This past school year, I was fortunate enough to have worked and studied in Paris, France. I managed to land a teaching assistant position just outside of the city and enrolled in Paris X, one of the city’s many universities. After finishing up my first semester, I opted not to return for my second in favor of having more time to devote towards a internship. It was quite the shock to me to see how many internships wanted an intern there full time, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to gain valuable work experience in one of Europe’s largest cities.
After months of countless CV’s, cover letters written in French, interviews and follow-ups, I couldn’t land squat. I was told I didn’t have enough experience more than a few times, and I thought to myself, “how can I get intern experience without first interning?” Then I came across a posting on this site for on open position for a native English speaking marketing/advertising intern at Kiwapp, a fairly young French start-up. My work visa was almost up but I decided to apply anyways. And low and behold, two weeks later I was scrambling to get the needed signatures and approval to extend my visa; I landed the internship.
I must admit, being that this was my first real internship, I was pretty nervous and didn’t know what to quite expect from it. Yeah, I read through the outlined duties and tasks, but I never actually performed these tasks in the real world, only as in-class assignments or homework. This time, my work wouldn’t be graded on a simple grading scale but rather measured by its real world performance. And being that this was a start-up, there would be no training session; I was expected to hit the ground running and start contributing. This is why I recommend to anyone looking for internships to look into start-ups.
Start-ups a great place to intern because they expect you to start contributing immediately. I know a lot of you might be turned off by the low to non-existing pay that usually comes with start-up internships, and I feel you. I was lucky enough to have interned in Paris, where employers must pay interns a set minimum wage, but that fell far short of covering my living expenses, so I taught English on the side. But that’s aside from the point I wish to make. Start-ups employ interns because we are a form of cheap but skilled labor, and it works out to be beneficial on both ends. The start-up gets a qualified employee, and the intern finally gets a chance to put their skills to real use.
At my internship, I wasn’t doing office work or fetching coffee. Instead, I was put in charge of writing the company’s entire English copy text, including their blogs, newsletters, and product descriptions. I even sat in on and contributed to meetings with the marketing manager and the CEO, talking over possible company slogans and marketing direction. I wasn’t just some intern in a corner; I was an actively contributing member to the team. My manager was more of a colleague than a manager and regularly asked for my opinion on marketing projects. Yes, I was pretty much at the bottom of the food chain, but not once did I ever feel that way because of the actual work I was doing. I could see my exact words appear on monthly newsletters, and I can still see my words appear on the company’s site. But the best part, for me at least, wasn’t so much the on-hands experience I got, which is undoubtedly valuable, but the camaraderie.
There were at most thirty people working in that office, and everyone not only knew everyone but hung out as well. I had direct contact with the sales and acquisition team. I sat behind our mac developers and programmers, and the android team was right behind them. We all would go to the cantina for lunch and talk about the latest Game of Thrones episode. Once the World Cup rolled around, we would go and watch the matches, sometimes even in the office, after hours of course. I actually wanted to be there. From my experience, the mixture of hands-on meaningful work and camaraderie are why I recommend to anyone to do at least one internship with a start-up.