Discover Studying Abroad

How to get past the tough competition for internships

Global remote internships let you join a transnational team and gain real work experience developing solutions for companies
BY Uma Asher |   19-08-2016

Recently BrainGain Magazine ran an article on the importance of mentorship when studying abroad. Alan Kerzner, whose Institute for Global Student Success (IGSS), based in Princeton, New Jersey, provides mentoring services for international students in the US, also emphasizes the importance of real-world work experience during and after your higher studies. He cites a study published last year by the association of college career centers, which found that 75% of companies only hire people with related real-world experience. “That places an unbelievable premium on internships,” he says.

But getting relevant internships isn’t easy. Kerzner says: “The internship market in the US has always been very competitive, whether you’re American, Indian, Chinese, or Russian. There’s always more demand than internships.” He adds that finding internships has become harder in recent years, because the US Department of Labor has toughened the requirements for companies that provide unpaid internships. “Requirements are so extensive… that most companies now will not offer unpaid internships unless you’re getting credit from your university,” he says.

He points out that colleges charge a lot for credit. “For example, if you were at New York University and you were to do a three-month unpaidinternship this summer, you’d have to pay NYU $4,800.” Some others charge as much as $8,000. He says: “To me, this is insane – I want to work without pay to get a great experience, and it’s a worthwhile investment, but then I have to pay the school thousands of dollars so that the US government labor department will allow it.” It’s a vicious cycle, he says – the harder it is to get an internship, the harder it is to get a full-time job, because you need relevant full-time experience.

“So I got together with the former treasurer of Pepsico worldwide, and we put together a program called Global Remote Internships,” says Kerzner. He explains how the program works. Say your area of interest is finance – for example, investment banking, commercial banking, equity research. IGSS puts together a group of four to eight international or US students, and connects them to professionals in actual financial companies – people involved in doing deals or investing actively in the stock market. Over 10 to 12 weeks, the students act as consultants to the financial firm.

“You’re getting real-life, relevant experience you can put on your resume,” says Kerzner. IGSS typically charges around $1,500 for a 10- to 12-week global remote internship, and will work in exceptional cases with students who are struggling financially.

Students are coached by an executive through the internship period, he says. “The way I do it is, I’ll have a videoconference with the team every week – they give me their work on an ongoing basis, and I evaluate it just like I’m working at the company,” he says. “And then, for select companies, we’re able to have the students present to the management of that company twice: once about a third of the way through the project, to be sure there’s alignment around how the project is evolving and where the team is focused, and then a final presentation.”

Kerzner himself has an MBA in marketing from the Wharton School and more than 35 years of experience in the corporate world, where he handled brands such as Olay skincare and Johnson’s baby products. He has also consulted for startups and worked with private equity firms. Other IGSS faculty, too, bring decades of experience to their work with students.

IGSS also offers mentorship programs to help international students adjust to the academic and work culture in the US. Cultural understanding is crucial in networking, which Kerzner says is the source of 80% of jobs and internships. Lack of cultural awareness can also derail a job interview.

IGSS sets up global remote internships in areas besides finance, too. Kerzner says: “I’ve just hired a coach in biotechnology and technology commercialization. We have someone in data analytics. We’re close to getting someone in civil engineering, and probably chemical engineering, who can bring real-life projects and coach the students.”

Basically, IGSS goes to companies and asks if they have an issue, a challenge, or an opportunity that they’d love to focus on, but lack the resources for. Kerzner says, “Whether it’s a startup or a $100-billion company, there’s always something it would love to look into but doesn’t have an opportunity.”

He adds, “The beauty of it being remote and 10 to 12 weeks is that you can do it any time – during school or during the summer. We offer new internships every month. It requires 4-6 hours a week from each student. A whole course is 48 to 60 hours.”

Kerzner tells the story of a recent digital analytics internship presentation. “The reception was great,” he says. “At one point the general manager of the firm said, with the vice-president of marketing and everyone else in the room, ‘I wish we had this type of strategic analytical ability in this company.’ I felt very proud of the students. They do the work; I just coach them. It was so good to have the marketing VP in the room at the time!”

In another case, Kerzner says, a company offered a student who was completing her first year of grad school not only a paid internship (which she’s doing now) but also a full-time job after she graduates in a year.

Kerzner says: “I never expected that when we put this program together. I’d never promise it. But one of the benefits of gaining exposure to companies while you’re doing some pretty challenging stuff is that they see if you’re a star! And if you are, they’re going to want you.”

At the very least, you get to put the experience on your resume, and IGSS provides a letter outlining what you did as a global remote intern. Kerzner says that typically every group has one or two standouts for whom they will write a specialized letter of recommendation.

The companies that global remote interns work for could be anywhere, but typically they are in the US. Kerzner says: “We’re getting projects from Thailand, Australia, Singapore. We’re also getting students from there, who are working on American projects. So literally, we have multinational teams. We already have students from China, Vietnam, and India.” A transnational team might only have an hour a day when everyone is awake and available, but it is truly global, he adds.

What about the universities where the students are enrolled – do they recognize this work experience? Kerzner says: “The students don’t get credit, because to do that we’d have to go through the education boards and all that.”

And what about the US government – don’t its restrictions apply to a global remote internship? Kerzner says: “This is classified as an educational training program. You are not working directly for the company. You’re working with executives and getting coached and trained. It does not fall into the area where you’d use up valuable CPT time.”



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