College internships are a valuable introduction to what working life is like. As an international student here, a college internship can give you the opportunity to not only test out your career options but also to see if you might stay and work here after your studies. If you’re ready to discover Dutch working culture and create a new chapter in your studies, College Life has got you covered with this comprehensive guide to internships.
What You Should Know
Types of college internships
Opportunities for non-students aside, there are essentially three different types of college internships available in the Netherlands: Graduate/thesis internships, traineeships and "afstudeerstage".
Are you nearing the end of your studies and looking to apply your knowledge in a practical setting? You can spend a semester at a company and write your thesis there. Thesis internships require a well-articulated thesis project which is then explored and experimented with at the company of your choice. Writing your thesis at a company has the added bonus of being both a professional experience and a more practical, problem-solving based approach to your final Master's or Bachelor's project.
Though they seem to be the same, traineeships and internships are vastly different opportunities. Traineeships aren't exactly a type of internship. More regulated than college internships, traineeships usually provide work experience in the context of a degree. They are a form of vocational education, where you learn a particular applied skill. A traineeship comes with clear objectives and goals and is a concrete way to gain insight into a specific field. They are no longer than one year and are compensated. Contrarily to college internships, traineeships are typically completed at the end of your studies.
The afstudeerstage, known as a 'stage' in the Netherlands is just a regular college internship. It can be done at whatever moment in your studies and doesn't necessarily have to be related to your field of study.
What are they?
A college internship is a valuable introduction to the working world or means of reintegrating the job market. Known as « stage » here in the Netherlands, a college internship is by definition a temporary position within a company or organization. Typically, internships are performed during your studies as a means of applying theoretical knowledge learned in class. Though the Netherlands don't fix a maximum or minimum duration, college internships can span anywhere from one month to a whole year. The average length for a college internship in the Netherlands is from 3-6 months. Like regular jobs, college internships can be either part-time or full-time positions. For the moment, there is no legal obligation for the position to be paid, but usually, interns receive a small stipend. In any case, the status of your internship (paid/unpaid) is to be discussed with your employer.
College internships are an invaluable addition to your CV as they show your active engagement and interest in that particular field. They provide the rare opportunity to discover the job market whilst being given clear goals and objectives. Don't forget the fact that you can also receive academic credit for the projects, skills, and techniques you learn during your internship! You're given the structure of a full-time job with the added liberty of taking time to adapt and make mistakes. A college internship is a key opportunity to see what jobs are best suited to your projects. In addition to being a way 'in' career-wise, college internships are key networking opportunities that allow you to gain access to contacts and connections. Your supervisor can provide priceless insight into the industry as well as a possibility of future employment.
Expectations vs reality
Like all professional opportunities, college internships are extremely demanding experiences. Don't assume you’ll be spending your days fetching coffee or running errands, interns are expected to pull their weight and be as invested as any other employee. If it's your first professional experience, be prepared for a lot of autonomy. Though the workload does depend on the company structure (startup vs traditional company) and your supervisor's management style, most professional environments expect you to be proactive. Ask for information, be autonomous and give yourself as many learning opportunities as you can.
Depending on your nationality different regulations and statutes apply:
All citizens of EU and EEA nations except for Croatia only need a valid internship agreement between themselves and their future employer. There are no restrictions regarding the field or industry the internship is in. Furthermore, no work permit is required. In the event that you are paid over 150 EUR per month, you are required to take out Dutch basic health insurance.
International students studying here in the Netherlands don't have to apply for another residential permit other than their student one when interning for a company. As your residence permit was obtained for your studies, the only document required of you is a tripartite work placement agreement. However, there are stricter rules regarding the types of internships you can have. In the case of a stage, non-EU nationals are required to undertake a college internship that is relevant or related to their major. Dutch basic health insurance is mandatory during the duration of your internship. This also applies to Croatian nationals.
Traineeships are open to all students, regardless of the country they study in.
For international students studying outside of the Netherlands, you are required to have a trainee agreement, be a part of a trainee program and provide a return statement. Your employer has to act as your sponsor. Either you or your employer have to apply for a single permit on your behalf. The company has to be registered at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce.
EU/EEA members do not need to apply for a residence permit. However, regardless of nationality, taking out basic Dutch health insurance is mandatory.
Administrative requirements and paperwork
Legal paperwork aside, college internships are a three-way agreement between you, your university and the company you're interning for. Before you embark on the search for an internship, make sure to be up to date on the various requirements, forms, and expectations that are required of you. Don't hesitate to reach out to your study coordinator or various other student organizations for more personalized information!
Before you start
The first step to getting anything done is organization. If you've checked the administrative issues with your university, double-checked the paperwork and triple-checked the requirements, the next step is mapping out all your deadlines and planning your application process. Keep in mind that companies start looking for candidates as early as 8 months before the start date! Being organized and clear-headed takes some of the stress away from the application process.
Put the “I” in internship
Though starting a college internship is an important step towards discovering your interests, a lot of reflection should go into your application process. For example, thesis internships and traineeships are a lot less about discovery than concrete applications of theoretical knowledge in a corporate and commercial setting. Articulate 3 core reasons why you want to intern before you even start looking. Think about your ideal work environment. Is it a big multinational corporation with a solid internship structure and highly competitive atmosphere? Or a small startup that requires a lot of engagement? What do you imagine the perfect work/life balance to be? Don't expect to have or find answers to these questions! Just know that thinking about your college internship as fitting into the larger scheme of your professional experience will help you narrow down your interests and apply to opportunities that are tailored to your needs and competencies.
