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Everything you have to consider when looking for an Internship

You want to do an internship? That’s great! There is a whole world open to you which means there are many options and opportunities. However, it also means you have to find and choose between all these options. It can be difficult, especially if you are at the very first “I want to do an internship” phase. 

I knew the day would come. The day I would have to apply for internships. As usual, when I’m uncertain about or fear something, I have been procrastinating for a while. When I started my search for an internship, I really didn’t know where to start and what I wanted. Eventually, I got my applications done – consisting of CV and motivation letter – and I found my perfect internship quite quickly. As a Communications and Marketing Intern with Roots, I did my fair share of research into the questions and problems students are facing when searching for an internship. The result of my research is a step-by-step plan created to help you finding the right internship abroad.

Step 1: Your Interests

I know that a lot of students tend to look for an internship before they are aware of their personal interest. I was one of them. However, it will make your internship experience more enjoyable if you consider your interest and passions before you start looking. Working is not too bad after all when you like what you are doing.

First, we have to look at the “preconditions” for your internship. What do you study? And do you want or have to do an internship within your field of studies? Does your university want you to go abroad or is that up to you? Check the requirements form your university. Knowing the requirements before you start googling will prevent disappointments if your dream internship doesn’t meet them.

After you set the preconditions, it’s time to think about your personal interests. Depending on what you study, of course, the choices for an industry or sector can be quite broad. If you are looking for a Marketing Internship, for instance, you could end up working for the automotive, fashion or film industry and the list goes on. You could even try something completely different like a marketing internship with a wildlife conservation organization or an environmental business. Thinking about the industry will narrow down your options. Hence, it will become easier for you to make a decision.

Taking the example of a Marketing internship again, the field itself is broad as well. Therefore, think about if there is a specific focus that interests you. Here, it can be helpful to reflect which topics or disciplines of your studies you especially like or liked. In addition, you should consider your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, do you like writing or rather researching? Would you be interested in consulting, content or social media marketing? Do you like being creative or not? And so on. Of course, these marketing examples can be translated into any other field of studies.

By now your search should have become far more specific. Your starting search term”internship” should have developed into something like “social media marketing internship in an environmental business”.

Step 2: Your Objectives

After you know your interests and your university’s requirements, think about what you want to get out of the internship. Why do you want to do an internship? What do you want to learn? What do you hope to achieve with the internship? Do you want to enhance your CV with a big brand name or do you want to gain hands-on experiences?

Setting objectives can help avoid bad internship experiences. Even if you are in desperate need of an internship remember this: If you don’t see the benefits for yourself and your growth, keep on looking. In the end, it is your experience and you want to get the best out of it. Furthermore, being aware of your objectives will be the perfect preparation for an interview with a company. You will leave a positive impression if you can communicate what you want and why you want it.

Do you want to work in an office sitting behind your laptop or do you want to work on the field? Especially NGOs offer the possibility to get active in their projects. For example, you can find yourself planting trees or playing with children next to your ordinary office work. Therefore, think about if you want to get involved lending a helping hand from time to time or if you prefer office work only.

Also, keep in mind that small organizations usually offer a more diverse set of tasks and independent working while bigger ones embellish your CV with a brand name that stands out. If you work for a big organization with several departments your tasks tend to be more focused on your function as an intern. Additionally, the competition for an internship with the big players is very high. Even if a brand name looks good on your CV it doesn’t promise a great internship experience. Therefore, check the opportunities offered by smaller organizations or start-ups as well.

faculty-led programs Africa
Youth social Work Internship

Step 3: Where to go?

The major question you have to ask yourself is if you want to intern in your home country or abroad. Not sure yet? No problem, there are pros and cons for both options. Starting with your home country, you probably already know what to expect concerning the language and the work pace. You don’t have to readjust yourself too much. One of my teachers at university once told me, you are always more likely to find a job in your home country than in another country with a different language. I never really thought about it since I’m German, study in the Netherlands and have been abroad a couple of times. He might be right but since an internship is all about the experience, going abroad is worth a shot.

Interning abroad, you can benefit from different ways of working and meeting new cultures in and outside the office. Without any doubt, experiences abroad enhance your CV. In our globalized world, employers are searching for people with an understanding of different cultures and languages (even if you find a job in your home country after your studies).

Last but definitely not least, you can tick both interning and traveling off your bucket list! How about a safari after your internship or hiking Table Mountain on the weekends? Depending on your budget and time you can combine your professional working experience with traveling a few weekends, weeks or even months. And while being an intern, you get to see and experience a country as a local – not as a tourist.

Need more reasons to intern abroad? We give you 8!

