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Case Study: Nick Virr

Nick Virr’s Guide to Work Experience:
Summer Internship 2010 - Shared Interest Group, Newcastle

Personal Information
I am currently a third year student of International Development with an interest in a career in the field. My research has led me to consider three possible avenues to entering the development industry:

(i) Find a job in a developed country with an organisation in my field of interest and over time through career development find a placement in the field

(ii) Be aggressive and persistent and apply for jobs direct in the field with either organisations formed in the south or offices and projects of northern organisation

(iii) To undertake a masters degree in a relevant field, many, not all jobs, appear to favour masters level education, then afterwards pursue the same avenues as in (i) and (ii)

(iv) find a medium term, formal volunteer or unpaid position with a project and/or organisation in the field, which would lead to developing experience and networks to obtain a paid position

No matter which of these avenues eventuates I thought it important to get as much experience whilst at university to increase my chances.

Shared Interest
Shared Interest is a Fair Trade lender and small development agency that both lends money to smallholders in the developing world without security and undertakes social, human and economic micro level development projects. These include education and training, facilitation of Fair Trade, supporting cooperatives and organisational capacity building, among others.

Shared Interest is a small organisation and is therefore, short of human resources to apply its model. This represents both a constraint to their business and an opportunity for students. Consequently, they presented their organisation and their needs at a careers talk at the University of Leeds. In short, they had two research projects, one concerning the coffee sector in Ethiopia, with a view to extending their operations to that country and the other concerning their lending risk to the coffee markets in general.

At the presentation, I asked their representative for a business card and then made a point of sending in my CV, calling them up and expressing an interest to discuss the chance of undertaking the internships. I was persistent without being rude until I managed to get an appointment. By taking the initiative I not only got the internship but also managed to avoid it being advertised widely. Acting early is a benefit.

The work entailed a great deal of desk based research from literature resources and the internet. It also involved having face to face interviews with known industry experts and holding many Skype interviews across the world with development agencies working in Ethiopia and in the coffee sector. The work was suitable for a student as it allowed me to apply new research and academic writing skills obtained at university.

The research and report was undertaken and completed in the summer holidays and culminated in a presentation to the Shared Interested management team. The process has not only allowed me to utilise my new skills and gain confidence in them, but I also got my name in front of some influential people in my desired industry.

Furthermore, I now have a growing network of individuals that I can leverage for future employment opportunities. Shared Interest received a thorough research report and some external critique that enables their management to become informed concerning a critical business decision. Under normal circumstances it is possible that a) this work would not have been undertaken, thus opportunity may have been lost or ill-informed or b) Shared Interest would have had to pay external consultants or c) they could have redirected internal resources with both material and opportunity costs. Ultimately everyone benefitted from the process and outcomes.

Although the opportunity came through a careers talk organised by the Careers Centre this shows that there is definitely a need for students, as they clearly have valuable skills, in development agencies and organisations and benefits to be gained. You do have very valuable skills and development organisations, indeed many organisations, are short of resources to undertake this highly critical, yet often omitted, task.

People wishing to undertake internships should consider researching and targeting organisations that suit their ethics, ideals, goals and skills. Once this has been done, make phone calls, send in covering letters and CVs and offer your services to undertake research or other suitable services. Follow up the letters with further phone calls and emails until you get an appointment; persistence will usually beat talent and remember, that a No is just one step closer to a Yes!

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