Internships – The First Step to Employment

Photo by George

Author: Emilija Georgievska

If you look up the word “intern” in the dictionary, you will be given the following explanation:

“A student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.”

Although I am quite sure that all of you are familiar with this term, I feel obliged to define it and give it an appropriate introduction. The first association with the word (if you are a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy”) is the assistant physician or surgeon in a hospital, at least in an American context. The more broad usage of it refers to any kind of pre-work experience, usually connected to the particular field of study of the student, which takes place during the ongoing university attendance. In the past, doing an internship was seen as something optional, an experience that would have a positive influence on a person’s professional prosperity and probably something that not many people were able to gain access to. Nowadays, on the contrary, the experience of being an intern has become even obligatory (for those universities using the Bologna System). Nonetheless, this valuable experience also paves the path to finding a proper job that will certainly lead students to at least two internships. Students undertake the role of an intern not because they are confused or they do not know what to work in the future, but because the companies themselves require their new employees to have gone through the process of gaining the work ethics during their course of studies.

With the ‘constant instability’ of the global economy and millions people being left jobless, alternative solutions to the problem must be found. That is why internships have become so popular and omnipresent – they represent a chance to enter the professional world and to hopefully stay there.  Being a pressing issue, countless discussions on the topic of youth unemployment are held. Almost a month ago, this issue was brought up on the EU Summit in Brussels, where EU leaders discussed a plan to guarantee all young people either the work, training or further education within four months of leaving school. What came out of that we still do not know, but at least we know that there are plans to improve the current situation.

However, instead of trying to define the term and discuss the economic situation, I will try to give a deeper insight into the actual process of doing an internship, what it really means and how important it is in today’s society. The best way to do this is to see what students have to say on this topic, to share their own personal experiences and opinions. For this purpose, I have asked peers from different parts of Europe to express their views and reflect on the following questions:

1. Are internships about the practice you will gain, or just getting to know people who later might help you?

2. Is the act of doing an internship just about going to a company and wasting your time on making coffee, sending e-mails, doing copies etc, or there is more to it?

3. Should internships be paid or not?

4.  How difficult it is to be an intern in a prestigious company?

5.  Is internship a must when applying for a real job?

First, let me start from my own experience. I did my internship at the university I am studying at during the summer break. For the period of one month I was working at the university’s information desk whereby I was responsible for delivering information about the entry requirements. My obligations were not demanding at all and to be frank, I did not learn new skills, but what I did learn is the feeling of a 9 to 5 work time, the little annoying things one can come across during the work day such as making numerous phone calls, sending and answering to e-mails… in other words, I sensed the reality that overshadows every fantasy we might have about our future jobs.  Nevertheless, I am really grateful for the given opportunity, an opportunity that makes my CV shine brighter than before for sure. And here is an idea –  if you are looking for a place as an intern, always check with the university where you are studying; if it is not possible to do an internship there, they can provide you with information about where you can apply as an intern.

Vince Buyssens is a Belgian journalism student who works for a Flemish youth media agency called StampMedia. He thinks that internships are an excellent way to taste the real feel of having a job. Moreover, for Vince, the internship provides an environment where one can learn from his/her own mistakes without running the risk to be fired.  He gets the information for available internships from sources like school, the media agency he is part of and even Twitter. Vince suggests the internship that BBC offers as a brilliant opportunity for people with a lower education  What is also great is that this internship is paid.

For the young people in Croatia, internships are seen as the most valuable experience a student can get nowadays, at least for those who find themselves ambitious. Having broader knowledge, especially coming from outside the area of your studies is highly appreciated and employers expect that an applicant is quite prepared and knowledgeable for the position s/he applies. Natasa Vidakovic is a student from Zagreb who had an amazing opportunity to start working at the university where she studies. She is working as a demonstrator (assistant) at the Faculty of Political Sciences and her obligations consist of helping professors to prepare additional materials for the upcoming classes and a little bit of teaching. She is one of those motivated and striving students who think that hard work and persistence are the keys to success in life.

Internships are very beneficial, but today, in this hectic society that we live in, you cannot expect that someone will have enough will and patience to show you the job. That is why it is important to invest in yourself, do not be scared of new experiences and always try to enrich your knowledge”- says Natasa.

