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Internship: Getting your foot in the door

As an intern, you have the chance to gain your first experience in professional life. You're given small projects and are supervised by an employee at the company. Vacancies are posted on internship exchanges online or can be found at international student organisations.

by the Editors

Team-Meeting with Interns © Ziegert/DAAD
Team-Meeting with Interns . © Ziegert/DAAD

An internship is a "short-term job". As a student, it can give you an impression of what professional life is like. Not only can you gain work experience and finally apply the theoretical knowledge you've gained during your studies, but you also have the chance to become familiar with the company structure and make professional contacts. You can complete an internship at a company or an organisation. It can last between a few weeks and several months. Most internships are not well-paid, if at all.

Intern © Stukenberg/DAAD
Intern . © Stukenberg/DAAD

Show initiative

As an intern, you're given small projects and are supervised by an employee at the company. German companies expect interns to complete small tasks on their own and offer suggestions and ideas. But be careful - although a healthy measure of self-confidence is a good thing, criticising the way your colleagues do their work on your first day isn't! "Only express criticism once you've learned the ropes and above all, are familiar with the company hierarchy," recommends Maria-Theresia Jansen from the Federal Employment Agency in Bonn. She adds that interns should "feel free to ask questions, be attentive, but don't be pushy!"

"Take some time to get to know the company culture and observe how certain things are done," she advises. And most importantly, find out who is responsible for what. This can help you later on when perusing the job adverts to understand what a "Systems Engineer for Electric Vehicles" is in charge of and what a "Project Manager with Component Responsibility" does all day.

Knowing German makes life easier

Intern with her colleagues © Stukenberg/DAAD
Intern with her colleagues . © Stukenberg/DAAD

Most small and medium-sized German companies require interns to know at least a little German, as it fosters communication between colleagues and customers. At large international companies, the office staff frequently speak English with one another. It's not necessary to know German.

Many companies post internship offers on their websites. Vacancies are also posted on internship exchanges online. The job exchange at the Federal Employment Agency is another good place to look. You can also find internship offers at your university's Career Service, the International Office and at international student organisations, such as AIESEC, ELSA and IAESTE. If you don't find an offer that matches your interests, you can take the initiative and apply directly to a company.

Pay attention to legal regulations

For example, if you study at a German university, you are only allowed to work 120 full days a year without prior approval from the Aliens Registration Office and the Federal Employment Agency. However, the 120-day rule doesn't apply if an internship is a mandatory requirement of your degree programme. And different rules apply for students at foreign universities. In some cases, you require approval from several authorities - which is why you should plan early for an internship.