Whether you are still picking your college major or have known you want to be a doctor since kindergarten, internships are a great way for you to gain practical, hands on work experience. Some internships are loosely defined, while other internships involve an insane amount of hours for little or no pay. If you’re going to be working fo’ free, you might as well have fun (and an adventure) while doing it, right?! Enter: international internships!
Kicking your internship up a notch and taking it abroad is the secret sauce to hireability (in fact, in this study, nearly all the employers surveyed agree that, regardless of their chosen field of study, all students should have experiences in college that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own).
Fast forward a bit. You’ve chosen the perfect international internship program and are committed to some serious professional development. Imagine that it's your first day of your internship. You're sitting around a big table with 6 other wide-eyed newbie hires. You know one of you might be given a job offer at the end of the gig. What are you going to do to stand out and impress your employers? What habits can you develop to make them think they can't go back to work life without you?
The challenges you face will be unique to your experience, but if you follow these tips, you will become an all-star intern that any employer would love to hire!
1. Be Adaptable
Accept reality for what it is and not what it should be. In an internship, just like in any job, you may be asked to grab coffee for a meeting. Was “grabbing coffee for meetings” in your job description? Probably not. You also probably did not intend to intern abroad to do something you could have done at home.Even if alphabetizing the filing cabinets wasn't part of your expectations, the way you react to being assigned these tasks will say a lot about your character. If you are asked to do a task that you feel is menial, do it anyway.
Who knows - maybe grabbing coffee for the higher ups will give you a chance to strike up a conversation with them? Soon enough, you will be assigned more rewarding assignments.
2. Take Initiative
People respect go-getters. Once you are more comfortable in your workplace, start asking what else you can do to help. Just like grabbing coffee wasn't in your job description, a future project you will want to take up probably won't be an official task, either. That doesn't mean you can't do it. On the contrary- employers want you to think outside the box! Don’t just do what is required on your job description.
People notice when you stay late to work to make sure a job gets done. If you do this abroad, your work ethic will stand out because it's clear you aren't interning because you wanted a meaningful spin on an otherwise glamorous vacation. Propose ideas, events, and strategies. Even if they aren’t brought to life that instant, your supervisor will be impressed with your foresight and initiative. Make sure your internship is worth your investment: Once you leave, mention that you would love to come back and intern (or work full time!) once they have an opening.
3. Strategic Networking
One misconception about networking is that it must be done with new people. False! Start by tapping into your own network. According to GoAbroad’s guide to internships abroad, the people you already know are a great resource for you. Your coworkers will also help you navigate the highs and lows of an internship, and could introduce you to someone living in the city where you are interning. All you have to do is ask!
Networking is a chance to benefit yourself and the company. This article on interning abroad highlights the importance of using your time abroad to meet people in countries that you would not have otherwise had the chance to meet. Knowing the right people who could hire you or refer you to your next dream job is crucial to your success abroad. Once you expand and solidify your network, you can begin benefitting the company. For example, if you are interning with a TEFL program in Thailand, you might meet a hard working local English teacher who you could see working as a counterpart for your company. Your boss will love you for it.
4. Thorough Preparation
A little preparation goes a long way. Chatting with a former intern at your organization can tell you so much about not only what to expect, but how to make sure you're prepared to succeed. If you don't have access to former interns, ask your future boss or supervisor if you can schedule a time to talk with them via Skype or over the phone. Ask them about the pros and cons of their experience inside and outside of the workplace, how their internship bolstered their resume, if they grew in surprising ways. Once you begin the internship, you will have a contact who would be happy to help guide you!
Doing your research will impress your employer and help you "set the bar" for minimum intern expectations. Employers appreciate you for going the extra mile so that you can hit the ground running in their first week.
5. See Your Internship as One Really Long Job Interview
In an interview, you intend to impress your employer, right? Proving your worth shouldn't stop during the interview. Even though it may not seem like it, you are being watched. Poorly performing interns think they're too good for the grunt work. Interns who do the grunt work with a smile are asked to do the more substantial work. Your colleagues take note of your reactions, attitude, and work ethic, especially within the first few weeks. You present yourself during a job interview as a hard working, flexible candidate, so that's how you should act during your internship.
Check out this Ted Talk about the impression you give employers when you choose to say “Yes” or “No” to basic tasks. It could mean the difference between a poor reference or an enthusiastic job offer!
6. Regularly Solicit Feedback
Companies are always looking for the most passionate employees. When you are passionate about your job, you want to get better at it. You will have to be proactive in reaching out for feedback, especially as a short term intern. Advocate for yourself and know when to ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. You could even recommend asking for a performance review halfway through to know how the company sees your strengths and areas for improvement. If you are speaking a second language at your internship, ask them for tips to improve your language abilities.Your boss will be impressed with your maturity and won’t want to see you go.
7. Be Observant
Take a step back and observe how things work. How are orders given? What language is used to delegate tasks? Who is in charge of what? Who wants what to be done? How are problems resolved? What is the first thing people do when they get to work? How does the day develop? Are meeting times strictly adhered to? Where do people get the supplies they need? Do people make small talk before getting down to business? Questions like these will help you understand how your new workplace functions, and how it compares and contrasts with your previous workplace.
Now that you know how the workplace operates, integrate as seamlessly as possible into it. Model your communication patterns off of colleagues’. Don't remind bosses of meetings if they are late. Take notes so you can ask fewer questions in the future. Implementing your observations into your approach will help you be more effective and productive, ultimately helping you to stand out from the other interns because of your insight do familiarity with the workplace.
8. Budget your time wisely
How much free time will you have outside of your internship? This is an important question to consider if you'd like time outside to practice the language and explore the local culture. If you plan to travel on your days off, then don't go overboard. You're there to do a job and you won't be very good employees if they're tired Monday morning from their redeye flight Sunday night. This doesn't mean that you need to stay at home, either! Traveling will teach you about your host country and organization, and how those cultures interact.
You don't have to necessarily leave your town every weekend to do so, though. Just traveling across town or visiting a local market or museums will provide valuable insight into where you live and work. Budgeting your time will help you learn the most from your time abroad, especially if your internship isn't super structured!
Your job as an intern is to, well, do your job. Luckily for you, internships also give you a taste of a work environment you may see yourself in. As a foreign intern, you will encounter different challenges: cultural or linguistic barriers, adjusting to a work environment, and not knowing anyone outside of your workplace. Growing and adapting to these challenges in a multicultural setting will be the key to your success. Don’t settle for a lackluster experience. With these tips, you will have an enriching, rewarding internship abroad!
Interning abroad comes with multicultural challenges; you’ll already be standing out to future employers! Businesses love hiring people with international work experience. With a stint as an international intern on your resume, you prove that you accept unique challenges head-on and rise to the occasion. In an increasingly globalized economy, adapting to unique challenges is a more desirable workplace trait than ever.
Do you have any questions about interning abroad? What kind of advice would you like to see? Let us know in the comments!