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Outward Bound: International Internships on the Rise

|Apr 19|magazine14 min read

This story originally appeared here in the April issue of Business Review Australia magazine.

Written by Sean Marder

Sean Marder is a former Marketing Associate at CRCC Asia and a graduate from the University of Colorado where he studied Chinese Business, Language and Culture. He is a product of an international education having studied, interned and worked in Shanghai, China.

"In an interconnected and borderless world where information moves with a speed never seen before, the long-term competitive edge belongs to those individuals harboring special attributes in their professional vitae. Keeping these words in mind, I embarked on an exciting journey to the financial capital of China – Shanghai. Working in the medical sector as an advisor to the board on matters relating to international marketing and business development, I was able to hone in on the skills that I had learnt at university and apply them to real-life situations in an environment that was mentally stimulating. At the end of my internship in Shanghai, I was offered employment back home in New Zealand owing, in great part, to the wealth of experience I had gained in a culturally distinct environment in a matter of two months."

This is a testimonial from Utsav Sharma, a genetics student from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and his words ring true: day by day the global community becomes more entwined, and the lines separating us more blurred. In an increasingly borderless business environment where your next client is just as likely to be across the globe as across the street, international experience is proving to be instrumental for the next generation to shape their career paths and stand out from the crowd.

Internships, especially the international variety, are seen by employers as key opportunities for new graduates to make the transition from students to working professionals. According to the Confederation of British Industry Education and Skills Survey 2011, 82 per cent of businesses see experience and skills gained during internships as the single most important consideration when recruiting graduates.

Young employees were once sought after for fresh ideas and adaptability, but with global unemployment at an all-time high, managers are reporting that the ever more challenging hunt for jobs has turned the world’s youth weak, weary, and unwilling. The bottom line is that businesses are finding that many graduates straight out of university lack essential competencies.

International work/study programs provide a useful bridge between academic life and the work environment, enabling students to apply their knowledge and discover which professional positions best match their skills and abilities. According to the US National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 2012 graduates with an internship under their belt had a 42 per cent chance of receiving a job offer compared to 30 per cent for those who did not, and average starting salaries for students who took part in internships were 20 per cent higher than for those with no internship experience.

Another international internship alumnus, Alex Williams, pinpoints a moment when his interviewer for a top finance job in London started asking about his internship with a Chinese company: "I genuinely think the interviewer was impressed; it was a great talking point, and I ended up getting the job."

Chinese businesses are a great example of how international organisations welcome open minded, ambitious and skilled foreign interns to complement and cooperate with their largely native staff. The Chinese companies benefit from having a young, bright, internationally minded employee active in their day to day and long term projects, while the intern gains CV value, actionable skills, China business experience, and most importantly, guanxi - the Chinese word for “connections”. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” and internships provide ready and potentially beneficial access to colleagues, clients, and competitors.

In addition to their abundant professional value, overseas opportunities allow young people to grow personally, gaining international awareness by learning new languages, experiencing diverse business cultures, and interacting with their foreign peers.

Daniel Nivern, director of CRCC Asia – the organization that facilitated Alex and Utsav’s internships – co-founded his company with that exact goal in mind: to allow students and graduates from around the world to gain international experience in China’s dynamic business environment, thrive professionally in a global setting, and generally broaden their horizons. “We are pleased that our programs have captured the imagination of graduates worldwide,” says Daniel. “It’s important that the next generation is able to understand how Chinese businesses work.” Exposure to a part of the world that is increasingly driving global growth, he says, is an invaluable asset for up and coming professionals everywhere.

In a sluggish economy that has disproportionately affected new and recent graduates and left many of them feeling powerless and adrift, perhaps the greatest benefit of international internships is one that can’t be captured on a résumé: a sense of purpose. For young people whose long-term prospects are withering due to a lack of opportunity at home, internships abroad offer the chance to take control of their lives, jumpstart their careers, and build the foundations of future success. The confidence that comes from successfully completing an internship overseas might be intangible – but it may be just what is needed to restore an ailing global economy to long-term health and prosperity.