Where to look
Now that you've articulated a solid search plan, here's where you should be looking for your next college internship:
Your best bet will always be your college or university. Internships depend for the most part on your student status, therefore your educational program will be the best equipped to handle any questions you have. Most programs and departments partner with or have a list of companies that are offering internships. We partner with most major universities in the Netherlands as they trust us to provide access to international jobs and college internships. In any case, your university's career center will be able to help you through every step of your application process.
Opportunities arise through connections. Your program's alumni network is a goldmine for access to careers and information you probably don't know about. Though cold emailing is a skill that too few people have, it's never too late to learn. Joining your university's alumni network or social media groups is a sure way to network, gain information and valuable contacts. Alumni are more than happy to help by answering questions, connecting you to others and providing information. The Holland Alumni Network is also a great resource for internationals looking for a solid network in the Netherlands.
Finding an internship solely in English in the Netherlands is harder than it seems. College Life has a great selection of internship offers right here! In general, job boards are the quickest and easiest way to find college internship opportunities. As a rule of thumb, check out Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn. They have offers from companies of all sizes and organizational structures. Job boards that are location specific or career specific are great for when you have a clear idea of what you're searching for.
Going to university organized job fairs or ones catered to internationals is a great way to get a feel for what companies are expecting. Like with joining alumni networks, job fairs and events are all about transforming a contact, information, or conversation into a college internship opportunity.
If you're a member of an EU or EEA country, check out Erasmusintern for internships all over Europe. There are a host of Erasmus and youth initiatives centered around promoting opportunities for young adults in Europe, more information can be found here. Even if you're coming from abroad, doing an internship in another country can be a life-changing experience. Regulations, requirements, and administrative details depend on the country you're going to. Be sure to go to your university's career center for more information.
Create your online profile
If you don't already have a LinkedIn profile, it's about time you get one. LinkedIn has become a staple in most companies’ hiring process. By creating a profile, you have the opportunity to craft your professional image. You’re able to give a more detailed rendition of who you are compared to your CV or cover letter. Highlight valuable skills and put your networking talent to the test with peer recommendations.
Raymond Hüner, Director of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, shared some tips with College Life about making the most of your profile. He recommends focusing on the summary and making it as strong as possible. Customize the LinkedIn link to your profile so that it's the first thing that pops up when recruiters search for you online. Have it contain both your first and last name. LinkedIn isn't the only social networking platform out there. Most job boards have the option to create a profile. The more your online presence is crafted and unique, the higher your chance of making a lasting impression.
Sift through social media
Though obvious, cleaning up your social media is one of the first steps to take once you've narrowed down your applications. Social media has become an essential part of the modern world and your various profiles might be taken into account. Companies don't always run social media checks, but it's better to have a clean record than a missed opportunity. Make sure you don't have any compromising photos posted anywhere or that they are private and inaccessible. Check that no one can stumble upon any cringey Instagram posts. In essence, don't have anything online that might detract from your candidacy.
Prepping the cover letter
You've already found the internships you're applying for, you already know what you want out of your college internship, now comes the hard part: putting pen to paper and applying. Perfect cover letters don't exist but near perfect ones do. Putting time and effort into researching the companies you're applying to is a sure way to retain their attention past the opening sentence. What industry are they specialized in? How has their vision for the future changed? What image are they trying to portray? The more information you can gather about the companies you're applying for, the more relevant and personalized your cover letter will be.
Cover letter: tips and tricks
Keep in mind that your cover letter is an opportunity to present yourself and influence the way your CV is read. Try to relate everything back to how you’re a perfect fit and why. At its heart, a cover letter is about connecting with the company, not transcribing your CV. Focus on how you as a person would be a great addition and the various experiences, skills, and knowledge that make you that person. Don’t forget to reread the job description and reference its keywords and terminology!
College internship interview basics
Congratulations! You've managed to score an interview, now what? The job interview is deceptively known to be the hardest part of the whole process. It's actually the one moment you have to create a convincing narrative about your experience and how this opportunity fits into it. Here are some questions you should expect to hear:
- Tell me about yourself/present yourself
- Tell me about a challenge you've faced
- Why are you the best candidate for this job?
- What's your biggest weakness?
The key to a successful interview is preparation. By confronting yourself to these questions in advance, you can structure convincing responses. Don't just memorize a text and recite it mechanically. Instead, you should give yourself answer ideas and outlines so that you don't freeze up.
Tips and tricks
Though a lot of the stress that factors into interviews can be taken away with extensive preparation, some questions just can't be expected. Most of the time, when answering a question, you should stick to highlighting your skills. Never undersell yourself but don't seem under confident. When preparing for your interview, remember to study both the company and job description. Like for your cover letter, the interview is a great space to show both your investment and interest in the position. Reinforce that impression by preparing a couple of big picture and little picture questions. Big picture questions focus on the whole of the company, while little picture questions focus on your role.
Another obvious but overlooked category: crafting your first impression. A successful interview boils down to how effectively you can communicate your enthusiasm and motivation. Don't be on time, arrive 15-20min beforehand so you have time to settle down and gather your thoughts. Try to dress slightly more formally than the company's dress code. To get a feel for what that might be, go on their website or Facebook page! As a rule of thumb, startups tend to be casual to business casual, most companies are smart business casual and government institutions, financial corporations and law firms usually require traditional business attire. When in doubt, aim for business casual. Articulate, make eye contact and most importantly be yourself. Don't confuse acting courteous with acting.
Don't forget to follow up straight after your interview. Thank you emails are a common courtesy and can help you make a lasting impression. The same applies for when you get an offer, don't forget to establish a connection with your interviewer. Though entering the workplace is a pretty daunting experience, there are always support systems and resources to help you. Remember to communicate with your boss if ever you’re feeling overwhelmed. Contact a mentor at school if things aren’t going as well as they should. A college internship is a learning experience but it should never be an isolating one.