I-O Internships

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I-O Internships

Overview of Internship Opportunities

The SIOP I-O Internship pages attempt to classify and describe five “types” of internship experiences often sought by I-O psychology graduate students.  The categories are not hard and fast, but rather generally align with the mission and vision of the organization.  It is important to acknowledge that the activities that you engage in during your internship experience may (likely will) overlap with other types of internships experiences.  For example, you may conduct a literature review (i.e., research-focused activity) when working on developing a selection procedure (i.e., applied activity) for an external consulting organization.

There are key considerations that may factor into your decision-making process when pursuing internship opportunities.  It is important to note that finding the “right” internship experience is about fit with the organization and type of experience.  Therefore, we encourage reflection and consideration of your own expectations and goals (see Section on Managing Expectations for guidance) before determining the type of internship opportunity that will be attractive and beneficial to you.  In other words, a consideration may be viewed as a pro- or con- depending upon who is evaluating the experience.  In addition to the considerations that are specific to the type of internship opportunities, there are several other factors that cut across opportunities to evaluate when pursuing an internship opportunity.  For example, it is important to consider:

  • Size of the organization
  • Expectations for travel
  • Work location (e.g., client site, virtual)
  • Client type (e.g., private or public-sector)
  • Required certifications or other requirements (e.g., security clearance)

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

Managing Expectations: Students, Organizations and the Profession

What Should an Organization Expect From an Intern?

What should you expect when you hire an Industrial-Organizational Psychology intern? While there will be differences in background and work experiences among the students, there will be some common abilities and motivations.

  • Someone who possesses good analytical and research skills
  • Someone who is motivated by challenging work, who wants to make a difference, and who is eager to learn about “real’ organizations
  • Someone who will have a different perspective from people who have worked in your organization or industry

Interns have the potential to make a contribution to your organization; however, you should not expect them to be able to take the initiative or to get things done without the direct support of their supervisor. Initially, they will not understand the context of their work nor will they understand what they need to do or how they need to communicate to get their ideas accepted. For the internship to be fully productive, organizations need to provide well-structured projects and a supervisor who has significant organizational experience and a practical understanding of how an intern will be effective in their role.

What Internship Managers Should Expect from an Intern

  • Interns will want to get involved in as many projects as possible. Their time with you may not be long enough to let them see a whole project from start to finish. Take time to explain how their work fits into the large project.
  • Many interns will have had no exposure to the actual application of I-O. Their solutions to problems may be very academic and not work in applied context. Interns will need help working their solutions so they fit in applied settings.
  • Interns will be looking to develop their written and oral communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.
  • Interns can be an excellent source for future employees. Take the time to train and advise them.
  • Help introduce the intern to other employees of the company doing a range of work so they can get exposure. Depending on how long the intern is working at the organization, it might sometimes be better to perform a number of tasks or to work more closely with someone with similar interests.
  • Organizations benefit from and thus need to develop relationships with graduate programs. These relationships may include some or all of the following: adjunct teaching; research partnerships with professors; supporting the grad program’s I-O student association; going to local meetings (e.g., PTC) to network with students.
  • Assign one staff member (or more than one) to develop an internship experience process, and consider evaluating the effectiveness of your interns and your internship program.
  • Upon successful completion of an internship, interns may ask for access to data for future projects. You may want to have a conversation about this issue early on if confidentiality or other issues will preclude such access.
  • Do not have the intern do only menial chores (copying materials, creating binders, etc.).
  • Interns may have little formal work experience. You may need to spend time with them on a regular basis (e.g., an hour a week) mapping out work schedules, giving feedback, helping them act professionally, etc.
  • The intern may have classes at the same time as the internship, so their work may need to be scheduled around their class schedule.
  • Discuss your company policies around ethical conduct, and with whom the intern should consult if he/she has any questions about ethical behavior. All interns should be held to high ethical standards of behavior, and understand the consequences for lapses in ethical conduct.

What Should Interns Expect From an Internship?

