms (28%) are less likely to actively recruit interns than internal consulting firms (14%), but those that actively recruit use similar methods regardless of their organization type.

What does this mean for internship seekers? If you are solely relying on the postings in TIP, you may be missing some internship opportunities, especially if you are interested in external consulting. Talk to the faculty in your department; they may have some suggestions.


Most responding organizations hire interns who have an educational background in I-O psychology (74%). A few organizations hire graduate students with educations in clinical/counseling psychology (4%), business-related areas (3%), human resource development (5%), and general psychology (4%).

The minimum education requirements for graduate level internships vary from organization to organization. Some organizations require that interns have proposed (27%) or completed (20%) their masters thesis. A few require that interns have taken their comprehensive exams (8%), while others (13%) are flexible in their educational requirements, using coursework and research experiences to determine if applicants are qualified. Of those, 5% simply require that the applicant is enrolled in a graduate program. Seventeen (17%) companies do not consider education when selecting interns.

With regard to selection, interviews are by far the most popular type of assessment with phone interviews being conducted by 49%, structured in-person interviews by 46%, and unstructured or traditional in-person interviews by 33%. Furthermore, many organizations indicated that they conduct at least two interviews. Personality (18%), cognitive ability (15%), work sample (10%), situational (4%) and other types of tests are used less frequently. It is important to note, however, that unstructured or traditional in-person interviews (35%), personality tests (38%), and cognitive ability tests (30%) are used much more frequently for external consulting internships than internal consulting internships. Other types of assessments include obtaining references from faculty, conducting structured reviews of vitas/resumes, and evaluating writing samples. 

Respondents were asked to select the three KSAOs that they thought were most critical in the selection of interns from a comprehensive list. Those who selected other were given the opportunity to add important KSAOs but were asked that the total identified not exceed three. Results indicated that the most important KSAOs are teamwork/interpersonal skills (45%), basic statistical skills (32%), ability to communicate, in writing and orally, with a business audience (28%), and experience using standard statistical packages (28%; see Table 1). KSAOs added by respondents included personality traits (e.g., motivation and conscientiousness), specific knowledge areas or skills (e.g., 360-feedback tools, job analysis, validation, etc.), and interest in I-O-related work and research. 

Table 1 

KSAOs and Frequency Selected
Overall %    External          Internal             KSAOS                                  consulting %  consulting %

Teamwork and interpersonal skills 45 53 46
Basic statistical skills (e.g., descriptives, correlations, regression) 32 28 30
Written/oral communication to a business audience 31 38 27
Experience using statistical software packages, such as SPSS, SAS, LISREL, etc. 28 23 24
Written communication 20 23 16
Project management or planning skills 18 20 24
Previous experience (obtained through other applied or school experiences, etc.) 16 20 14
Oral communication 13 10 8
Advanced statistical skills (e.g., IRT, structural equations modeling, HLM) 9 10 3
Survey design 8 3 11
Basic understanding of business (e.g., marketing, sales, finance, business trends/headlines) 7 8 8
Experimental design 3 0 3
Knowledge of employment laws and regulations 2 0 5
Ability to speak multiple languages 1 0 0
Willingness to travel 1 3 0
Demonstrated leadership experience 0 0 0
Other 15 13 19


Comparing external and internal consulting internships shows some minor differences in the rank order of these competencies. For example, written/oral communication for a business audience was the second most important KSAO for external consulting while basic statistical skills was the second most important for internal consulting. Project management, survey design, and knowledge of employment law were slightly more important for internal consulting while willingness to travel, written communication, advanced statistical knowledge, and previous experience were slightly more important in external consulting.

What does this mean for internship seekers? Most organizations hire interns who are in I-O programs. While many consider education level in their selection process, this varies from organization to organization; review job postings and talk to recruiters for specific information on minimum requirements. Expect to be interviewed at least once during the selection process either in person or over the phone. If applying for an external consulting position, you may also take a personality and/or cognitive ability test. 

Teamwork and interpersonal skills, basic statistical skills, and ability to communicate in writing and orally with a business audience appear to be the most important KSAOs that organizations consider during the selection process; however, understanding the differences between important KSAOs for external and internal consulting internships may better prepare you for the selection process.

Intern Job Responsibilities 

Respondents indicated the percentage of time interns spend performing 17 tasks (see Table 2). To ensure the average time spent on these tasks was not underestimated, means were calculated based only on those organizations in which the task was performed. The most frequent tasks include data analysis (23%), developing training courses (19%) and/or selection assessments (15%), project management (16%), report writing (16%), and job analysis (15%). Other tasks (written in by respondents) included general consulting, survey administration and analysis, and other miscellaneous research. The most infrequent tasks performed were making and developing presentations and test administration. 