Natasa and her peers often use the Mladiinfo page for finding internship opportunities as well as the Salto-youth web page. Another helpful source is the Croatian Department of Knowledge.

Fabian Graber from Vienna has a lot of experience in doing internships. He first gained this practice during summertime, and after he started going to university monthly internships became something as a routine. So far, he has done four internships, all of which took place at prominent Austrian newspapers and magazines.

Photo by George

Doing internships has always been essential to me, because it’s the only way to find out if a job is really my thing.  And whenever I found out that I like doing something, the internship was the only way to get the training I needed in order to become professional. What is most important though is that especially in journalism, all employers expect to find a specific ammount of internship-time in your CV when applying for a job. All of the internships I did were paid, although the amount I received was not very high. Paid internships are very important to me, because it is a sign that your employer values your work even if you applied to learn something in the first place.”- maintains Fabian

As a source of information Fabian suggests the university where you study, or if you are a journalist student in Austria, there is a Facebook group where you can find internship opportunitiesTwitter accounts are another way of staying informed

Youngsters from South East Europe are also aware of the significance of an internship.

There are so many young people complaining about having to do countless internships and most of them are not paid. It is true that it is not very fair for students and graduates to be used like free labour force, but since we do not have a vast work experience, we actually need traineeship; we need some period of ‘learning by doing’ because the academic training we receive in schools is either poor or not relevant to what we end up working. And to be realistic, no one will ever be willing to pay students and graduates for ‘learning by doing’, so we have to accept unpaid internships since they are both necessary and helpful when lacking other alternatives” – says Doris Manu, a Serbian student living in Romania.

Her opinion on the necessity of internships is something we all have to agree with because it is a realistic view on the pre-working period of every student. Instead of complaining that finding a job is an ordeal that we have to go through, and on top of that, we are required to have gone through so many internships, we should instead try to grasp every opportunity we encounter and take it as it is, regardless of whether it is paid or unpaid. Doris herself has finished two internships so far, one in a research think tank and another in project management in the United Nations office in Romania, both of which were unpaid.

Doris is honest when she says that she has not learned much from those two internships – sometimes, doing internships is just about the prestige of the company and the “looks” of your CV. Prestigious or not, a company where you will be guided by a devoted mentor is definitely the ideal one, a company where you will actually learn something new and helpful. But this “ideal” place will not find you – instead, you should constantly try to find it yourself. Doris and her peers use the “Mladiinfo page to search for internship information. Furthermore, she also suggests a different approach:

“The best thing to do is to write directly to the institution/company where the student wants to work.  If they see that a student is directly interested in them, the chances of getting the internship are greater. The rest depends on the student, on how much she/he is willing to commit to and learn. It is always difficult to be motivated without having a salary, but the hope for a better future can help us go through it.”- adds Doris.

In Italy, the situation with finding a job is quite harsh, and so it is with finding an internship. Giacomo Cuscuna, an Italian student, thinks that internships in the private sector are very hard to get due to economic crisis around Europe. The public sector offers more opportunities in this respect, such as the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which offers internships in the Italian embassies all over the world, but you have to cover all expenses yourself, including travel, food, accommodation etc. The main problem according to Giacomo is that even if you do find an internship (that is usually unpaid), in most of the cases you are the one that has to pay for being an intern, which is pretty unaffordable for students. He has turned to a different path – volunteering. It is very popular, you can do it in every country and although you are not paid for what you do, at least you do not spend your money. Thus, Giacomo is due to start a volunteering project in Turkey. He also suggests another possibility for Italian students and that is the civil service, which is paid and you can find more information about it on the following link 

From all of the above examples and real experiences we can conclude that internships, no matter if paid or unpaid, provide an amazing opportunity for students to gain working experience and ethic and helps them prepare for opening another chapter in their lives. Even in the cases where interns do not acquire any special skills, the change to a different environment and gaining new habits is what counts at the end of the day. So, what are you waiting for? Get into action, start searching through the suggested websites and don’t wait for a company to find you!  Your future depends on you!

/ courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.

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