Factors for a successful internship in the US every international students needs to understand.
A Division of Continuing Education (DCE) program at the University of California, Irvine allows international students to find their best internship.
For international students seeking to live and work in the U.S., an internship is the perfect complement to a strong academic background. It’s an opportunity to put their education to work in the real world and acclimate to American business culture. But developing the necessary skills to land a position, from writing a solid resume to acing a job interview, can be a challenge without proper guidance.
Learning to take these soft skills to the next level can be an invaluable capstone for a study abroad experience and the key to opening doors to a coveted internship, said Amy Bue, manager for DCE’s Internship Experience program.
“We know that doing an internship makes students much more likely to gain meaningful employment after their education, and ultimately we aim to support that process,” she said. “The Internship Experience program is really focused on providing our international students in Accelerated Certificate Programs (ACPs) with career development opportunities through an internship here in the U.S.”
Communication skills, especially learning to write well-crafted covers letters and resumes, play a big part in the program.
International students are encouraged to look at themselves as a total package, take inventory of all their skills, and not merely focus on full-time job experience and prior internships.
“We do emphasize resumes a great deal in the program, largely because we use it as a building block for a student to think through their skills and experiences,” Bue said. “We encourage students to think about their experiences in ways that they often haven’t before. Part-time jobs or student organization involvement can be incredibly valuable for demonstrating transferable skills. But our students often overlook these.”
Working on interviewing skills and gaining confidence can be key to making a strong impression. And seeing international students grow into these soft skills and land a successful internship is one of the most satisfying parts of her job as Internship Manager.
One introverted student especially stood out to Bue. She was attending UCI as a study abroad experience and added time to her U.S. stay just so she could pursue an internship here. The student was shy and lacked confidence at first, but as she worked on her resume writing and communication skills, she began to shine.
“We could see her confidence begin to build,” Bue said. “She was hired as an intern at a marketing firm, focused on social media. I will never forget when she came to me concerned because her supervisor was asking for her opinion in meetings, and she was afraid to give critical feedback.”
Bue talked it out with the student, and a few weeks later she came back to share some good news: Not only had she shared her opinion, she also provided alternative recommendations that were quickly adopted by her supervisor and proved hugely successful.
“It was a proud moment for both of us,” Bue added.
Experience of a lifetime
The DCE Internship Experience is a two-quarter program for international ACP students that concludes with a 10-week internship working with a local business that aligns with their educational background and career preference. The first step is attending an information session, then enrolling in the required Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills course.
Students receive support and guidance on all facets of the internship application process. Once the process is complete, candidates can start their search, on their own or within a large network of local organizations eager to take on ACP students.
“Our employer network is incredible, I really have to say,” Bue said. “We have had well over 200 companies host our students, many of which come back quarter after quarter because of how much they enjoy the experience, not to mention how valuable the interns are.”
UCI has a close relationship with several Orange County start-ups that are quite popular with ACP students, Bue said. “Especially those in the Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship ACP. I’m really proud that we have been able to build this network for our students while at the same time welcoming new companies.”
Getting a foot in the door
An internship with a U.S. company can offer valuable work experience and on-the-job training for international students. But one of the most common obstacles to achieving success is timidity, failing to get involved, and not seeking clarification if they encounter something they don’t understand, Bue said.
“The number one piece of advice we give to students is to ask questions! The beauty of an internship is that it is focused on learning. Students should never be hesitant to ask questions of each other, their supervisor, or colleagues at their internship site. In fact, questions are welcomed and encouraged.”
Speaking up can be difficult for students working in an unfamiliar culture. They don’t want to bother anyone or risk asking a question about something they feel they should already know. “I think this is a common feeling for many of us,” Bue said.” But it’s also especially heightened with our diverse cultural backgrounds.”
Living in an American household can be helpful for ACP students seeking to live and work here, she added. It can greatly enhance their experience, acclimating them to day-to-day life and increasing their exposure to the English language.
To be sure, Bue believes many of the most important lessons offered by the Internship Experience program happen outside the classroom. And while learning to write a good resume and navigating difficult job interviews are essential for launching a career, the real keys are often the most intangible.
“If I could sum up factors for a successful internship in one word, I would say intention. We really want students to be intentional as they think about not only their internship but their academic plan as well. Being thoughtful about what they want for their future, and what kind of work environment they want to be in can really make or break an internship experience.”
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