Bridging the gap: Why taking an overseas internship could really boost your prospects

Internships can be a springboard into a high-flying career. But with increasing competition for fewer spots, how best can ambitious youngsters get a foothold in the corporate market?

The feeling among many City firms is that recent graduates may be lacking in the necessary soft skills to enable them to compete in the workplace. New recruits with no work history invariably take longer to acclimatise to a professional environment; savvy employers naturally want candidates whom they know will add value sooner rather than later. The challenge for the career-focused student is how to obtain that CV-bolstering professional work experience. Those going it alone can face a hard slog; formal internship exchange programmes such as those offered by the London and New York-based Mountbatten Institute are set out to enable a practical kind of cross-cultural exchange, matching ambitious young professionals in the UK and US with companies who can put their skills to work and provide them with valuable exposure to international business.

Law graduate Vinita Addy took part in the Mountbatten programme from September 2009 – 2010, working at The Roth PLLC, a successful small-scale firm based in New York.

“I wanted to differentiate myself from the crowd of those chasing training contracts,” she explains. “After completing my LPC in 2007 I spent two years working as a paralegal for various firms and a law publishing company. The recession had impacted everything, so I applied for the programme in the hope of getting some high-end experience abroad.”

Making the leap overseas can also yield opportunities to take on higher levels of responsibility and tackle roles that can showcase an individual’s abilities. “I feel very lucky to have had a boss who wanted to help me develop my interests,” she says. “I worked directly under the managing partner in a variety of capacities from basic administration to attending court for trial, liaising with clients and reconciling the firm’s accounts, which helped shape and inform my idea of what I wanted to do with my career as a whole.”

From a personal development standpoint, time spent in industry will naturally broaden young graduates’ perspectives on their field and what it is precisely they would like to achieve within it. Vinita believes the experience to have been greatly beneficial.

“In every interview I’ve had since returning, everyone wants to know about my work in New York,” she says. She has recently started a career with an international asset management company working in a role that combines legal and compliance, something that she attributes to the professional insight she gained from her time in America.

Moreover, with 65 per cent of respondents in a survey of UK employers stating that they would favour applicants with overseas experience, working abroad seems an obvious step towards increasing a candidate’s marketability in a crowded field. Beyond the first crucial years after starting out, the benefits of international experience can have repercussions throughout the lifespan of a career.

Time spent in an overseas sector is more and more becoming a necessity for applicants to executive-level posts; Greg Duncan, a former marketing VP for Pfizer, states that international work experience is “now part of the pedigree we look for in identifying talent for our organisation. In the future, international experience will be the rule, not the exception.”

As businesses look to expand and strengthen their links across national borders, professionals with experience of a multiplicity of variant business cultures will be in increased demand. Tim Schantz , a former international financier and now director of the Mountbatten Institute’s New York Office, believes that this means time away from home can only be beneficial for the ambitious young professional.

“Now more than ever, meaningful on-the-ground experience in international markets is essential to career progression in most globally-orientated industries. In addition to the clear benefits of deeper cross-cultural understanding and fresh global perspectives, time spent away from head office can often offer more challenging work environments with greater responsibilities and more wide-ranging involvement in larger corporate issues.”

Candidates who have experience of immersion in a foreign business environment benefit from the recognition of the partiality of their ‘home’ working culture and can better appreciate alternative approaches and problem-solving tactics that those who have been trained up in a single set of methodologies. An appreciation of cultural bias and an understanding that one country’s model of business practice doesn’t perhaps function equally across national borders is an impressive asset for any employee, as Jo Harvey, Sponsorship Director for the Mountbatten Institute in NY, is quick to recognise.

“Developing skills for life and work is now a lifelong pursuit, but gaining exposure in a international work environment and all that goes along with that, leaving friends, family and environments known for the unknown, develops powerful talent for not only global organisations but for society,” she says.

Overseas internships constitute the kind of holistic experience that cannot be taught from a book, and this is something that is being increasingly noted throughout the sphere of industry.

The programme gives participants an opportunity to experience living abroad and get involved in local community projects whilst earning a wage and studying for a formal business qualification. It is recognised that candidates who have spent time working abroad are more inclined to be reflective and able to engage intellectually and creatively with the system they are in, reinforcing the view that however far modes of formal study can inform professionals as to foreign business, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Tom Griffiths, co-founder and vice-president of transatlantic internet start-up Hubdub has the final say: “Ultimately, internships of any sort demonstrate initiative, and someone who has been ambitious and confident enough to pursue that experience outside of their home country and comfort zone is always going to stand out from the pack.”

For more information, visit

Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThe ZX Spectrum is going back on sale - with all your favourite retro games
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk