My senior year in college, I thought an internship in Germany was impossible. After five quarters of German, my grammar still made my sentences incomprehensible to my classmates and I assumed that was the most basic requirement to landing an internship in Germany. Therefore, I put aside my application to CDS International and went to London instead. One year later, I dug out the CDS application and contacted the office. Timing and luck was on my side and I landed an internship by German standards in a matter of days, but wasn’t actually confirmed till two months later. The usual time frame takes about five to six months. My German skills none the better since my senior year, I was flying to Cologne as the new American intern for a one year internship with an exchange organization that facilitated the administration necessary, ironically enough, for other Americans interning in Germany. The position enabled me to get a good overview of the German internship market for Americans from which the following tips were learned.
First, make your internship focus and college studies or previous work experience consistent. Germans understand and approve of consistency because there own system doesn’t allow much maneuvering from humanities to marketing or engineering to non-profit work. It goes all the way back to the organization of their education system that separates future university students from trade workers after grade school. German students decide on their major before entering university although there are some that do switch, in which case they graduate at around age 30. Therefore, a history major from Princeton will make less sense and will seem less qualified than the advertising or marketing major from an unknown state college if the internship in question is in marketing.
I also learned that German companies outside of perhaps Allianz do not seem to recognize or differentiate between someone that graduated from an Ivy League as opposed to a state school. Most universities in Germany are thought to be of comparable quality so the same line of thinking is applied to American universities. In some cases, Germans may look upon schools like Harvard or Yale as schools for the rich, not knowing or taking into consideration the merit based competitive application process these schools require.
Some things that hold true for the American job market also translates into the German internship market. The easiest major to place into internships are engineers, whether they be civil, mechanical, electrical, aerospace, chemical, all are wanted and welcomed. If you majored in engineering another advantage is that your German skills can be almost non-existent, although it’s recommended that you have some, but it’s hardly an issue. If all this wasn’t enough, you’ll find yourself working for highly recognized German companies such as Siemens or BMW and you’ll be getting paid twice as much as your friend in other fields. If you majored in business, social sciences or humanities, then speaking some form of German at some level will be more crucial to landing a good internship.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a translation role whatever the internship may technically be in or be titled. One thing that holds true for all American interns is you’ll probably have every other person in the company coming to you to go over their English correspondences and intercultural questions, think of it as star treatment and in turn you can go to all them for your German needs.
Another surprising realization was that outside of summer interns, where a healthy number of students had come over, there were barely any Americans interning in Germany during the rest of the year or for longer periods of time such as six months or a year. While Americans are not allowed to work in Germany like the rest of Europe, we are allowed up to 18 months of interning in the country. I found this a shame, since contrary to what I initially believed, I found most Germans and German companies to be quite open and excited about having an American intern for the intercultural exchange and learning that could take place. This eagerness came as a surprise because of my work experience in London where having an American accent or being American was almost a negative to landing a job. Germans, on the other hand, appreciate and at times seek out American interns. For example, in 2004, there seemed to be a surge in Americans finding internships with Adidias. Adidas is a company like Siemens, whose official language is English. I later found that Adidias was in the mist of creating a new ad campaign to become more competitive in the American market. Therefore, a good target for potential internship opportunities would be with a German company that is trying to either increase or break into the American market just as Adidias was trying to do in 2004.
Don’t let the internship pay, which is usually between 350 to 800 euros or even unpaid, deter you from participating in an internship opportunity. The cost of living like a student in Germany can be kept at a minimal in ways that isn’t as likely in the US. You won’t need a car, and decent accommodations including utility costs can be readily found around 200 to 300 euros, if you’re paying more than that, it better be a single room. Since you are entitled to interning in Germany, getting your paperwork processed is only a matter of time. You will never be denied a residence permit or work permit once you have found an internship.
If you want to find an internship on your own, good websites to check out are www.jobpilot.de and www.unicum.de. For internship placement or/and work permit assistance contact CDS International in New York City or InWEnt gGmnH in Cologne, Germany.