What should you expect when you are hired as an Industrial-Organizational Psychology intern? While there are many different types of internship opportunities, there should be some common expectations. Below is a brief list of what an intern should expect from their engagement:

  • Roles on projects may be initially limited until your experience is developed. For example, roles often include data analyses, literature reviews, note taking in meetings and focus groups, assisting in writing sections of reports, etc.
  • While these roles may not appear substantive, their largest value is in being able to see and experience aspects of projects. You may not get to do everything, but you should ask questions continuously.
  • It is unlikely that you will be able to see a project from start to finish unless you are there for a year or more. It is important that you ask questions to get an understanding of the entirety of the project.
  • Participation in project work may be limited to one project in one area. But there are likely a full range of projects going on across a range of I-O disciplines, so make sure you talk to people on other projects about what they are doing. This will help you find your interest areas.
  • There is more than one way to do most everything in I-O. Learn from as many perspectives as you can.
  • Seek out advice from non I-Os in external consulting organizations. Many organizations work collaboratively across functions in management of human capital consulting, so it will help you to understand how individuals with different backgrounds conduct consulting work.
  • Across all types of internships, you should expect to develop several skills, including written and oral communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. You should display professionalism at all times, and behave with a high degree of personal integrity.
  • It is also important to understand what the organization wants you to learn. This ranges from self-management – how to account for your time on your time sheet – to self-development – mastering specified I-O articles, techniques, and problem-solving techniques.
  • The sponsoring organization may want you to experience a broad range of client service interactions, or may ask for your assistance with just one major project and/or limit your exposure to client interactions. Regardless of the role you play, it is important to pay attention to how the organization approaches and serves clients.
  • Not all I-Os are good mentors. However, if the organization brought you in to be an intern it has committed to your development. Thus talk with the internship manager to find a better fit if one person is not providing the experience you need or want.
  • You should have a working knowledge of standard business software for word processing, databases, and presentations. It is helpful to know statistical analysis software.
  • Learn the sponsoring organization’s expectations in terms of working hours and attire.

In advance of the internship, try to learn the sponsoring organization’s niche – for example, does the external consulting organization work with private sector or public sector clients? If the internship is internal to an organization’s HR department, what are the primary services that the department is responsible for? What is the mission of the government agency?

What Should the Profession Expect From Academic Departments Regarding Internships?

According to SIOP’s 1999 guidelines for education and training at the doctoral level, “Dual emphasis on theory and practice is needed regardless of a student’s intended career path.” The guidelines recommend that a specific competency, “Consulting and Business Skills,” be included in graduate training. Consulting and business skills includes the sub-competencies of communications, business development, and project management. According to the Business and Consulting Skills subcommittee of the Education and Training Committee, “I-O graduates should not only know what these competencies are, but they should be able to execute them effectively.”

A 2011 survey of graduate students, faculty, and employers of I-O psychologists by SIOP’s Education and Training Committee highlights differences in perception and expectations about consulting and business skills. Click here for the full article in TIP. Table 1 below compares faculty and student perceptions of the degree to which graduate training programs provide opportunities to develop specific business and consulting skills. (Ratings were on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 = small/no extent and 5 = great extent.)

Table 1. Faculty/student differences in perceived opportunities to develop business and consulting skills.

Skill Faculty Mean Student Mean t df

Communication skills in general





Business writing





Business presentation





Influence and persuasion skills





The individual in the team





Working on project teams





Business development skills in general





Ability to package ideas





Practical problem-solving





Project management skills in general





Organizing work





Integrating and utilizing information





*p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01

The survey indicates a discrepancy between what faculty perceive they provide and what students perceive they receive in opportunities to develop business and consulting skills. The discrepancy is in the direction of faculty perceiving that they provide more opportunities and students perceiving they receive fewer opportunities. The discrepancies are significant in the communications skills area with influence and persuasion skills and working in teams accounting for the biggest short falls in perceived opportunities.

