When I decided to go for my first internship as a naive third semester student, I had many questions: How many will be useful? Where would be best to apply? And how? When others told me about their exciting internship opportunities, I always felt intimidated and overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Now that I am at the end of my studies, I have passed through quite a few internships in past years, which means I am now able to give you some tips on the slings and arrows you will have to face in the process. So if you feel the same way I did as a confused undergrad, here’s the guide for you! Surely, it makes a difference which program you are in and in which field you are planning to work later on, so these tips are more general to give you some basic direction.
Generally speaking, an internship is a great opportunity: In a few weeks, you get to know the work procedures in a certain company and get to see whether you could see yourself working there in the future. In the best case, you meet nice colleagues and make contacts for your later career. But an internship can also be stressful: The application will cost you some time, you will have to sacrifice your semester break or maybe even a whole semester and might have to move to another town. So it will pay off to be well prepared from the start.
1. Timing it
It’s the ugly truth: An early application is key when it comes to internship. Remember this simple rule: The bigger and more renowned the company, the earlier you should turn in your application. Sought-after positions are filled a year or maybe even more in advance. For example, my application for one of the public media channels I sent 11 months before I wanted to start was turned down because the slot had already been filled. The same applies to spots in Göttingen: There are a lot of applicants for only few places so being fast to apply is a good idea. And another tip from my experience: Rather apply for internships in the winter semester break instead of the one in summer – because otherwise you’ll be there in the middle of the summer slump, half of your colleagues might be on vacation and the rest is working sporadically on not-so-interesting projects.
2. Choosing the right spot
But before you can start, you have to go on the hunt for a spot as an intern. There are several possibilities for that: With search engines or field-specific job exchange sites you can check where there are open internship positions. Of course you can also ask around in your surroundings whether you know someone who knows someone who is looking for an intern. Besides, there’s always the possibility of sending an initiative application to a company that interests you. But how to decide where you want to become an intern at all? From my personal experience, I can recommend you to only do those internships that are actually relevant for your future professional life and that you’re genuinely interested in. Because internships are exhausting for several reasons: Firstly, you work full-time for a salary that mostly isn’t particularly generous (or non-existing, but that’s a whole other issue), secondly, it can get awfully boring when there aren’t enough tasks for interns and the other employees don’t have enough time to look out for you either. To get through those uselessly wasted days in your intern’s corner, you really have to want this. Because if you work in a place, where you truly like it, it will be all the more interesting to get glimpses of what your later work life might look like. And even though it certainly is of advantage to have extensive professional experience, it will look better on your CV to show you put in a lot of effort and good work at fewer internships than to have hung out in fifteen different companies. Many faculties have resources which can help you find the right internship spot for yourself, so don’t hesitate to consult their websites. In the Humanities for example, there is a whole new virtual module for professional orientation.
An application is always tricky business. I’m sure you are already aware of the most important things to remember: No mistakes (rather let someone proof-read who knows their orthography), a concise letter of motivation (no more than one page), a relevant CV (list only the most important steps, not every tiny summer job). The more concretely you react to the job posting or the specifics of the company, the better, because it will show your genuine motivation to work there. And: Avoid platitudes à la “my strengths are creativity, team work, efficiency and creativity” at all cost. Also, I can only recommend you to not make yourself crazy before the job interview but not to take it too lightly either. Not only should you be well-informed on the company and prepared to present yourself well, but also refresh your general knowledge on topics that could be important for your field. When I was being interviewed for a job at a newspaper once, I was asked numerous questions on politics, economics and sports (oof), some of which I was only very barely able to answer and therefore I was lucky to have gotten the position anyway. Ever since, I have made it a habit to recall important recent develops relevant to my work as a preparation for job interviews.
4. Integration the internship into your studies
For many applications, you will have to specify whether you are doing a mandatory internship that is part of your curriculum or a voluntary one. This has to do with stuff like insurance and salary and can become a very annoying bureaucratic hurdle. For that reason it is important to consult your exam regulations whether they demand an internship or not and to point that out in the application. Some companies will ask for a letter confirming that your internship is indeed mandatory, sometimes a scan from the exam regulations suffices, sometimes you’ll have to ask your study consultant to write one for you. Make sure to check how many hours your internship will have to comprise to be eligible as part of your studies and if you’ll have to hand in an internship report. Also for some of the certificate programs, an internship is necessary. The best time for an internship is usually the semester break. But for obvious reasons, those time slots are highly sought-after so you might have to do it during the semester instead. Because a full-time internship hardly goes well with your normal workload as a student, it’s worth checking whether you could take a holiday semester so the time you missed won’t apply to your Regelstudienzeit. You’ll get more information on this at the InfoLine or the Uni Göttingen homepage.
5. Going abroad
If you want to go to another country for your internship, the process of application pretty much stays the same, you should only make sure to adapt your documents to the local standards. Moreover, some bureaucratic difficulties might arise such as – outside of the EU – visa and work permit. Again, you’ll find more information on this with the Career Service.
6. Making a good impression
The first day of your internship is a bit like your first day of school: A good impression is key. The question of clothes is exasperating but poses itself again and again anyway. The safest bet for me is always to turn to business casual: A pullover with a blouse underneath, combined with a skirt, trousers or jeans is a decent choice for any level of office formality. While working, it can be difficult to find the right balance between over-eager pain in the neck and disinterested copy twerp. It’s always good to propose your own idea and to ask whether you can attend meetings. But at the same time, you should know your place and maybe not give an unsolicited, unrefined 30-minute presentation in front of the most important clients. I know it takes a bit of courage but don’t hesitate to ask for help when you didn’t quite understand something. Because after all, an internship should be opportunity for you to learn something and not for you to fill a full time position without (proper) pay (but again, that’s a whole other issue).
7. Managing the pandemic
Of course everything is a little different at the moment due to the Coronavirus pandemic – that also has effects on the job market. However, that shouldn’t discourage you: Although some sectors do not hire at the moment because of economic hardships, in general everything goes its normal way, albeit in home office. So there’s no harm in applying anyway.
I hope these tips bring some clarity into the clutter of internship culture. You can always find more information and tips on the Career Service Website.