Confidence, creativity, clarity and connections; the ideal internship

Nicole Bogott

Confidence, creativity, clarity and connections; the ideal internship

I have been an intern before. To be exact: I have been an intern four times before. Now I am in a lucky position to choose interns myself and also to work with and supervise them.

It’s a very controversial issue that Gen Y faces around the world. Before you say yes to the opportunity make sure it’s an ideal fit for you.  How? Read on.

First: Reach clarity!

Do not stay in the same sector for all internships that you do. Be curious about the possibilities that are out there in the employment market. Also, be wise when enough is enough. There is a point in your career when staying in the internship cycle does not help you to move forward.

Internships are a way to explore – different teams, different type of jobs, and different areas of the world. Find out what your personal preferences are. Make most out of the insider / outsider position you are in. Yes, you are part of the team, but only for a short while, if you do not push for getting a job at the firm. Therefore you are in the perfect vicinity to observe and learn and to get clear on what you ultimately want!

I did internships in different sectors and different parts of the world. I interned with an American and a German think tank. They were the German Council on Foreign Relations in the International Forum on Strategic Thinking, which is now the EU-Middle East Forum and in the Global Chicago Center at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. I got to know the diplomatic field at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Sana’a, Yemen working in several departments. These were Development Cooperation, Political, Cultural and Press. Furthermore, I interned in the industrial sector in the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Casablanca, Morocco.

Second: Gain confidence!

Boost your confidence by choosing challenging tasks and asking to be incorporated into the everyday tasks of your colleagues, whose work you find most interesting. Use the chance to apply the knowledge you gained at university. Do not make yourself small. Sit at the table because you can learn a lot from these experiences; especially when interacting with seniors.

At the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Sana’a, Yemen I attended high level diplomatic meeting such as by UNHCR on Migration, Refugee issues or on Security matters and USAID on Democracy and Governance. At these conferences I had the ability to talk to diplomats and ambassadors. I realized that I had the knowledge to engage in discussions due to my academic background. As a follow up I wrote reports for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Third: Make Connections!

Get a LinkedIn profile started! Start early to establish a network and to use your network professionally. Ask the people you work with to give you online recommendations that everyone can see. Do not just collect a letter of recommendation that ends up hidden in your drawer. This way you are not dependent on your supervisor for positive reviews but you can ask other colleagues as well.

Keep in mind that your network of students will one day be in the job market. It is difficult to remember all your connections once you have entered the workplace a few years down the road. Seeing where people end up and when they change jobs will be a valuable tool to plan your future career.

Unfortunately, I started way to late using professional online platforms. I found it difficult to remember all the influential people I met years ago and realized that it is tougher to get recommended later on when your intern years have long passed. Do not make the same mistake.

Fourth: Be creative in securing funding!

Depending on the industry and the country you are doing an internship in it they may or may not be funded. If you are into politics, the arts or social sciences chances are good that you will do an internship that is unpaid. Securing funding anyway requires getting creative and thinking outside the box!

Ask yourself:

  • What are the possibilities for you to get funding?
  • What scholarships are out there?
  • Which local companies want to see you succeed?
  • Are there ways to do the internship part-time and work the other days of the week?

It will most likely be worth it to put in the extra effort. Often times I hear people say that they think they are not smart enough to get scholarships. However if you do not apply in the first place you will never know.

While interning at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs I worked 2-3 days a week in order to make money while working the extra days at a phone fundraiser at university. I applied for funding at the German Academic Exchange Service to do an internship in Yemen and it worked. I also made sure to find an internship close to home in order to lower my costs by moving back with my parents for a few months and getting my travel expenses paid by the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. Small sacrifices like moving back home also help you to save money in order to achieve your dreams.

If you have questions or need advice connect with me via LinkedIn and I will be more than happy to help.

Happy interning!