Tips on traineeships
“Finding a placement abroad is not hard”
Johannes Hoch explains why sending out 20 applications for a work placement abroad is worthwhile, and has tips on how to ensure you learn more in foreign parts than the local way of making coffee.
Why should students devote such effort to obtaining job experience abroad?
Johannes Hoch: Practical exposure to the world of work is the perfect preparation for a real career. Internships – and work-study jobs – help students to decide what they really want to do in their professional lives, and by choosing to do an internship abroad one can reap several additional benefits: One has the chance to get a better grasp of a foreign language and one learns to cope with the demands of working in an unfamiliar cultural environment. One has the opportunity to discover what it is like to work in Israel, to study marine life up close in the Caribbean or to work in a marketing department in London, for instance. And for academics these days, work experience abroad is a virtually indispensable part of the expected profile.
What advice do you have for students who want to apply for a work placement abroad?
The first thing you have to get straight in your mind is where you want to work. When, for example, a student has decided that she wants to do an internship in marketing in Sydney, she has taken the crucial first step. The second step is relatively simple: You look for companies that have branches in the city, and you write to each, or you look up online job exchanges, such as the Praktikumsbörse von Student und Arbeitsmarkt or www.erasmusintern.org. You can also find lots of helpful tips in the blogs published on our website by students who are on or have completed traineeships. But there are also less conventional ways of going about finding suitable work environments: I know of one student who wanted to work in one of her hometown’s twin cities. She just went to the mayor’s office and asked who she should contact – and in no time she had garnered a placement in the tourist office in the twin city. All kinds of approach that lead to a really useful and rewarding traineeship are legitimate in my view!
How can I make sure that I don’t spend all my time making coffee for my colleagues?
You have got to put the right questions beforehand: What exactly am I expected to do, what’s on the program for those three months? It’s a good idea to ask for a concrete plan, and if that doesn’t seem to fit your needs, it’s OK to withdraw the application.
What sorts of jobs do students look for when they decide to go abroad?
There is a host of stories that demonstrate the enormous range of possibilities, from digging wells in Ethiopia, to working for a publisher in Latin America to contributing to cooperative German-Polish ventures in Warsaw. Placements are available with NGOs in the Middle East, for example: One student I know was involved in efforts to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer by organizing joint activities like cooking or going on excursions together. One student who worked for a German newspaper in Kuala Lumpur helped to refurbish the print edition and to create a new design for the paper. Trainee positions are also available in Bavarian representations and trade missions in places like Canada or Japan, which look after cultural and commercial exchanges between Bavaria and the regions in which they are based.
How can students find the financial resources to allow them to spend time abroad?
It is unfortunately the case that many of the traineeships on offer in foreign countries are unpaid. But the higher the local cost of living, the greater is the chance that temporary trainees will receive adequate remuneration. And one should always be ready to negotiate! If you are considering a placement in London, for instance, find out whether the firms you contact will pay for your daily commute on the Underground for you during your stay in the city, because that is an expensive item. Of course, one can also apply for fellowships, bursaries and stipends, although these usually need to be supplemented, as they very often do not cover living expenses.
Another thing that not all students realize when applying for a stipend for an internship is that one’s scholastic record is not the most important factor. What decides who wins these fellowships is how much your chosen program is likely to boost your professional development, and how you discovered it in the first place. A candidate who found the course on his own initiative is more likely to get a fellowship than someone who has paid a large fee to a professional placement agency to seek a suitable internship for him.
Would you then generally discourage students from making use of professional placement agencies?
A professional agency can be of assistance to students looking for a placement – but only as a last resort, in my opinion. They cost lots of money – money that the intern who intends to go abroad is going to need when he or she gets there. Apart from that, finding the right traineeship is easier than many students think. After all, for the firms who offer such placements, interns represent an economical source of qualified personnel. But one should, and very often one must, take the initiative and make the first contact oneself, because many companies don’t actively advertise internships, although they have such openings.
Many students who come up empty-handed do so because they have sent their applications to a non-specific address like info@xyz: It makes a great deal more sense to start by phoning companies to ask whether they offer such traineeships. The other reason for failure is lack of persistence. If you have only sent out five applications, it is unreasonable to expect that you will get five positive responses. Anyone looking for an overseas internship should be willing to send out 20 to 30 applications.
What services does LMU provide for students who plan to do an internship abroad?
LMU will hold its International Day on May 6th, and we from the Career Advisory Service Student und Labor Market Office will be on hand to advise students on the topic of overseas internships. During the week beginning on May 18th, we also have our sector-specific Career Fairs/Branchentreffs at LMU, which are attended by representatives of firms engaged in essentially all sectors of the economy who are looking for potential employees from all faculties. These companies also offer trainee courses and jobs for students, and one can apply directly for these at our Job Fairs. In addition, one of my colleagues, who comes from St John’s University in York (UK), will be giving a seminar on “How to Apply in English”, and will also check your CV.
Johannes Hoch is with LMU’s Career Advisory Service Student und Arbeitsmarkt, and offers tips on how to zu Praktika abroad. He was recently selected by the DAAD as its expert for Erasmus Traineeships.
Interview: Constanze Drewlo