Therefore, before booking your return ticket, research things to do and how much time you need for traveling. It would be a shame if you miss out on a great trip because you booked your return ticket without doing the research. Also, some organizations give you days off, so you could use them to travel as well instead of adding time before or after your internship.

Step 4: Paid or unpaid?

This is often a matter of your personal budget prior to starting an internship. Earning money is nice, especially if you are a student. Before I started looking for internships, my goal was to get a paid internship, so I could save money for my semester abroad. However, I don’t regret doing an unpaid internship. Maybe it was even the better decision. In an unpaid internship, you might not gain financially but experiences are more valuable than money. And a fulfilling unpaid internship experience might one day help you get that dream paid job you are looking for.

Also, future employers are interested in the skills you have learned and your performance during the internship. They don’t care if you got paid or not. So, don’t eliminate unpaid options too quickly. Of course, you have to be able to finance yourself for the whole internship period. Therefore, check what costs to expect for living, accommodation etc. and if you can apply for funding. Sometimes universities support their students financially if they go abroad or meet other requirements. Other funding opportunities are offered by the government or companies that invest in young talents.

Not sure how to finance your unpaid internship? Have a look at this blog post.

Step 5: For or Non-profit?

There are two basic organization types: For-profit and non-profit. These two often vary significantly in their goals, culture, and structure. If you decide to do an internship with a for-profit you are not guaranteed -but more likely- to get paid. Usually, for-profit organizations tend to be more hierarchical than non-profits. Non-profits, as the name reveals, are not profit-driven. Their aim is to benefit society and/or the environment.

Often, non-profits are associated with “volunteering”. As a result, many people don’t even think about an internship with a non-profit. However, many of these organizations offer academic internships which are a form of “skills-based volunteering”: You can put your personal and academic skills into practice to make an impact. Even if you never thought about working for a non-profit organization it can be inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by people who dedicate their work to making a difference.

Go back to your interests and objectives. Which organization type suits them? Are you doing the internship solely to earn money? Rather look for a large for-profit that pays their interns. The same goes for people who need a lot of structure in their lives and authorities who guide them. Non-profits often have loose hierarchical structures and the office culture is often a bit more relaxed. For your internship, it means that you can expect a more diverse set of tasks. However, you might also have to get your hands dirty or help out in one of the non-profit’s projects. Therefore, if one of your objectives was to get on the field experiences, you should definitely have a look at non-profit internships.

Thinking about interning with a non-profit? Have a look at our NGO internships in Africa!

No matter if for-profit or non-profit, make sure that you always have a good feeling about the organization and what it does. Are you enthusiastic about what they are doing, what they stand for and how they conduct business? Check the organizations’ social media, website, their reviews as well as their mission and vision statements to get a better feeling for the organization.

UH-Urban farming
Fundraising and Communications Internship in Cape Town

Step 6: Intermediary or on your own?

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for. You have considered your interests and set your internship goals. You have set preferences for a destination. Finally, you know the differences between for-profit and non-profit organizations and learned about the opportunities of paid and unpaid internships. Go ahead and start searching for an internship! When you start looking you will probably notice some websites offer to help you find an internship for a fee. These websites are intermediaries specialized in matching interns with organizations.

Now you are probably asking yourself: Why would I pay for an internship? And I totally get it. However, before you immediately ignore intermediaries, hear me out! There are different kinds of intermediaries and therefore also different price categories. So, firstly check what you will get in return for paying a fee. Generally, intermediaries offer a service that includes assistance with all your questions, finding accommodation, sorting your paperwork and logistics. Furthermore, they often help you with your visa applications, organize airport transfer and are there for you in case of any emergencies. You can basically lay back, get on the plane and start your internship.

It’s is your first time abroad or you want to do an internship in an unfamiliar environment? In that case, it can be especially convenient to consult an intermediary. In addition to that, they can often even help with finding tailor-made internships for you! All you have to do is telling them your decisions from Step 1 to Step 5.

Ask us for advice!

You think about traveling before or after your internship? Intermediaries often organize activities for “their” interns or give suggestions on fun things to do and places to visit. As a result, you can benefit from travel discounts and a network of other interns near you.

Now that you know the possible advantages that intermediaries offer, you can decide for yourself if you are willing to pay a fee to use their service. Also, compare different intermediaries to make sure to get the best value(able internship) for your money. If you decide to connect with an intermediary very much depends on your person and where you want to do an internship. When you want to go abroad, it usually makes more sense to look for assistance than if you stay in your home country.

Now you are well-prepared to dive into your search for the right internship abroad. We wish you good luck finding an internship that does both – boost your career and satisfy your interests. Enjoy the experience and time abroad!

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