Dhe semester break is well planned for many students: writing homework, creating a timetable, and vacation should also be included. Does that also have to be a voluntary internship?
Compulsory internships are compulsory in many degree programs, and university students must provide evidence of this in order to graduate. This does not apply to voluntary internships. First of all, you do extra work in the already tight curriculum.
Nevertheless, Ludmilla Aufurth is convinced: “It can be worth it.” Aufurth is responsible for the “Competence Development in Internship” project in the Career Service of Freie Universität Berlin and knows how important such practical phases are.
In internships, students can check their career aspirations, establish contacts in the industry or a specific company, or learn what they will need later in the world of work. For example, how to get involved in a team or how to organize your tasks well.
Aufurth suggests that you first consider which of these goals you would like to achieve with a particular internship and then select the place specifically.
Voluntary internship: first start-up, then large company
An example: Students should not apply twice in a row for internships with a medium-sized company if they are interested in marketing. Instead, it makes sense to complete the first internship at a start-up that is still building up its marketing department and gives interns responsibility immediately.
For the second internship, students can then choose a corporation where they can see how professionals with many years of professional experience and large budgets plan marketing campaigns.
A current survey at the Free University of Berlin came to the result: “Anyone who looked for the internship on their own initiative was particularly satisfied with it”, says Aufurth. “I suspect that a lot of good positions are not advertised at all.” It is therefore worth simply calling interesting companies.
Students keep asking Aufurth how many internships they should do during their studies. She cannot then give an exact number. It is important to do at least one internship, she explains. Whether it will be three or four in the end is not decisive.
It is possible that someone realizes during their first internship that they want to work in exactly this company after university. It also happens that students only realize during their second internship that they don’t fit into the industry and have to keep looking. You should stay calm. “If someone has done several internships, he will be left with a longer study period,” says Aufurth.
“The decisive factor is the quality, not the quantity,” explains Wilfried Schubarth, professor for educational and socialization theory at the University of Potsdam. He researched practical experience at the university and prepared an expert report on quality standards for the university rectors’ conference. “Students always say they want more and better supervised internships,” he noted.
A voluntary internship is most beneficial when students use it wisely. “Ask, ask, ask,” advises Aufurth. How did the employees with interesting positions get there? What did you study? What was helpful to you? Why are the workflows like this and not different?
“The tasks are never 100 percent defined,” says Aufurth. This means that students do not have to be satisfied with what the internship supervisor specifies, but can also suggest something themselves. If it is not already planned, you should ask for a feedback at the end. You can address that and how you want to keep in touch.
Networking: Keep in touch after the voluntary internship
“The networking opportunity is not used often enough,” says Aufurth. “The students actually know how important it is.” This is particularly true for small and medium-sized companies, because these often do not have regular internships or alumni networks.
Proper networking begins in the final meeting. Students can ask whether they can write their thesis in the company, whether there are vacation jobs and when they can pick up the job reference with which they can later prove the internship at other employers. Via business networks such as Xing or LinkedIn, you not only connect with your boss, but also with your colleagues.
Voluntary internships shouldn’t last longer than three months, advises the German Trade Union Federation (DGB). Otherwise there is a risk that you will primarily become a cheap worker for the company, but will not learn anything yourself.
“You shouldn’t do internships after your studies,” says Susanne Braun, political advisor at the DGB. “There is a trial period for familiarization with the job,” she says, or, depending on the area of work, other formats such as trainee programs or internships.
Read more articles from our series of advice on internships here:
This article was first published in January 2020.