Now that I’ve managed to get my ideal internship for my year abroad I’ve almost forgotten the painful process leading up to that job offer (or rather my brain has blocked out those memories for the sake of my mental health). But as with any difficult experience I’ve learnt a few things on the way. So, if you’re thinking of working on your year abroad, I’ve compiled my dos, don’ts, pearls of wisdom and reality-checks for those of you who are about to embark on this rewarding, albeit long, journey.
Do your research.
And start as early as possible. Don’t wait for the gentle reminders from your respective departments or for everyone else to begin looking. Because before you know it it’s Spring, exams are around the corner and you have nothing. Also, unless you have a strong idea of what you want to do with your life, you’ll probably do a lot of back and forth-ing until you actually figure out how you want to spend your year abroad.
Tailor your applications.
As any well-seasoned applicant will know, to even be considered for a position a single CV and cover letter for every job won’t cut it. The best way to get HR’s attention is to tailor your CV and cover letter for each job, making it personal and relevant to the company and position you are applying for. This often means researching the company’s background, getting an understanding of what the role requires of you, fashioning an intriguing email to draw in the attention of HR, and even following them on social media.
Applying for jobs is emotionally draining.
I’d often find myself spending hours doing all of this and then taking a step back, looking at what I was actually applying for and realising I wasn’t even that interested in the position anyway (because what does social media marketing assistant really have to do with a future career in journalism?) You’ll then spend another chunk of time fashioning an attractive yet professional email to go with your application, wait nervously for a week, send a customary follow-up email to then not even be given the courtesy of a copy-and-pasted rejection email. This can be very, very disheartening. But stay focused and remember why you’re doing this, it’s all part of the process.
Take advantage of the resources available to you
Most universities have whole career offices that are there to help you with the application process. Your inbox is probably beginning to fill up with lots of workshop-invites and information requests, which may seem a bit pointless at the moment but I can’t reiterate how useful they are. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if they know anyone who’s done what you’re doing and might be able to help you out. More often than not these people are willing to give some advice as they understand your struggle better than anyone.
You may have to sacrifice a wage for industry experience.
Whilst the whole premise of unpaid internships is utterly baffling, depressing and frustrating to me and many others who simply can’t afford it, they are an unfortunate reality in most industries, particularly the more competitive ones like arts and media. Although most university students are struggling with their finances, your uni years are one of the few years that you don’t really have to be concerned with making money- with no mortgage, kids, or savings funds to be worrying about now is the time to concentrate on yourself and beginning your career path in the working world somewhere you’re interested in- not sacrificing your passions in order to earn some extra cash. So, whilst it’s so important for us to encourage and support this change, but in the meantime, there are ways around it and sacrifices you can make.
That’s why, for me at least, it has been worth it to take out my full loan, save up my money over the summer, applying for as many scholarships as I can and even finding part-time work whilst I’m there to fund my internship: because all of that means that I’m able to work in a field that I’m passionate about and gain experience that will propel me into the industry I want to succeed in.
If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.
I remember a particularly bad period of my applications: I was being endlessly rejected, the deadline was fast approaching and I was very close to changing to a study semester instead. But just remember, as harsh as it sounds, if you don’t get a job you weren’t right for it anyway, and the right job is just around the corner.