Internship Advice for University Students

Internationales, Arbeit

Internships help many students in their career orientation and in some cases, they are even a prerequisite for their studies. No matter your tasks at hand, opportunities and pitfalls can be found anywhere.

Whether you are a business student or a humanities student, an internship is the first professional experience for many people. By completing the internship at a later point of your studies, specialist knowledge gained throughout the previous semesters can be applied. Internships are also a first step into professional life for graduates. On the one hand, they are a great way to acquire a professional network that can help you later in your career. On the other hand, they serve above all as a means of professional orientation. By looking behind the scenes of your supposed dream job, you can find out whether you really want to pursue this career path or not.

The structures and processes of the respective companies can vary greatly. Small and medium-sized companies usually have the advantage of giving interns more responsibility, while in larger companies you can learn to work in broader and sometimes international teams.

Careful preparation pays off

If you happen to be perplexed, sitting in front of your application letter and wondering where to actually go, it can be useful to familiarize yourself with the university's various program offerings, such as career fairs or the Career Service, and to seek advice if necessary. According to the Career Service, questions such as "Which fields fascinate me the most?", "Which books, magazines or newspapers do I read?" or "Which topics do I like to talk about with friends the most?" can already be crucial during the selection of internships.

Of course, it is also possible to obtain information without the help of university resources. By going to career fairs or job portals, one can access popularity rankings and experience reports, among other things.

Internships abroad

The ability to gain practical experience is not limited to Germany: An internship abroad combines the acquisition of language skills as well as practical knowledge and so-called “soft skills”, which include standing on one’s own two feet in a foreign culture. However, the change of residence requires equally precise and early preparation. Work and residence permits abroad differ from country to country. Therefore, it is best to gather information from the respective foreign offices or from the respective foreign mission from the general FAQ section of the German Federal Foreign Office on work-related periods abroad. Students who are not originally from Germany may contact the International Office for guidance.

Though this planning phase may take some time, it can prove to be good training opportunity to gain a routine when it comes to preparation and application processes.

Understanding the Payment and Length of Employment Early On

The job interview provides an opportunity to discuss the key points of the internship with the potential employer: Schedule and duration, the tasks involved, working hours, and an available contact person. If the internship’s length is not already mentioned in the advertisement, it should be clarified during the interview at the latest. It may even be possible to agree on an individual duration. Correspondingly, a shorter internship that only lasts a couple weeks provides less insight into the professional life than one lasting several months.

The duration also affects the payment: If the duration is less than three months, a company is not obliged to pay its interns, whereas for internships longer than three months, the employer is required to pay interns minimum wage. Accordingly, one’s own financial situation should be clarified. Receivers of BAföG or other financial support, should find out in advance whether this support is also guaranteed during the internship.

Compulsory Internships or Gap Year

While a compulsory internship is prescribed by the university, a gap year between one’s bachelor’s and master’s degree is a voluntary orientation phase. This is also suitable for students, who are still undecided whether a master’s degree is the right choice for them. If you cannot decide on a field, a practical year is a good opportunity to gain practical experience in different fields and thus to concretize your career aspirations.

However, with a voluntary internship it is not absolutely necessary to work full time for an entire year; for many, the time off from lectures is enough to gain practical experience.

The Internship Does Not Meet My Expectations – What Now?

Sometimes an internship does not meet one’s expectations and the work environment, the boss or colleagues are making the time unbearable. Of course, extreme cases like these are an exception and not the rule. But as an intern it is important to have a confidant for situations like these as opposed to waiting until the last day to address problems. If you are dissatisfied with your workload (for example you have too much or too little to do) or there are other discrepancies, you should contact your supervisor as soon as possible. In most companies, it is also common to have feedback meetings halfway through the internship, where criticism or suggestions can be discussed.

After the termination of the employment, you are entitled to a certificate. This should include all activities, the duration as well as the work areas of the internship. A few weeks after the completion of said internship, you should receive the certificate. If nothing has arrived after three months, you can reach out to the human resources department for further information. After the internship, you can tell future interns about your experiences on job portals and exchange ideas with others there.

Regardless of the setting wherein you complete the internship, it offers one thing in addition to career orientation: life experience. Even the realization that a particular company or field isn’t the right fit for you, does not have to be considered a failure, but rather it can be seen as an experience.

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