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How To Get Your First Internship as an International Student

Let’s be honest. Finding an internship as an international student is hard.

We’ve got a mountain pile of assignments, limited support, and we’ve got to transition into a new culture.

To make matters worse, most employers avoid hiring international students. That means it will be much more competitive to get into companies that hire international students.

For us, it’s a grim situation. Chances are slim, but as an ex-international student who’s been through several paid internships, I’ll let you in on my strategies to landing your first internship.



But Why an Internship?

Before we start exploring strategies to get an internship. You might be wondering, “But why an internship? I need a full-time job!”.

Of course, our end goal is to get a full-time job, but having an internship gives us a much higher chance of achieving that.

The benefits and reasons for getting an internship include:

  1. The employer might give you a full-time return offer
  2. You’ve gained more knowledge and experience
  3. You now have something decent to have on your resume
  4. You’re now slightly richer than before

Now that we know why we need an internship, let’s go on to the “How”.





1. Apply For (Almost) Everything

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash. Filing a resume for an internship.
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

The biggest mistake I’ve seen many of my peers make is not applying.

By not applying, you’re essentially giving yourself a 100% chance of not landing an internship. But by applying, you increase your chance each time you apply, even if it’s ever so slightly.

Apply Everywhere (including interstate)

Now that you know that applying increase your chances for an internship, you can further increase your chances by applying interstate. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Brisbane or Melbourne, apply even if the employer is in another city/state.

As an international student, we can’t be too picky about where or which employer we get. Focusing on one company, one location is unproductive and only hurts you in the long run.

Apply for Similar Roles

To increase your chances further, you can apply for similar roles or roles that you’re able to perform.

When I was still a student, I applied all sorts of IT roles as a computer science major, from cyber-security to business analysis. I ended up interning with Woodside Energy as an IT business analyst intern. While it wasn’t my first choice, I sincerely enjoyed the work and I’ve learned a lot working a different role.

So if you’re majoring in software engineering, you can also apply for internships in data science, cybersecurity, or IT business analysis. It doesn’t matter what your major is, as long as your major is slightly related, you should apply!

Don’t Waste Time on Non-International Hires

While I did say you should apply to (almost) everything, you shouldn’t waste time applying to employers that don’t hire internationals. They’ll just dump your resume in the trash.

If they say you’re not eligible, please don’t apply. Creating a tailored resume and cover letter is time-consuming. We definitely don’t want to waste our precious time on employers that won’t hire us.

Find and apply to employers like Woodside, Rio Tinto, and the Big 4 accounting firms who are known for hiring international students.



2. Do Everything and Anything to Stand Out

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash. Having a side project for getting an internship.
Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

What makes you special?

There are thousands and thousands of candidates for a specific internship, if you want the job, you have to work harder, smarter, and be more disciplined in putting yourself out there.

Do Side Projects

There’s no better turn on for a recruiter than having side projects. As a student, no decent employer expects you to have heaps of experience (hopefully), but they do expect you to have “passion” for your field.

It doesn’t matter what your degree is, having side projects will help you stand out. This includes writing blogs, making a YouTube channel, and/or crafting your work portfolio.

Learn, Learn, Learn!

Your resume and cover letter aren’t the only ones that need standing out, you’ve got to stand out in the actual interviews itself! The best way to achieve that? By learning and knowing more than other candidates.

Learn more by reading more books like Cracking the Coding Interview (For Programmers), Start With Why (Soft Skills), and How To Win Friends and Influence People (Soft Skills).

Books like these help you tackle workplace challenges. The interviewer will always want to test your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, so up-skill yourself by reading more.

And if you want to up-skill your hard skills with structured learning, you can do courses from edX.org, FutureLearn, or FreeCodeCamp.

Online courses allow you to know more than what’s taught in university. If you put the time in, you’ll become more knowledgeable than your peers, giving you the edge in interviews.



3. Network and Ask for Work!

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash. Networking to find an internship.
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Students make the mistake thinking that networking can land you a job! But that’s only half the truth, you’ve got to ask for it as well!

There’s no point in networking if you’re just discussing the latest memes with them. If you want something (like a job), ask for it!

If diving straight into a networking event is too daunting, it’s best to start networking in clubs associated within your field of work. Like in IT, you have coding clubs, Women in Technology; or if you’re in Finance, you can join the finance, economic, and investing clubs.

Once you’re comfortable with networking within clubs, you can start attending networking events such as Startup Weekend, meetups on Meetup, or career fairs your university is hosting.



Do Your Best and The Best Will Find You

Applying might feel daunting but it’s all worth it in the end.

No matter how many times you receive the rejection letter, don’t let it demotivate you, use it as an experience to reflect on to improve yourself.

As long you strive to do better and be disciplined in getting that internship, sooner or later, you’ll land that internship.

Good luck and happy hunting!



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