For many international students, taking on an internship is an incredibly valuable part of their studies. Along with developing new skills, practising learned knowledge and experiencing a professional Australian work environment, internships can be excellent opportunities for networking, personal growth and, sometimes, opening the door to a permanent job.
We chatted to two international students in Adelaide about their internship journeys and put together some tips for securing an internship of your own.
START THE SEARCH NOW
In Australia, internships are available year-round – you just need to seek them out. Whether you’re looking for a full-time internship over the extended winter or summer breaks, or one that you can squeeze in during the semester, be proactive and start applying as soon as possible. This is especially important if a professional work placement is a compulsory part of your degree.
Your educational institution’s careers service is a great place to start and often includes available positions on their website (through CareerHub, for example).
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Networking is extremely important when it comes to securing an internship. Some of the best and easiest places to start are university career expos or career nights. At events like these, you can chat to professionals about potential opportunities within their businesses.
Once you’ve gotten your confidence up, you can branch out further. Research companies you’d love to work for and start emailing or calling them to express your interest.
DEVELOP YOUR SOFT SKILLS
Internships allow you to build on your soft skills, such as networking, communication, presenting to large groups, and working in a team. However, you likely already have some of these skills, either built through your studies or even your job. Experiences such as group assignments teach you about teamwork, time management and leadership skills, while a part-time job gives you a strong work ethic and can educate you on problem-solving and working well under pressure. You should include any or all of these in your internship application, because companies love a transferrable skill.
You can also pursue volunteer work in your free time to show companies that you have initiative and drive. For Adelaide students, Volunteering SA has a good database where you can find available positions.
In South Australia, the Adelaide Engage – Work Experience Network (AEWEN) is an international student-focused program that brings together students and employers. It’s also a great stepping stone when starting your internship journey.
As part of the program, you will act as a business consultant to project clients and will operate as part of a small team. Projects include everything from market entry research and social media strategy to customer journey mapping and event planning proposals. You are supported throughout the experience by external mentors as well as a structured learning program available through the app Practera.
You can apply for and find out more information on the AEWEN program through your university’s career service.
UPDATE YOUR RESUME
Many companies offering internships will receive a lot of resumes, so it’s important that yours stands out. Make sure the information is up-to-date, clearly presented and true (don’t lie about skills – you will be caught out very quickly).
For extra help, StudyAdelaide runs the Get Work Help Desk, which provides tailored advice and support on internship applications, as well as resume help, interview skills, and tips on understanding Australian business culture. Alternatively, visit your university’s careers service, as they will also run workshops covering all kinds of topics, including resume writing and interviews, which are perfect for preparing you for an internship (and future employment!).
CASE STUDY – SHUBHAM GUPTA
A 2017 recipient of the University of South Australia’s Vice Chancellor’s International Excellence Scholarship, Shub made his move from the hustle and bustle of Hyderabad, India, to Adelaide, to start a Bachelor of Information Technology (Software Development).
“What helped me settle in was getting myself busy, so I started volunteering and hanging out with different kinds of people, [and I] got a job,” he says. “These all helped me transition into life in Adelaide.”
Shub volunteered for University of South Australia events and at AIME (the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) as a student mentor, in addition to being employed in hospitality and then at the University. These experiences combined helped Shub to develop professional skills in his first year, all while studying at the same time. Since then, he has undertaken two internships and is about to commence his third.
“Working with people outside of university is so different to working with people within university,” he says. “Within the university, say you have a group assignment – not everyone wants to work on it, not everyone does the equal amount of work. But at work [or] at an internship, you have to make sure that everyone’s working [and] everyone’s got an equal amount that they’re working on.”
Shub has worked on both ends of the professional spectrum, beginning his first internship at two-man startup A&H Digital Solutions. He then followed that up with a 12-week paid internship in Perth with oil and gas company, Woodside Energy.
“Any kind of work experience in your related field will definitely help when it comes to applying for graduate roles and graduate programs,” Shub says. “Compared to students that haven’t done any internships or gotten any experience, you will have a much better chance of getting an offer.”
In acquiring his internship at Woodside Energy, Shub took a more traditional route, applying for the company’s summer internship program and going through the official selection process. By comparison, his opportunity with A&H demonstrates the importance of networking.
“One of my friends was working at A&H and I wanted to speak to his boss. I had no intention of interning there, but I was interested in their products,” Shub says. “I met the CEO of the company – a man who has worked for the United Nations – and said I was looking forward to any work I could do for them, and that’s how I got my first internship.”
Shub is now part way through his third internship (with software development start-up, HappyCo) and offers this advice to fellow international students:
“The experience you get out of an internship is very valuable. You get to actually implement what you’re learning at university. Start off with any positions you can get. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new things. Experience builds upon experience, and that’s how you start getting better jobs. Grab whatever opportunity you can.”
CASE STUDY – WEE MAE TAY
With no less than four internships completed in under two years (not including internships back home in Malaysia), Mae is something of an expert in work experience.
Moving to Adelaide in 2015, Mae started with a foundation year at Eynesbury College, her chosen pathway into university. She then took on a double degree, studying a Bachelor of Commerce with a Bachelor of Law. Later, Mae decided that law wasn’t for her and instead focused on commerce with a major in accounting at the University of Adelaide.
For Mae, volunteering was the perfect way to start making friends and get out of her comfort zone. She first approached the team at Adelaide’s famous Cleland Wildlife Park and was immediately offered a volunteer position. After two years, this became a paid casual job, which she still has to this day.
With volunteer experience under her belt, Mae began to pursue internships. She has successfully acquired four since 2017. Her first was with Project Everest, which involved travelling to Fiji and working in the Social Consulting team.
“We would talk to villagers or business owners, either offering them consultations or educating them on how to set up or improve their business,” she says. “Going to Fiji with this project was a very steep learning curve, but it’s also the internship that made me who I am today.”
Mae also participated in a virtual marketing internship with a company based in Singapore, worked as a research intern for the South Australian Small Business Commissioner and, most recently, spent time with Duxton Capital Australia working in the finance department.
“At Duxton, I learnt that everything is what you make of it. People can see if you work hard and will reward you for that. After the internship, I was offered the chance to stay on there afterwards,” she says. Instead, she moved on to yet another internship as an assistant accountant with Platinum Accounting Australia.
Across most of her internships, Mae took the initiative and sought them out herself. Only one was a requirement of her course.
“The way I got most of my internships was just making sure I stay on top of the university careers website [and] looking out for any opportunities,” she says. “Always get involved in your faculty and get to know people in your internship department. These people are the ones receiving the offers from businesses, so they might just email students they know, rather than putting it on the careers website.”
For current international students, Mae emphasises the importance of pursuing internships and the positive impact they can have on your employability.
“Employers want to see your employability skills. One way that all these internships helped me was they gave me soft skills such as communication, teamwork … and leadership skills,” she says. “But, I think the most important skill to learn is the ability to adapt, to be very malleable. Once you can start adapting to your environment, that’s when your performance starts to increase.”