Professionals working internationally often have a country or regional expertise. Employers seek this knowledge and experience for a variety of reasons, including cultural fluency, language skills and networks that make working faster and effective. For young professionals, this is often a double-edged sword because employers want that experience before they hire you and you need experience to get hired.
For those interested in working (or developing an expertise) in India, I offer my humble advice on landing an internship (often the first step) and making the most of it compiled from personal experience, interviews with Brandeis alumni and professionals in the field, and some research.
- Know what you want – I know this can seem daunting. However, being clear about your professional goals (even if they will change) helps define the skills you are seeking to obtain in an internship and lends itself to articulating those goals to those to your network. It also gives you (and your employer) clarity as to what you are working towards – as opposed to doing busy work. Alumni cite this as being important to making the most of any internship opportunity.
- Network – For me, networking is more than finding connections for a job. That is one part – but there is a whole other world of things to network for like learning about the culture, meeting up with locals, making friends when you get there, etc. Don’t be bashful. Let friends, family and former co-workers know where you are going and ask them to introduce you to people.
- Letters of interest – Send an introductory e-mail to those you would like to work for stating your professional goals, timeframe in India and be specific about why you are reaching out to them/their organization. Don’t hesitate to follow-up with a phone call or a second e-mail (in this case, send a new e-mail that does not mention they did not get back to you – they might have been busy and this helps them save face).
- Integrate – India is a cultural experience. The food, the people, the colors, clothes, movies (yes, Bollywood!), history – you name it – are extraordinary. When staying there make a concerted effort to meet with locals, stay with a host family, wear local clothes and go to offbeat places. Or take a dance class – this was one my most memorable experiences! These experiences will undoubtedly be enriching to you. And it will not go unrecognized by your colleagues and will likely be something you can bond over.
- Language – India is filled with over 200 languages. So keep in mind that this can limit some interactions on the ground. Learn a few phrases or take language classes.
These tips are only the tip of the iceberg, so here are a few websites that can also help you get ready (admittedly some are more off the cuff then others):
- Avoiding culture shock:
- Living and working in India for expats:
- 30 things every American should know before moving to India:
- For funding your internship in India, google “Fellowships in India” and you will come up with a myriad of opportunities. Also, some internships will provide a stipend and/or housing (just ask!).