Table 2 

Mean Percentage with Interns Performing Task (Number of Organizations in Which Task is Performed)
Overall             External              Internal 
          Task                 sample            consulting          consulting 

Library research, benchmarking, literature reviews 13.17 (n = 63) 13.08 (n = 26) 11.29 (n = 21)
Data entry    10.46 (n = 37) 12.19 (n = 16) 8.77 (n = 13)
Data analysis    23.14 (n = 69) 20.38 (n = 26) 19.28 (n = 25)
Proposal preparation    10.00 (n = 18) 8.89 (n = 9) 11.67 (n = 6)
Job analysis interviews and observations 14.90 (n = 31) 10.62 (n = 16) 23.00 (n = 9)
Test administration    8.60 (n = 15) 9.18 (n = 11) 7.67 (n = 3)
Direct client contact, such as 
facilitating SME or focus groups
13.41 (n = 44) 14.79 (n = 19) 12.89 (n = 19)
Report writing   15.91 (n = 55) 15.87 (n = 23) 16.47 (n = 17)
Developing training courses 19.20 (n = 15) 15.20 (n = 5)  13.14 (n = 7)
Developing presentations    9.79 (n = 38) 9.18 (n = 11) 9.79 (n = 19)
Making presentations    6.36 (n = 22) 7.67 (n = 6) 4.92 (n = 12)
Conducting validation studies    14.04 (n = 26) 16.15 (n = 13) 13.33 (n = 9)
Developing survey content    10.34 (n = 29) 8.57 (n = 7) 11.25 (n = 12)
Developing selection assessments, such as interviews and
paper-and pencil tests
15.34 (n = 29) 14.58 (n = 12) 16.36 (n = 11)
Conducting interviews    11.15 (n = 13) 11.67 (n = 9) 10.00 (n = 2)
Project management    15.91 (n = 33) 10.71 (n = 7) 17.27 (n = 22)
Other types of data collection not listed above 14.00 (n = 15) 7.00 (n = 5) 17.00 (n = 5)
Other    24.00 (n = 15) 36.43 (n = 7) 14.17 (n = 6)


Furthermore, interns in external consulting organizations spend the majority of their time analyzing data, conducting validation studies, writing reports, developing training courses and/or selection assessments, and directing client contact (e.g., conduct focus groups) while interns in internal consulting organizations conduct job analyses, analyze data, manage projects, collect data, write reports, and develop selection assessments. While there is some overlap in the most frequent tasks, the differences are notable.

What does this mean for internship seekers? Intern job responsibilities vary from organization to organization, but at a minimum, expect to analyze data. Depending on the nature of the internship, you may also develop training courses, conduct job analyses, manage projects, write reports, and develop selection assessments. You will probably not be involved in test administration and developing or making presentations. Understanding the differences between the tasks performed by interns in internal and external consulting organizations may help you make a better decision about your internship experience.

Supervision and Feedback

An overarching theme in the internship experience is the expectation that interns will be able to demonstrate initiative and work with minimal supervision. This theme carries into the types and frequency of formal supervision of intern activities. A few respondents indicated that interns are closely supervised and several indicated that supervision was tailored to the tasks difficulty and interns ability to perform the task. Typically, however, the intern is expected to understand and independently perform daily activities with minimal direction with the final product being reviewed by a senior consultant or supervisor. Nevertheless, many respondents indicated that they expect the intern to ask questions and clarify goals when needed. 

In terms of performance feedback, it was surprising that only 78% of respondents indicated that they provide feedback to interns especially given the widespread acknowledgement that regular feedback is critical to performance development. Among this group, there was substantial variation in the formality, frequency, content, and source of the performance reviews. For example, 35% use an informal process, 12% use a formal process, and 19% use a mixture of both. A few (7%) follow their organizations feedback process. In terms of frequency, 20% indicate that feedback is provided on an ongoing basis, 14% provide feedback quarterly, and 12% provide feedback at the end of the internship.

Feedback is most typically provided informally in face-to-face coaching or mentoring sessions and is provided by a variety of sources including supervisors, team members, customers, and mentors. Most participants provide project or task-specific feedback; however, only three specifically mentioned setting standards and/or goals for the intern. Furthermore, when formal reviews and documentation occur, they are typically done at year-end or to fulfill graduate school requirements and are rarely done for the purpose of performance development. 

What does this mean for internship seekers? While managers typically expect interns to demonstrate initiative and work with minimal supervision, you should ask questions and clarify goals when necessary. While the majority of organizations provide performance feedback, it is not a guarantee; you may need to ask for it. If you do receive performance feedback, it is likely to be provided informally in coaching or mentoring sessions.

Supervision for Licensure

Approximately 13% of respondents indicated the ability to provide supervised activities that meet the states guidelines for licensure as a psychologist; 55% did not offer supervised activities, and 33% were unaware whether this type of supervision was provided to interns. Four respondents indicated that one or more licensed psychologists were available who could provide the necessary supervision. 

