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So you want to work abroad?

For many, planning a year abroad and searching for a work placement may seem like a daunting task; competition amongst applicants is fierce, fewer companies are advertising placements and writing a CV in another language can seem like a mind field- but fear not, the application process does not have to be as unnerving as you may think!

Personally, I always knew that I wanted to do a work placement; the idea of financial and personal independence was something that had always appealed to me, in addition to meeting new colleagues whilst gaining invaluable language skills and international work experience, which would also look great on my CV. For me, a work placement was the ideal choice! 

When planning and eventually applying for a work placement, I found it imperative to be methodical, organised, yet realistic. Likewise, it is just as important not to lose your head when times are tough, or if you are as unfortunate enough to receive a rejection.

Here I have compiled my Seven Key Tips in order to help you find and apply for a work placement on your year abroad. Hopefully my own personal experience of the process will help to steer you in the right direction for landing you your dream job abroad! Viel Glück!  

30 April 2015

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#1 Think Future
When first deciding on what work placement to apply for, it is essential to look at the bigger picture of your overall career goal and what you see yourself doing in the future. It is important not only to focus on the company or job role, or to view the internship solely as a source of income, moreover the internship could lead to future employment or even fast track you onto a graduate scheme. As scary as it sounds, NOW is the time to think WHAT you want to do. This will dramatically help you to narrow down your search and you will be more likely to succeed in securing a job, as your true passion will shine through. 
© Elizabeth Thomas

© Elizabeth Thomas

#2 Research is Key
Don’t even think about sending off an application without having researched both the job role and the company first. Research is the key to understanding exactly what the company does and what will be expected of you as an employee, including things such as contract hours, how much of the target language will be spoken, mentors etc. I found it useful to highlight the key words within the job description and to look at more than just the application and homepage on their website as this will be automatically expected of you. It is amazing how many candidates fall at the first hurdle in an interview, when asked to comment on what they think of the company website.  

#3 Open Your Eyes
At Queen Mary the year abroad department already have a list of year abroad work placements with different companies, which is a great start- but don’t let this limit you! Ask students in their final years what they did for their year abroad; perhaps they or your lecturer has a contact you could use. In addition, use your own initiative to look for internships via the internet on career websites, job boards and social media- or you can even apply to companies outright even when nothing has been advertised. It may also be particularly useful for you when applying to stress the fact that the company will also benefit internationally having you as a native English speaker. For those applying to Germany be sure to look at StepStone for internships.

#4 Quality VS Quantity
As tempting as it may be to send off lots of applications, I would limit yourself to approximately five-ten (15 at the very most!). The majority of companies will immediately be able to tell apart candidates who have simply changed the company name within a generic application, from those applicants who have specifically catered their application to the job description and the company itself, by not only describing individually the skills required, but also elaborating on when you have demonstrated a specific skill.  I would also advise applying to companies with placements from 9-12 months, as you are more likely to be given more responsibility as you have had a longer time to get to know and thrive within the company.

#5 Practice Makes Perfect
Before you send off ANY work placement application, make sure that you have proof read it at least TWICE. There is nothing worse than sending off an application which has taken a significant amount of time, for you to find that you have misspelt a name or written the wrong company, after you have already pressed send. More importantly, when completing your application in a foreign language, get a native speaker to check over it for you, as they are more likely to spot little mistakes you may not have noticed, after having re-read your own application endlessly.

© Elizabeth Thomas

© Elizabeth Thomas

#6 The Interview
During the application process for Siemens, I participated in two telephone-interviews in German, (one of which I had to ask all of the questions!). At first I was nervous (having expected a Skype interview), however with thorough preparation, the interview itself was not bad at all! I found it beneficial to set aside one to two days to solely prepare for the interview. Day one, I focused on writing two condensed posters; the first focusing on the company, industry, and job role, and the second focusing on myself, my skills and relevant work experience applicable to the role. During the second day, I did four practice interviews, with a native speaker, the careers service at university, a lecturer and a university friend. For those of you who may have a telephone-interview, I found it useful to face with my back to the person I was practising with, as it gave the same impression as a phone interview would. During the interview itself, I made sure I found a quiet place, letting people know when the interview was taking place, and that I had my CV and cover letter in front of me. In addition, I had also written up a list of questions to ask at the end of the interview; however don’t fall in to the trap of asking about holidays, pay or the job role, as this could be perceived as unprofessional and as though you have not properly done your research.  

#7 Believe In Yourself  
Last but not least, the most important piece of advice I would give to those of you applying, is to have confidence in yourself! The fact that you have made it through to the interview stage is already a success in itself. If asked in an interview to name a weakness, remember to demonstrate it constructively and show how you have improved upon this weakness. The point of having a job application is for your personality to truly shine through, remember it is not just the grades that matter. At the end of the day, companies will be looking to employ candidates who demonstrate determination to thrive on a year abroad, through what could be a challenging time and the first step to demonstrating confidence and believing in yourself.

  • Elizabeth Thomas is a final year German Studies student at Queen Mary University of London. She recently spent her year abroad working for 12 months at Siemens AG in Erlangen, Germany, as a Marketing and Communications intern.   



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