The perfect career start

Getting started and preparing for your career the best possible way: how to get going with internships and trainee programmes

You already lay the foundation stone for your career during your studies: with carefully chosen internships, you can gather your first work experience and make valuable contacts. This will help your get started in your career later on – for example as a trainee with prospects for a management position.

Internships – the first step in career planning

Can you plan your career? The answer from the human resources experts at Robert Half is a clear yes. At least for a timescale of five years, it's definitely possible. Graduates especially can do a lot to help start their careers and then really get them going.

The most important thing is to build up work experience early on. This will help you learn about your own strengths and weaknesses, to find out which areas interest you and what size company suits your style of work. And the more experience you can demonstrate, the easier the next application will be. Internships are the best way to build up this experience.

How to pick the right internship

Internships are usually people’s first contact with the working world – and important for starting your career later on. That makes it correspondingly difficult to choose the right company. At the beginning, be guided by what parts of your studies you find interesting. Look for the internships in these areas and find out if the day-to-day work matches your expectations.

The more internships you do, the more concrete your idea of the company suited to your first job will become. So go ahead and try out different sectors, departments and sizes of company. But don’t go too far: anyone who has too many internships listed on their CV will have to face the question of why they never led to long-term employment anywhere.

How to get a desirable internship

Nothing comes from nothing – following this motto, many companies expect work experience not just at the start of your career, but also already for internships. So use the opportunities that arise during your studies. These include practical projects at college, relevant seminars or part-time jobs related to your subject area. And of course you should make sure that your application documents are always perfect.

During the internship, you should always give everything you’ve got – even if you decide that you don’t want to work in this area later on. Because a good impression not only makes valuable professional contacts for the future, but also will give you good references that will help you in further applications and at the start of your career.

Starting your career as a trainee

When you apply for your first job after several successful internships, a trainee position could be an interesting option. This is an alternative to starting straight into a job, in which you – similar to an apprenticeship – move around various different areas in the company and are usually taken care of by a mentor. The advantage for you is that you really get to know the whole company and can make contacts in various different departments.

Because of the variety of trainee positions, you should look at the offers very carefully. These often differ quite dramatically in terms of where you will be placed and growth opportunities. There are also trainee programmes specially designed to prepare you for working in management. Apart from that, the term “trainee” is not officially defined, which means that any company can use it without sticking to any particular requirements. There are some criteria that a serious trainee position should definitely fulfil: a detailed training strategy, in which you move through various areas of the company – possibly also abroad – and a fixed mentor, who will be there to advise you.

Furthermore, the type and timeframe of further training should be clearly defined along with the options for possibly staying on at the company.
You should start looking for both internships and trainee positions as early as possible. The application deadline for trainee positions is often a year in advance. Nothing should stand in the way of a successful start to your career then.