(American) Express Yourself
Not three days before I wrote this post I was sending off the final batch of paperwork which concluded the stressful and time-consuming process that was my search for a summer internship. As I progressed into my third year it became clear that I needed to formulate some sort of vaguely coherent plans for my future which, at the time, were non-existent. A common misconception when it comes to language degrees is that the scope for a career is limited solely to becoming a teacher or an interpreter/translator. However, do not buy into this belief, if there was one constant from the dozens of open days which I attended in year 13 it was every language department’s effort to inform us that with a language degree, much like the Daily Mail’s opinion on what foodstuffs will give you cancer, the possibilities are endless. With this I concluded that I would very much like to try my hand at marketing (after having worked for a market research company in Rome) and the best way to do this was to find an internship for the summer of my penultimate year. This is where the process started.
By all means, please use this recount of my personal experience as advice for how to apply next year if you wish, as I’m sure the process will not have changed too much. Application opening times varied but generally speaking most went up in about September time and in the opening stages it is very much a numbers game. By this I mean that I applied to probably about 10 or 12 different marketing positions, I did luck out that marketing is a pretty universally required department – obviously if you’re looking for something a little more niche you may not be as fortunate as to find so many openings. Nevertheless, I spent many evenings slaving away over repetitive cover letters and CV uploads. I am by no means an expert at writing cover letters but I made a template for this process and adjusted it accordingly so if you would like any assistance in writing your own then I would be more than happy to lend a hand.
Usually the first stage of the application process simply involved sending off a cover letter and a CV, from then it almost always progressed to an invitation to a numerical and non-numerical assessment, this involved a series of questions either involving a relatively simple analysis of data or situational, personality questions e.g. “How likely are you to call someone out in a group if you disagree with them?”. If you are lucky enough to be what the company are looking for then you are then normally invited to either a telephone or video interview. Here is where my experience will get blurry as in total I only undertook about 3 video interviews and 1 phone interview. Generally speaking, with bigger companies, the video interview will involve a question appearing on screen and you recording your response, this was often quite useful as you write down your responses and stick them up behind your laptop so that you can consult notes during the interview.
If this stage is successful then there is usually one more step: the assessment centre. Before I had attended any assessment centres I found them very daunting; marching into a company’s HQ in competition with about 15 students (who very often could be insufferably competitive). Having said that, after my first one I managed to relax a lot more which not only made it more enjoyable but it also helped to strengthen my performance on the day. For the sake of this post I will make reference to my successful assessment day with American Express as I believe it to be one of the more intense days out of the companies who offer internships:
There were 16 students in total: 8 business development applicants and 8 marketing applicants. We met in the morning where we were given a run-down of what would happen in the day and then we got right on with it. It’s quite excessive so I’m going to lay it out simply below:
– 60 minutes’ independent prep for a case study
– 15 minute presentation of case study
– 15 minutes’ questions on the case study
– 30 minute interview with staff member
– 30 minutes’ conversation with current postgrads
– 30 minute lunch
– 1 hour independent prep for group task
– 45 minute interview with different staff member
– 1 hour group task
As you can see the day was intense, pretty exhausting. However, there were upsides: I got put up in one of London’s finest, Lenny Henry-approved hotels, there was plenty of free food, drink and stationery and what’s more (even though it sounds cliché) I really did develop my interviewing demeanor a lot, it was very useful.
6 days after the assessment centre I got a call from the campus recruitment team and they informed me that they still had not come to a decision and I had to endure 2 more horrid weeks of torture until finally, on the 21 December I got the Christmas gift of a 10 week internship in central London.
The companies that I can remember applying to were: American Express, Periscopix, Lloyds, P&G, Unilever, Shell, Mars, Nestle, Barclays and I presume some others too which never got back to me. I have received two offers but will definitely be siding with American Express unless anything drastic changes. I include this information as to provide evidence that getting an internship is not impossible – I am by no means a genius, I have average grades and a moderate work ethic truth be told but so long as you are willing to put in the effort to make enough applications then the chances are you will be able to land something. Something which could well be converted into a post-graduate job offer!