"With internships, quality is what counts"

5 Jul 2021

The idea of entering on a career makes many students anxious. But Stephan Pflaum, Coordinator of LMU's Career Community, says it's not necessary to have a string of internships to one's credit.

Dr. Stephan Pflaum

Dr. Stephan Pflaum

"My advice is to respond to all the job advertisements that appeal to one." | © Sabine Jakobs

The pandemic has had a considerable impact on the labor market. Has this affected the job situation for students who hope to begin their careers shortly?

Dr. Stephan Pflaum: In our consultations with students and at our career events, we do sense a certain uneasiness. When the crisis began, there was a marked fall in the numbers of classical job advertisements. We are now on our way out of this depression. At the same time, we have observed that firms are doing all they can to make new contacts, to stay in close touch with students, and to encourage them to look for internships or apply directly for positions. Our career events have confirmed these impressions. Last year, we organized around 50 Meet & Greet events in all. We have already held 30 this year. The response was overwhelming.

Internships are generally regarded as the best way to improve one’s chances on the job market. Does the saying “the more, the better” apply in this context?

The good news is that, with internships, quality is what counts, not quantity. No recruiter turns down an applicant simply because he or she has done two internships or held the same work-study position throughout his undergraduate career. What’s important is why the candidate chose these particular positions – and what he or she learned from them.

Nowadays, foreign internships or a term at a university abroad are particularly valuable, because employers now place increasing emphasis on willingness to broaden one’s perspective. Experience in fields outside those one has studied is also highly appreciated.

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LMU Career Services has come up with a new format called micro-internships. What do they offer?

Our Online Summer Internship Flash (OSIF) is intended to appeal to students who – especially owing to the pandemic – don’t have the time for a 6-month internship. With our Flash Internship program, students have the chance to do a 2-week internship with two of our partner firms, which are active in different commercial sectors. Participants work in interdisciplinary teams on a genuine business case in each company. The scheme not only gives participating students insights into diverse sectors, ranging from consulting to IT, they also learn a lot about collaboration in online teams, a skill that is an important asset these days.

When the micro-internship is over, how should one go about finding a job in one’s favorite company?

One can of course apply for advertised positions in the normal way. Our Job Board is a good place to start. However, participation in our career events gives one the opportunity to stand out from the rest. These events include useful tips on how to apply for positions, and one learns something about how companies work. Students who attend them can also make contacts and build up networks – and learn from other work-study students what it is like to work for the company concerned. Prospective applicants get to know the right people to contact and can put questions to them.

Every recruiter responds positively when a job application includes the words: “I met and spoke with Mrs Meyer/Mr Meyer at one of LMU’s Meet & Greet events.” – And if an application is rejected, the best thing to do is to wait a while and then apply again. It’s not unusual for applicants to be hired at the second or third attempt. In fact, in some firms, such as Google, that’s the rule rather than the exception.

What's the best way to re-establish contact, if the previous contact was made some considerable time ago?

I always advise applicants to build up a large network of contacts, preferably during an internship or soon after becoming acquainted with a company representative. LinkedIn and XING both make it possible to remain in contact for longer periods of time. – And it’s always a good idea to refer to these personal contacts in job applications. That improves your chances.

Students of the Humanities and the Social Sciences seem to be particularly prone to pessimism when it comes to finding their first real job. Are their fears justified?

I often have the feeling that students of these subjects learn to view them as a burden and a handicap. But that is most definitely not the case. Every course of study provides one with certain qualifications. When I finished my studies, I worked for several years in the Controlling Department of a leading bank – and I'm a qualified sociologist.

For recruiters, the really important question is no longer “what did this person study?” Instead, it’s “what else did this individual do – apart from studying". Has she been abroad? What kinds of interests did she pursue? That’s why my advice is to respond to all the job advertisements that appeal to one, even if one fulfils only 50% of the requirements listed. That’s enough. Once you have the job, the company will teach you the rest.

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