Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
4th Oct 2012

Part 1: Internships an increasingly popular gateway to career and immigration opportunities

As opportunities to study and work around the world increase, the global education industry has witnessed the development of an opportunity unique to its field: the international internship. We are pleased to present a two-part series that will explore the features and special requirements of international internships. In this first post, we profile three groups of students that can benefit from work abroad experience. The second post considers the particular needs of prospective international interns, and describe how educational institutions and organisations can help them accomplish their goals.

The (future) global executive

The most obvious candidate for an international internship is the student who dreams of working for an organisation with global interests. For this student, an internship in another country can form an important first step towards a career with an international company. One such company is Ernst & Young, the international accounting giant. According to Dan Black, a recruiter with Ernst & Young, his company is particularly interested in those students who have interned in key global markets like China. Black says the interest is due to “the growth we’re seeing there and... the investment we’re making.” Black claims that such an intern could contribute “a lot of value” to a company such as Ernst & Young; however, he emphasises that students should use an international internship not only to gather work experience in another country, but to learn the language as well. But skills and knowledge specific to a particular culture or country are not the only benefits that budding international players can derive from internships abroad. This type of internship can also provide benefits that apply across countries, cultures, and languages, says Carita Watson, an IBM executive. In Watson's opinion, international internships form an essential preparation for global business because they teach the intern to successfully work with people who don't necessarily share the same opinions and values.

A mark of distinction

It may come as no surprise that an international internship might benefit the student who has their eyes set on a global career; but readers may be interested to hear that the benefits of an international internship can extend to those students who intend to find work in their home country. In a recent article that profiled US students who had interned in China, Business Week noted that many of these students appeared to have profited from their internships when applying for jobs back in the US. For example, Kristen Howell, an accounting major at the University of Arkansas, states emphatically that her interviewers were often “fascinated” by the mere fact that she had completed an internship in China – to the extent that the subject became the main topic of discussion in many of her interviews. She believes that much of her subsequent success on the job market was related to the impression the internship made on employers. Kristen's experiences may confirm social media expert Erik Decker's opinions on the value of international internships. Decker believes that prospective employers will readily attribute a variety of virtues to an intern who has successfully completed an internship abroad – virtues such as competence, confidence, and ability.

The key to a new home

For students who wish to embark upon a global career, or who desire distinction on their domestic job market, international internships appear to confer significant benefits; however, these benefits pale in comparison to the critical difference an international internship can make to a very different group of students. In recent months, ICEF Monitor has observed a growing tendency among international students to stay on in the country where they have graduated to work. This desire may have as much to do with worsening conditions in home countries as it does with increasingly favourable circumstances in popular study destinations. Many students from southern Europe are choosing to relocate their studies to northern European institutions and beyond to escape funding cuts and rising unemployment; meanwhile, Germany, France, Canada, and other traditional study hotspots have adopted increasingly supportive policies to encourage students to stay after graduation. But while these students now face fewer legal restrictions in the pursuit of employment, they may still encounter obstacles that can hinder any intention to work and settle in another country - obstacles that are related to the expectations that employers have of international student graduates. For example, the fluency with which these graduates speak the local language may not meet the demands of the workplace; they may not have developed the network that can help them access the so-called “hidden job market,” the practice by which employees are hired internally or through contacts; but most importantly, they may lack the work experience required for employment in many countries. The importance of work experience preceding graduation cannot be overstated. In Canada, often lauded as a model of progressive immigration policy, the requirement of Canadian work experience continues to frustrate well-qualified immigrants. And in the UK, the 2012 recruitment drive appears poised to ignore untried graduates outright, and to hire a full third of graduates internally – that is to say, from among those graduates who have previously worked for the same companies, for example as interns. The British market's attitude toward graduates with no work experience has particular relevance for non-EU/EEA students, since recent reforms now require these students to secure a job upon graduation if they wish to stay in the country. Here, then, is why “international” internships are so valuable to international students who wish to settle in their country of study, more so than to any other class of student: for them, the skills, knowledge, and further benefits that internships provide are precisely those that matter most.

  • Internships can provide priceless opportunities to practice that particular form of language used in the profession they seek to enter, and in those casual conversations and circumstances that frequently give rise to invaluable professional tips or even internal job offers.
  • Internships allow international students to make acquaintances related to the field that they want to work in, who may eventually help them find employment through the “hidden job market."
  • Finally, and most essentially, these internships necessarily provide the raw work experience that marks the first and most essential criteria for employment in most markets.

So for international students who intend to settle in their country of study after graduation, an internship could make the difference not only between work or unemployment, but residency or a ticket home. Aspiring international players, job-seekers eager for distinction, and prospective immigrant workers: these are the types of students who might benefit most from an internship abroad. But while these interns have distinct goals from each other, they share specific needs that set them apart from those interns who stay at home. In the second part of this series, we describe some of those needs, as well as some concrete ways in which educators and organisations are moving to support this class of intern.

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