Within the same survey, employers were asked to rate their expectations of new graduate consulting and business skills and then to compare that with the degree to which graduates that they had hired actually possessed those skills. Employer expectations were higher than what was actually delivered for all the consulting and business skills with the biggest gaps in four areas:

  • Communication: 70% of employers expect moderate or greater communication skill levels but only 14% experienced new graduates‘ skills at that level
  • The individual in the team: 77% of employers expect to see this skill to a great extent in new graduates but only 24% experienced new graduate skills at that level.
  • Practical problem solving: 56% of employers expect to see this skill evident to a great extent in new graduates but only 12% report actually seeing it at that level.
  • Integrating and utilizing information: 76% of employers expect this skill to a great extent but only 33% report that new I/O graduates possess the skill to that extent.

It appears that, in the eyes of students and employers, graduate programs may fall short of fully preparing students in consulting and business skills. According to the 2011 SIOP Graduate Program Benchmarking Survey, 80% of academic departments state that internships “are available.” However only 38% of the departments require graduate students to have an internship (58% for masters students but only 33% for Ph.D. students). The survey also notes that a clear majority (74.6%) of the graduate students say they are seeking applied rather than academic jobs. For master’s degree students, the applied percentage is 91% and for doctoral students the applied percentage is 67%.

Academic programs enjoy a great deal of flexibility in how they structure their graduate training; however, with this freedom comes the responsibility to meet the legitimate expectations of both students and those who employ their graduates. Internships can provide a sound way to develop consulting and business skills and achieve SIOP’s dual emphasis on theory and practice. The inclusion of a well-structured internship in graduate training is a good way to successfully prepare graduates to meet the expectations of their employers as well as help graduate programs fulfill the expectations of their students.

Intern Frequently Asked Questions

When are internships available, where are they, and how long do they typically last?

The 2011 SIOP Graduate Program Benchmarking Survey reports that many internships occur during the summer (39%), however, a substantial percentage also occur in the fall (29%). For master’s degree students, internships tend to happen at the end of the first year and into the second. For doctoral students, the internship is typically in or beyond the third year. The majority of internships are with private sector businesses (53%) although consulting firms and the government account for substantial percentages (25% and 18% respectively). Local organizations provide the majority of the internships (52%), so it may not be necessary to relocate.  The duration of internships varies substantially. Eleven percent of internships last eight weeks or less, 28% are completed over an entire semester, 20% last 9-12 weeks, 20% last nine months, and 20% last one year.

Pay & Benefits

As a graduate student, most internships are paid. Just like full time jobs, pay can differ greatly depending on the type of internship, where you are located, your experience, education and also the specific organization you are working with. Some offer an hourly rate, while others give a flat stipend or pay on a project based agreement. The 2011 SIOP Graduate Program Benchmarking Survey reports significant variability in pay, ranging from $10 per hour to $29 per hour, with a midpoint of $18 per hour. Since internships are about learning, experience and opportunity you should not expect to be paid the same as full time employees with degrees and/or experience. Although you should expect to be compensated for your work as an intern, it is recommended to accept an internship that will benefit you the most professionally not necessarily the one that will benefit you the most financially.

Typically interns do not have benefits packages like full time employees such as healthcare, retirement programs or paid vacation.


Contracts are common in many internship opportunities. Depending on the type of work it is not uncommon to have the same expectations of full-time employees. For example, if you are involved in sensitive government work (whether interning for the government directly or for an organization that does work for the government) you may be required to pass a background check in order to obtain a certain level of security clearance. Some companies require all employees to undergo drug tests, submit fingerprints, or receive a medical physical. Also, it is possible to be asked to enter into a non-disclosure agreement. Interns are typically temporary employees, so organizations may put in place measures to protect sensitive information.


Similar to pay, the hours expected or contractually required can differ substantially depending on the situation. Part-time internships (5-10 hours a week) are common as are full time internship (40 hours a week or more).

