What you need to know about doing a work placement abroad

Searching and applying for a placement

Please note:

  • Information about bursary-funded work placement programmes that will also arrange a placement for you can be found under “Bursaries/Finance”.
  • Pay attention to the application deadlines for bursary programmes. You may have to apply before you have even found a placement.

Preliminary considerations

When starting your search, you should think carefully about what kind of experience you are looking to get. At this stage, a meeting with your careers service is a good idea. You also need to be sure about which country you want to do your work placement in. The advantage of taking the initiative and doing the search yourself is that you are able to look at areas that interest you very specifically. You should decide exactly what these areas are to avoid wasting time.

Sources of information

Once you have gathered your ideas and goals, you can go to your international office/careers service to find information about searching and applying for jobs in the country you are interested in. Most colleges and universities will have a reference library for this purpose with application advice for an increasing range of countries. You can request an interlibrary loan for any particular guidebooks, or order them directly from the country. The employment agency’s careers information centre also has such books available. Make sure you find out about working life and customs in your country of choice. Along with our own country information, here are some further links with information about various destinations:

  • Information about European work placement destinations along with lots of tips and facts can be found on the pages of the European job mobility portal Eures.
  • The foreign representations of the Bavarian Ministry for Economic Affairs are also useful sources of information.
  • The German foreign chambers of commerce are represented all over the world. On the information pages for each country you can find out about economic life in many locations, or you can apply directly for a work placement with a foreign chamber of commerce.
  • Application guides and the foreign chambers of commerce pages often provide tips about national business platforms with a description of the sectors and lists of companies.
  • The privately run site “Just landed” gives interesting information on a wide variety of countries.

Job advertisements

As well as looking on our work placement jobs board, you can also use various job search engines online. Many of the well-known job portals in Germany have offices in several countries. Application guidebooks for individual countries will also provide you with local addresses for similar portals. Please note that some employers offer demanding 40-hour positions on work experience placement portals that are unpaid.

Ensure the sites you use are respectable before handing over any personal information. Private recruitment agencies are rarely interested in those looking for work experience placements. There is generally not much point in sending them your details.

Hints and tips

Here are a few general tips to help with your search:

  • Apply to smaller companies – there will be a lot of competition for places with large global corporations. Look for small to medium-sized businesses whose profile matches your experience, competencies and goals. You might also apply to Bavarian companies which have offices abroad. You should narrow down your choice to around 20 companies.
  • Depending on your areas of interest, you can, of course, also apply to charitable associations, universities, research institutes, public institutions (e.g. international department of a large city council) and international organisations.
  • Use your personal network and talk to people you know (e.g. fellow students from other countries), professors and lecturers to find contacts.
  • Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. It might even be possible for you to speak directly with company representatives at an international trade fair. A calendar of upcoming trade fairs, such as Messe München, can be found online. Or conduct a search for any other trade fairs happening around the world: http://www.auma.de/
  • Get in touch with businesses and institutions by phone. Decide beforehand exactly what you want to get across (see the section on applying) and think about any questions you may want to ask. This will enable you to make a good communicative impression. At the very least you will be able to find out who you should address an application to. An email sent to the info@address that says “to whom it may concern” is more likely to be ignored than a properly written application sent directly to the person responsible for work placements.
  • The personal approach can help you stand out from the crowd of other applicants going for the position and it can also help you find out about open positions that have not (yet) been published.

For information about the content and quality of the work placement, please see the section on applying.

Please note: Organisations that arrange bursary-financed placements can be found in the “Finance” section.

There are many charitable and commercial organisations that can arrange a work or voluntary placement for you in exchange for a fee. The scope of their services can vary from being a complete package, including flights and accommodation, to help with individual aspects of the process. Whether or not you should use a placement agency depends on your personal circumstances, aims and finances. We cannot make any recommendations in this regard. A “two-pronged” approach is worthwhile, whereby you also apply independently, so as not to be completely reliant on an agency or organisation.

Selection criteria

When choosing a placement agency, you should consider carefully which services you require. What should you be looking for? The fees charged by agencies can vary widely. You should read through the service contract very carefully. Consider the following criteria:

  • Have you got any information about the placement organisation and their experience? How long have they been operating and are you able to get in touch with any previous customers to find out about their experiences?
  • Does the agency provide you with a contract? This is highly recommended
  • Does the organisation offer any useful preparation (seminars, intercultural training, etc.)?
  • Are they transparent about the costs of their placement services, programme and other costs, such as visas, cost of living, etc.?
  • In which sectors do they arrange placements and how long will it take?
  • Do they guarantee a place and when will you be informed about the employer offering the placement?
  • Do you have any say in the arrangement process or does the agency decide for themselves which employer is “most suitable”? This is particularly important if you are doing a compulsory placement that needs to be officially recognised.
  • Do they guarantee that they will meet your requirements for things such as duration or required fields of activity, references needed?
  • Do they also arrange paid placements?
  • Under what conditions are you allowed to turn down an offered place and will you receive any alternative offers?
  • What is specified in the agency contract? Do you have to pay their fees when you register or only once they have found you a placement? Will the fee be refunded if you choose not to take the placement?
  • What are your rights if the placement they find does not live up to your expectations, if the employer does not keep to what you agreed, or conflicts arise between the staff and you? What kind of support do they offer if such circumstances should arise? Will they offer an alternative placement?
  • Do they have an emergency contact? Do they have someone who can provide support locally?
  • Are service elements such as travel and health insurance or language courses optional? Or are expensive elements like language courses an integral part of the package?

