Companies and candidates are discovering that international intern programmes offer more than just job opportunities – these are cultural exchanges that contribute to changing perceptions and deepening perspectives.
“We do more than just place interns,” says Matthew Barfield, founder of Intern Colombia, a company that connects international students and young professionals with businesses here. The affable Brit tells me that he set up the company just over a year ago because he wanted to do something that had a positive impact on people’s lives and contributed to changing the perception of Colombia internationally.
“It means Colombians can get to know foreigners without leaving the country,” he said. “And it helps to build more international recognition of Colombia.”
For many students and graduates, internships have become an almost essential part of getting a foot on the job ladder. It’s a like test driving your career – and a chance to put all that book learning into action. There’s a mixture of paid and unpaid internships on offer for candidates who want to build contacts, get experience and understand more about the industry they want to work in.
And internships abroad go a step further, allowing interns to develop new skills and build a global network, at the same time as they immerse themselves in a new culture.
As Barfield explains, “Intern Colombia’s participants are able to involve themselves with the local community and ingrain themselves with people that live in Colombia. Our programme offers them a unique and authentic experience as a citizen rather than a visitor.”
Moreover, candidates who have interned internationally stand out from the crowd in what is an increasingly global jobs market. “We live in an age now where companies are typically more likely to employ candidates with international experience than those without. A high-value internship really helps and is the perfect way to demonstrate to employers that they can step out of their comfort zone and have developed a global outlook.”
So, what’s in it for the company? Well, for a start, as Andres Blumer, co-founder & COO at Mí Águila explains, the extra pair of hands is always useful. “At a start-up there’s always more work to do,” he said. “It’s great to have extra help and to have fresh new faces and perspectives in the office.” Mí Águila offer corporate transportation services throughout Colombia.
Internships give companies the chance to test out potential new hires and develop mentoring programmes. In fact, given the right structure, interns bring all kinds of benefits. Not only can they offer a new – and often social-media savvy – perspective on day to day issues, they are also eager to learn and contribute to their new work environment.
This is something that Carolina Rodriguez, co-founder and COO at specialist healthy food supplier, SuperFüds highlights, especially when it comes to interns from other countries. “The best thing about having an international intern is getting help from a different perspective, they have different mindsets,” she said.
Rodrigo Atuesta, director of Via Colombia Travel Services, felt that having English-speaking interns has pushed his staff to improve their language skills and understand other cultures more. “It’s very positive to have people from other cultures and different languages – it adds a lot of different dynamics to the team,” he said.
“We are a travel business and our market is countries that are different from Colombia. The interns have added some insights and their opinions are very valuable about many aspects of our business, like communications, marketing, products and all that.”
Of course, just as with a normal job, it is crucial to find the right candidate for the right position, and then to ensure that they have a clearly defined sense of what they need to achieve.
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Both Rodriguez and Blumer look for a willingness to learn in potential interns. Blumer also values proactivity and strong organisational skills.
Atuesta thinks that it’s key to find interns who are the right fit. He wants people who have relevant skills or studies – there’s no point in having a maths graduate interning at a theatre company – and who actively want to be here. For him, having an interest in coming to the city (in this case Bogotá) is important because interns who enjoy their experiences are likely to be more productive and contribute more.
With the right structure, interning – especially international interning – can bring benefits for both companies and candidates, but only when done right. Barfield finished by giving some advice for successful internships. “Make a clear plan or idea about how an intern can make a positive impact within the company; assign the intern to a specific project in which they can contribute or even manage; and challenge the intern,” he said.
“More importantly, immerse the intern as quickly as possible with their new colleagues which in turn gives them even more confidence to contribute and feel part of the team and its values.”
This content is sponsored by Intern Colombia – check out their website for more information about international internships.