Do Internships Count as Work Experience?

A very important question when it comes to interning at a company is: do internships count as work experience?

How do employers view internships? Should you even care about them, let alone apply to one (or more)?

If you’re here, you’re either entering college or going through your college experience. It’s a good thing you’re here because you’re about to learn a lot about internships.

We’ll review how important internships actually are, we’ll review some skills you might pick up, and then we’ll answer the big question.

Importance of an Internship

Before answering the big question, let’s take a deeper dive into internships.

If you’ve never worked as an intern, it’s hard to understand how important they are. You are getting real-world experience in an industry that you will one day pursue full time. And depending on how long you interned — it could be a ton of experience.

Companies open their doors to millions of interns a year – surely there’s a reason for it! There are a couple of big reasons that make internships so important:

  • Valuable line item to set your résumé apart from the rest
  • Shows future employers that you’re serious about this industry
  • Teaches you the jargon, know-how, and secrets of the industry
  • Hands-on experience with any equipment, programs, and processes used in the field

You are telling employers that you’d rather get experience in an industry than hang out with friends and enjoy your free time.

Why Do Employers Care About Internships?

Employers care about internships on two fronts: The companies offering the internships, and the companies hiring for entry-level roles.

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 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 French after they lived in France for a year.

Skills Gained in Internships

Whether or not your internship is counted as work experience, you’re going to be gaining valuable skills. After going through a term of an internship, you will be able to reflect on the different abilities you picked up.

Transitioning from a student to a full-time employee is really hard. Internships give you a peek at the real world and show you what life looks like after graduation. You’ll gain general skills that you didn’t even know you lacked:

  • Time management
  • Professionalism in a business setting
  • How to communicate and interact with coworkers
  • How to wake up early when you don’t want to
  • Writing emails for professionals
  • Working under pressure
  • A long list of industry-specific skills

It might seem like a silly list when you first read about it, but when you’re in the corporate world you’ll understand. There is a long list of things that you can’t do in the office that are perfectly fine in a classroom setting, and vice versa.

Learning how to navigate the waters before jumping head-first into full-time employment is critical.

Do Internships Count as Work Experience?

Based on the previous sections here, you can probably assume the answer to this question. It’s a sort of complicated situation. Most internships cannot be listed under “Work Experience” in your résumé, nor do they count towards the “Years of experience” section of an application.

Bummer, right? Actually, it’s not bad news.

Even though internships don’t technically count as work experience on paper, they will definitely sway a hiring manager who is going through a stack of applications.

Like you read earlier, internships teach you a ton of valuable information. Internships that are in the same industry of a job you’re applying for are invaluable.

The truth is, for entry-level jobs, internships almost count as work experience. Traditionally, people don’t work full-time in industry prior to college. That means that people’s internship experience is the only way to stand apart from their peers (ignoring scholastic performance).

An employer understands the soft and hard skills you learn during an internship, and it will position you better during the hiring process.

The National Association of College and Employers released a 2012 survey that showed that 60% of college grads who had a paid internship received at least one job offer upon graduation.

The quick answer to whether or not internships count as work experience: yes and no.

Why Don’t Internships Count as Work Experience?

A lot of people might be upset after reading the previous section. Let’s address the problem. Why wouldn’t employers let you use your internship experience on paper? You’re working your tail off and throwing away your free time when you could be having the college experience.

Well, it’s all a matter of fairness.

  • A lot of internships aren’t as rigorous as full-time jobs. There are much lower expectations, lighter workloads, and less stress. Fundamentally, internships can’t be compared to full-time work in an office.
  • Internships don’t last the same time as full-time work. It’s very rare for an intern to work 2080 hours a year (the figure of working 40-hour weeks, 52 weeks a year – the industry standard). Interns might clock hundreds of hours across a calendar year, so the translation to “years of experience” isn’t going to work here.
  • Interns are just there to learn the ropes. The final point to remember is that you’re there to learn. Internships are a great mix of the classroom and office that truly prepares you for a full-time gig. If you argue that your internship time counts as years of experience, then your college courses should count too.
  • Entry-level jobs have year requirements. Entry-level jobs are typically classified for people having 0-2 years of experience. If you count your four intern terms as four years of experience, that’s saying that you’re overqualified for an entry-level job, despite just walking across the stage of graduation. In most situations, it will skew your perspective going into the job market.

With the above in mind, there are exceptions across the board. Some college students are in environments that identically replicate a full-time position. For these people, they might be able to count their internship experience as years in the industry. Of course, they’ll have to defend this notion to the interviewer. There are tons of people who graduate college with thousands of hours of internship experience, literally translating to years of experience.

The reason to work an internship is to prepare yourself for a full-time role. Don’t be disheartened to learn that internships don’t technically count as work experience on paper. During your job interview, you can tell the interviewer what you learned during your internship, and the results will definitely be more favorable.


Now you understand more about internships and their importance when it comes to applying for a job. They can’t be used as years of experience in an industry, but they can be used to better position yourself into securing a job after graduation. Who would have guessed that internships were as important as hitting the books?