What does this mean for internship seekers? If you are seeking licensure, ensure that the organization can provide the supervision needed to meet your states guidelines before accepting the internship.

Length of Internships, Pay, Benefits, and Perks

The typical length of an internship is 69 months; however, 20% indicated that the length of their internships was negotiable. On average, interns are paid between $18 and $20/hour (external consulting positions pay $18$20/hour, while the average hourly pay for internal consulting positions is $21$23). Of those who responded, ten indicated that their internships were unpaid, and four pay their interns $27/hour or more. 

The average number of hours that interns are expected to work each week is approximately 2025 (external consulting internships average between 2025 hours/week while internal consulting internships average 2530 hours); however, the two most frequent responses were 1520 hours and 3540 hours with 19% of respondents selecting each, a result that may reflect the availability of full- and part-time internships. 

In addition, interns with educational backgrounds in I-O psychology tend to make a slightly higher hourly wage than interns with other educational backgrounds, but they also tend to work more hours (3540 hours/week). 

Thirty-three respondents indicated that they provide interns with benefits and other perks. Most frequently these organizations provide health (medical and in some cases, dental) insurance (33% of those commenting), pay for all or part of expenses related to SIOP, including dues and travel to the annual conference (30%), and/or provide various training opportunities, such as project management courses (24%). A few organizations pay for parking and relocation, and some offer paid vacation days and flex time. Of particular interest to graduate students, three organizations specifically indicated that interns would have the opportunity to gather data for their thesis either during or after the internship; several even offer tuition reimbursement. 

Roughly 29% of the respondents indicated that qualified interns are likely to be offered a permanent position at the end of their internship contract.

What does this mean for internship seekers? The average hourly wage for interns is approximately $19/hour. The number of hours you will be expected to work will depend on if the internship is full- or part-time. While internal positions offer slightly more pay, you may also be expected to work more hours per week. The length of the internship is negotiable in some cases but on average will be 69 months.

Qualities of Effective Interns

Respondents commented on behaviors that distinguish effective from ineffective interns. While technical skills (particularly statistical knowledge) are considered important, respondents emphasized interpersonal skills, work ethic (e.g., conscientiousness, results orientation), and ability to demonstrate initiative and be proactive. Communication skills are also critical for interns, especially the ability to translate complex statistical or methodological information into business or lay terminology. Additionally, respondents mentioned quality orientation, adaptability, continuous learning (e.g., recognizes weaknesses, seeks information, quick learner, accepts feedback), and problem solving as being key characteristics of effective interns. Finally, respondents indicated that effective interns understand the constraints placed on I-O research techniques in business environments and are willing and able to make appropriate trade-offs between scientific rigor and business realities.

Expectations That Are Not Met

While many respondents commented that their selection procedures helped ensure that their interns typically met expectations, a sizable minority noted that their expectations were sometimes not met. Unmet expectations were often the result of work style issues (e.g., poor time management, poor work ethic or lack of initiative, lack of maturity or professionalism, poor attention to detail, and lack of ability to work independently), the interns difficulty adjusting to a business environment (e.g., inability to understand the practical constraints of a business environment, lack of organizational savvy), and poor writing skills, especially as related to writing for a business audience. Other reasons for unmet expectations included difficulties in communicating and interacting with others, a lack of interest in the work or business, lack of technical knowledge, and poor critical thinking skills.

What does this mean for internship seekers? Taking the two previous sections together, to be a successful intern, you need to demonstrate initiative, a strong work ethic, and have good interpersonal and communication skills. Perhaps, most important, you will also need to understand the practical constraints placed on I-O research in business environments and be willing and able to make appropriate compromises as necessary.


Successful internship programs offer benefits to both the intern and the employing organization. Organizations benefit from fresh perspectives and cutting-edge research. Internships also provide organizations with a means for giving back to the educational community. In addition, many interns are able to make substantive contributions to the work of the organizations and often provide a much needed extra pair of hands. Interns, on the other hand, are given the opportunity to explore applied areas of I-O psychology during their internships, gain valuable work experience, expand their professional networks, and further develop their technical and business skills. While internships offer benefits to both the intern and organization, in order to be truly successful, both must be prepared for the demands of the internship.

The goal of this survey was to identify the common characteristics of internships and to offer practical guidance for graduate students seeking these experiences. If you are a graduate student seeking an internship in I-O psychology, we hope these results will help you prepare for the experience. 

The Internship Subcommittee is investigating internships for high school and undergraduate students in areas related to I-O psychology. Look for information on these applied experiences in a future issue of TIP.

Finally, we want to thank Bill Macey and Personnel Research Associates, Inc. for allowing us to use SurveySage, their computerized survey builder tool, to administer this survey.

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