Von Stephanie Groß, Berlin
Stepping into professional life
For many students and graduates, an internship represents the first step into professional life. However, too few young people are fully aware of the rights and obligations that come with intern status.
According to the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), internships are meant to provide professional knowledge and help career orientation. This is why it is crucial to keep in mind that the intern is here to learn, and therefore cannot to be considered as an actual employee.
Many students still wonder what they will gain from an internship – and whether it really is worth forgoing the summer holidays. Aside from the obvious benefits – gaining experience in a specific professional area – statistics show that about 40% of graduates find their future jobs through professional contacts. Making contacts is easy once you find yourself in a company’s network.
Moreover, companies are on the lookout for qualified people at the very onset of the internship, so interning students can later come to fill in higher positions. 83% of employers encourage their interns to network with colleagues, even during the short time of the internship.
Finding the one
Being motivated to work during the holidays is great, but where, and how, does one find an internship? And once one has found an appealing offer – how does one craft an efficient application?
Internships can be generally found on company websites; however, German internship websites such as praktikum.info, meinpraktikum.de or praktika.de offer a broader choice. Many other students also find their internships via recommendations or personal contacts; universities often forward offers to their students. Once you have found your ideal internship, a good application will be the deciding factor. A complete resume and academic certificates, alongside a cover letter, previous work certificates, and a photo – even though optional – are the basic elements of a good application: they are here to give the employer a comprehensive overview of the applicant’s career so far, as well as his or her skills.
To pay or not to pay?
Then comes the big question: do you get paid as in intern– and if so, how much? How many hours of work a week are there, and is it possible to take any days off?
The minimum wage legislation has been in effect since 2015 in Germany. However, this is not a requirement in the case of a Pflichtpraktikum – German for an internship that is a mandatory part of a student’s curriculum. Furthermore, the minimum wage is not an obligation for voluntary first internships. However, all other students completing an internship are subject to the minimum wage legislation and are guaranteed an hourly compensation of at least €8.84. For the interns to whom this legislation does not apply, the amount of their salary, and if there is one, is the employer’s decision. Working hours are generally identical to employees’, unless specified in writing in the internship contract.
Can you end an internship earlier than expected?
Sometimes, although all the boxes have been ticked and the internship can finally begin… things just don’t work out. For any reason: maybe it’s the work atmosphere that doesn’t feel right, or the job doesn’t meet your expectations. What happens when you choose to end an internship before the planned date, then? The internship should normally end on the date stated on the contract; but as long as no period of notice has been agreed on prior, the intern can decide to end his or her internship at anytime he or she chooses. In the case of Pflichtpraktikum-type internships, the student’s university study guidelines are applied.
Just like in “real life”, being friendly and reliable is always a good thing
If the intern feels at home in his or her new workplace, then he or she can score points by providing good work on time. Staying open-minded and interested in everything also helps, and of course being nice at all times is a must.
By the end of the internship, the intern will have acquired new experiences and knowledge. He or she might wonder how many internships to complete in order to get the best start possible into professional life. Although it would be impossible to say a number, the rule of thumb is: the more, the better. This is why internship choices must be relevant regarding career aspirations.
Taking all those facts into account should put you on the right track.
Good luck to all of you future interns with my 101!