Work Ethic

Interns are universally expected to have a strong work ethic. Interns have less seniority, as they are working towards gaining more experience and education. In exchange for giving interns experience or educational opportunities, it is common for interns to be required to work long hours and produce high quality work. Organizations invest in interns by giving them the opportunity to learn and gain experience, and in return, interns are expected to show professionalism and exceptional performance.

How should I handle my interview?

Interviews may be conducted over the phone, or in person. In some cases, you might have multiple interviews for the same opportunity. Treat internship interviews as you would a job interview. Make sure you dress professionally if you are meeting face-to-face. Do your homework about the company and the position so you arrive to the interview prepared.

Since many interns may lack formalized work experience in a professional environment, it is a good idea to have examples of any relatable experience that would help the organization determine if you would be able to add value. For example: you worked as a server in college, you may have a few really good examples of how you handled an irate customer or picked up slack when a co-worker didn’t arrive to work on time. Often, college students have examples of project work from school that can be used to demonstrate knowledge in a particular area or understanding of a particular topic.

Even if you do not secure the position, the experience of interviewing (tailoring resume & cover letter, applying, publicly speaking, verbalizing your career goals and interests) is valuable. Use interview experience to prepare for future interviews. Often employers will ask similar questions during an interview process so keep notes of your experiences so you can be better prepared for the next interview.

Important: Organizations understand that you are trying to gain experience and job knowledge and do not expect you to be an expert at this stage of your career. If asked a question you do not know, it is better to answer honestly. It is assumed that you have the ability to learn and organizations understand you are there to expand your skillset and knowledge. Highlight what you do know and focus on your strengths.

Every organization’s internship hiring process is different. Organizations may decide to offer you an internship within a few days to a few weeks. Other organizations may wait a month or two before making a decision.

How should I prepare my resume?

It is important that your resume is well written and appropriate. Resumes should be modified to fit the position for which you are applying. In many cases, less is more. Typically you are starting your career so multiple pages may not be appropriate.

Can I expect to obtain recommendations from my internship?

Recommendations are not always guaranteed from internship opportunities but are a reasonable request. An employer’s willingness to write a recommendation hinges on the intern’s performance during the internship. Although an internship is a learning opportunity, there will be opportunities during the internship to produce high quality work and prove you are willing and able to add value to the organization.

In addition to securing recommendations you could also ask if you are allowed to use some of the deliverables and projects that you worked on during your internship to put in your professional portfolio. Having work samples to show to a future employer that you have done high quality work can be a tangible take away from your internship experience.

During the Internship

During the internship, make sure you are professional at all times. As with any job, it is important that you:

  • Show up on time
  • Conform to the dress code of the organization
  • Follow through on all projects and requests
  • Check your work to make sure you are providing high quality
  • Ask questions so you ensure you understand what you are supposed to be doing
  • Ask for clarification on tasks you are unsure about
  • Be respectful of employees
  • Be respectful of the organization’s culture
  • Do not  be overly aggressive about a full time opportunity or recommendation
  • Do not assume you will receive a full time job offer as a conclusion of the internship
  • Be aware of how you are perceived by others and work on establishing a positive reputation

Non-Financial Benefits

  • Experience will help you look and be more qualified in an I/O position after grad school.
  • Experience with I/O responsibilities that grad school courses & text books cannot give you
  • Even if the company that you intern at doesn’t have a full-time position they may recommend you to other employers
  • Experience with a recognizable company that another employer may respect
  • Experience and understanding office politics in a real work setting
  • Confidence in future job interviews after going through the process yourself
  • Understanding the pros and cons of what you do while in your internship in order to help you succeed in your first job after you graduate
  • Having a better idea of whether you want to have a career in something similar to what you do in your internships
  • Establishing a network with the coworkers you interact with


You are there to learn. Take full advantage of the opportunity. Often employers will increase responsibility and give more opportunity to you if you work hard and produce high quality results. Although a typical internship may not end in full-time employment, you never know what can happen if you show you can add value to the organization.


Visit the YM Career Center to search for internship openings.  Type "internship" in the Keyword search box and click Search. Scroll down to see if there are any internships listed.