Internship basics

Find out about the different types of internships available to you, timings and contracts.

An internship is a period of paid or unpaid workplace-based experience to gain a better understanding of the career you will potentially pursue at the end of your degree. It can be a compulsory or elective part of your studies, part of an organised programme or unstructured and completed in New Zealand or overseas.

Internships may also be known as a summer or winter clerkship, vacation work programme, work placement programme or practicum.

Types of internships


Major graduate recruiters and government agencies often run an internship programme alongside their graduate programme to engage with students in their penultimate (second to last) year of study (and even earlier). Employers may target specific degrees and degree disciplines.

Professional associations, industry training boards and independent agencies may play a role in internship (and graduate) recruitment activities on behalf of their membership or sector. For example Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand CA ANZ, Commercial Communications Council and Summer of Tech.

Internships in not-for-profit or creative sectors, where funding is an issue, may be advertised only when staff are available to supervise a suitable project.


An internship can be either a compulsory or an optional component within an undergraduate or postgraduate programme of study.

Summer Research scholarships offer a unique opportunity for external organisations, academics and students to work together in research. Working with globally recognised researchers in a local setting, you can gain valuable real-world experience as well as an insight into what research is all about.

Overseas or international

An international internship offers career-enhancing immersion in the life and culture of another country, improves language skills and intercultural awareness.

It is possible to organise an internship directly or apply through an internship provider. Some providers specialise in fields such as teaching English, aid and development or conservation. Providers can also search for an internship on your behalf but this is an expensive option so proceed with caution. All overseas internships will involve airfares, visa and other administrative costs as a minimum. Research, plan and budget early and consult the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website for information on countries that New Zealand has special working holiday visa arrangements with.

Opportunities you create yourself

An internship can be initiated by personally negotiating with a targeted employer to enhance employability or meet your degree requirements. Such an opportunity can also be created by negotiating with a current employer. If you already have a ‘student’ job with an organisation that has other departments, branches or a head office you could enquire about administrative, marketing or project work in these other areas of the business.

Availability and timing

Most people aim to complete an internship during a study break although it can be undertaken during term time and, in some instances at the end of study. The majority of internships are advertised between March and September each year. Check the NZUni Talent jobs board.

Payment and contracts

An internship in New Zealand may be paid, unpaid or ‘expenses-only’. There is ongoing debate internationally about whether those undertaking work experience should be paid. A good rule of thumb is, if your internship involves activities that are part of the organisation's normal commercial operations and normally the responsibility of others within the organisation, and you are expected to do these in place of someone who is paid to do the same activities, then the employer should pay you.

During what is typically a summer experience, interns are an ‘employee’ of the organisation on a fixed-term contract of two or three months. Interns are generally paid directly by the employing company. Make sure that you have read the contract and any other information provided to you in advance. A range of legislation is relevant to employment relationships. You should never feel unsafe, threatened or bullied or feel coerced into action that causes you mental or physical distress. If you experience anything like this, seek advice from a senior manager, university student support or academic staff, and see our section on Health and Safety.

Employment New Zealand provides clear guidelines on starting and ending employment, resolving problems and workplace policies.

Unpaid work experience or volunteering

Internships are generally unpaid if they form part of your degree course or contribute to civic engagement or community service and you are working for a registered charity, NGO or voluntary organisation. Short-term work experience and unpaid internships are increasingly common in some industries. If you are considering an unpaid work experience or internship, employers need to:

  • Make absolutely clear that the position is a volunteer position and that there is no expectation of payment or other reward. This should be done in writing.
  • Avoid getting an economic benefit from the work done by the volunteer.
  • Avoid having the volunteer do work that a full-time employee would ordinarily do.
  • Limit the duration of work and the hours worked by the volunteer.

Volunteer intern roles are often advertised by larger charitable organisations and are usually a supervised 3 -6 months volunteer commitment rather than a short-term volunteer position. A volunteer is not an employee, so employment law does not apply to them (with the exception of Health and Safety law). Employers may reimburse volunteers for expenses incurred when performing the volunteer work. Volunteering New Zealand provide clear advice on your rights as a volunteer.