The “Wege ins Ausland” website is run by nine independent educational institutions and gives a good overview of the quality criteria you should look for.

The DAAD has a comprehensive list of free portals and paid placement organisations.

Application formalities

Making your application documents as perfect as possible can only help improve your chances of getting a work experience placement. Of course, when putting together the application you will need to follow common practice for the country you are applying to, even if your application is in English and not the local language. Find out beforehand what formalities are customary and anything that should be absolutely avoided. For example, is it customary to send a hand-written CV by post? Should you include a photograph, or not? Should you give your date of birth? Should references be sent with the application or is it completely unnecessary to do so? If you send references by email, you should ensure that any scanned documents are no larger than 2MB in size. Many employers put a limit on the size of attachments for applications.

Sources of information

Information about intercultural sensibilities and local practices for the relevant country can be found in application guidebooks (see also the section on searching for a placement). Precise instructions for writing an application can often be found on the website of the national labour agency for the country you are interested in. Another good source of information is the careers services’ website at universities in your chosen country. The international office or careers service at your university may even be able to provide some training on the application process for your country. Otherwise you can also ask lecturers from your language course and fellow students from that country for advice.

  • For EU Countries the EURES website provides you with a personal contact at any national employment agency.
  • In Europe you can create a Europass CV. Bear in mind, though, that not all employers are familiar with this new format.
  • Click here for a page with tips for translating application letters into many different languages
  • The LMU language centre has a comprehensive set of tips for applying to English-speaking countries

What should I put in my letter of application?

When writing your letter you should bear in mind that many employers will value your personal level of commitment more than your grades. In any case, the wide range of different grading systems means they may be uncertain what these mean. Also, consider carefully the reasons why a foreign employer should take you on. The employer might not feel obliged to support foreign students with their studies as they may not be able to offer them a position after they graduate, should they wish to do so. The concept of work experience and internships is not known in every country, or it might have a very different meaning there. You should therefore describe exactly what kind of work you wish to take on and how you can be useful to the employer. Use the terms “work placement” and “work experience” instead of “internship” in your letter. The better your knowledge and experience matches what the employer is looking for, the more likely you are to get a positive response and perhaps even some financial compensation or salary. Speak to your careers service for advice. If you need to do a compulsory work placement, you should then also describe what you will have to do for your placement to be recognised.

Interview tips

Skype

If you are invited to do an interview via Skype, make sure you know how to use Skype properly and that it is working. If you have any doubts, you can ask your university if they offer technical support. Before the interview, agree with the interviewer who will call back if the connection is interrupted. Technical issues can occur and should not be a cause for concern. On the contrary, if you calmly look for a solution, it will make a good impression on the interviewer. During the interview, it is a good idea to set your phone and doorbell to silent and ask your flatmates to be quiet. It also looks better if you create a professional looking Skype profile with a neat photograph, neutral Skype name and a short summary of your career goals. A party photo or amusing name does not make a serious impression. Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the interview and be aware of what the interviewer can see in the background. A neutral background is less distracting and can prevent you from giving the wrong impression. Do a practice interview with a friend beforehand and ask for feedback.

Prepare for the interview as seriously as you would for a face-to-face meeting by referring to your country-specific guidebook (see the next point).

Face-to-face meeting

If the company representative happens to be nearby, you may be invited to meet in person. In this case, it is advisable to consult country-specific advice on what you need to consider. For example, will you shake hands? Is it OK to ask questions? And what is the best way to introduce yourself? You should definitely prepare a few questions to ask beforehand in order to show your interest in the position, as you may be asked if you have any questions at the end of the interview.

After being accepted

If you are accepted you should try and get a contract, even if the placement is unpaid. The international office may be able to provide you with the Erasmus programme contract template if the employer does not have their own. You may also need this contract to open a bank account or rent a room. The contract also clearly sets out that you have been accepted for the placement and what it will involve. Get advice from the relevant office at your university to make sure that the placement offer you have received meets the requirements for a compulsory placement, and whether you need the employer to sign anything for the purposes of recognition by the university. It would be impractical if you needed the employer to send you documentation once you have returned home. Job references are not always provided in other countries, but you may be able to ask your employer if they can issue something similar.

 

Volunteering

Depending on your interests or area of study, you might consider getting involved in voluntary work. Volunteering is an enriching experience for you and looks great on your CV. You can choose whether you prefer to spend a short period of time in a work camp (e.g. supporting archaeologists on a dig or caring for young orphaned wild animals, etc.) or an entire year working on a charitable project. Voluntary positions are usually unpaid. Some institutions offer free board and lodgings or arrange for you to stay with a host family. The pages of the British Career Services may help you come to a decision about whether or not to do voluntary work.

The following public offices in Germany can provide you with comprehensive information about volunteering and official places to put something in place:

A good overview of volunteering opportunities is also provided by The Association for Learning and Helping Overseas.

The European Voluntary Service has a database of opportunities:

Here is a small selection of charitable organisations that can organise or arrange voluntary placements: