For many students, internships are both mandatory and valuable. They show you what the professional world is like and what you can expect later. Here you can already gain your first work experience during your studies and also make useful contacts in professional life. An internship in Germany is exactly what will complete the practical aspect of your degree and will significantly boost your employability.
We have prepared a complete guide with relevant information about the different types of internships that are available in Germany, the rules that apply to international students and internship seekers, different types of visas required, ways to find an internship in Germany, and some behavioural tips to help you during your internship.
Whether during your school years, your studies or in your everyday working life, an internship usually gives you an insight into a still unknown professional field and thus provides you with a quick overview. An internship in Germany is exactly what will complete the practical aspect of your degree and will significantly boost your employability.
Multiple opportunities & options
In Germany, there are countless internship opportunities & options available to international students and job seekers so the chances of you finding one are pretty high.
Thriving economy & high employment rate
In terms of GDP, Germany’s economy is ranked 4 in the world and 1 in Europe. The country offers great opportunities for international students and job seekers.
As a student, you’ll gain a powerful educational background and you’ll have a chance to be an intern at some of the world’s leading companies.
Germany is home to many events and happenings, such as the Oktoberfest or the famous Carnival. Your "Semesterticket" allows you to use local regional trains for free, giving you the chance to explore the region and experience multiple events and happenings throughout the year. You can find events in every corner and you can for sure find people to go along with, whether it’s your colleagues from your internship or the 300,000 other international students.
Gain valuable work experience
Learning by doing is invaluable and cannot be obtained in a classroom setting, making this one of the most important benefits of internships. Interns have the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge to real work scenarios. In addition, gaining an international work experience from Germany can give you a competitive advantage and make you stand out from the crowd.
Before you start looking for an internship, you should know the terms and characteristics of the different internship options that are available in Germany for international students and job seekers. It makes a huge difference for you and for the internship provider whether you do a mandatory internship or a voluntary internship. Here are the most common types of internships in Germany:
Just as the name indicates, these internships are integrated into a degree and are a fixed component of the study program. If you do not complete it, you will be missing a requirement for graduation. The study and examination regulations contain the exact rules for the compulsory internship. It lasts around two months and a half. During the compulsory internship, you are not entitled to a salary or vacation, however, you are still covered by health insurance as usual. Having said that, most of the companies however do offer some kind of compensation, for those the general rules for "working as a student" apply. Make sure that the internship contract clearly states that the internship is a mandatory one.
Both the Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes at CBS include a mandatory internship. The timing depends on the course of study. For the International Business course, for example, the compulsory internship is completed between the fourth and fifth semesters. You spend the semester break before the compulsory semester abroad doing the internship. It lasts at least 8 weeks with a working time of 38 hours per week.
A voluntary internship is always a good idea, whether between the time after high school and university, during semester breaks or while waiting for an apprenticeship or a job after graduation. You are free to negotiate the content and duration. If it lasts longer than three months, you are entitled to minimum wage.
The term does not have any formal characteristics or legal consequences. Both a mandatory internship and a voluntary internship can be completed abroad. Unfortunately, finding these kinds of internships is not that easy.
In the case of mandatory internships, the study regulations govern the minimum length of the internship. This can be two months between two semesters or even five to six months, they could even replace a complete semester. In the case of voluntary internships, the duration can be freely negotiated & agreed upon.
In the case of compulsory internships, the company is not obliged to pay you a salary because the internship is integrated and is a mandatory part of your studies. Many students nevertheless receive some kind of compensation if they stay in the company for four to six months, for example, or even write their final thesis with the company.
In the case of voluntary internships, the situation is a bit different. Interns are subject to the Minimum Wage Act. The minimum wage in Germany is 9.50 euros gross per hour (20.2.2021). Whether it has to be paid depends on the duration of the internship: If the duration of the internship is more than three months, then the company has to offer you at the least the minimum wage. If your internship is shorter, then compensation is optional and is up to the company to decide.
Companies could voluntarily pay interns to pay 800 to 1,200 euros per month.
Students from other EU countries can do a mandatory internship in Germany as part of their studies. This also applies to international non-EU students who are enrolled at a German university. With a student visa you are allowed to work 120 days full-time or 240 days half-time in Germany (you can read more about work regulations for international students in Germany here). This is important for a voluntary internship. A mandatory internship does not fall under the restriction. For internships within the framework of EU programs such as Erasmus, Socrates, or Leonardo, no permission from the employment office is required.
As mentioned above, international students enrolled at a German university can do an internship within the limits of their student visas. If you are not enrolled at a German university and would like to do an internship in Germany, then you need to apply for a type C visa, if the duration of the internship is less than 3 months. If the duration is longer than 3 months then a type D visa, known as the German National Visa would be required.
Before you start looking for concrete internships, you should first conduct a short self-analysis. Here you need to be clear about the direction you want to take and what your career goals are. It usually helps to formulate a professional vision. This could be, for example, "I would like to become a marketing manager at a large German automobile manufacturer!" Everything else builds on this. Then formulate your requirements for the internship according to your vision and analyze your own knowledge and skills. The following questions can help you:
What do I need to do to get closer to my dream job?
Which industry and which departments do I want to get to know?
What are my strengths and weaknesses?
What qualifications and skills do I need?
Which skills have I already acquired and where do I still need to catch up?
What do I expect from an internship? Do I want to expand my skills or my network, for example?
If you have more clarity about what you want to achieve thematically and personally in the internship, clarify the framework conditions. Answer the following questions:
Do I want to do a mandatory internship or a voluntary internship?
How long do I have for an internship or what is the minimum duration?
Do I have to neglect other important things (e.g. studies) for the internship? What are my priorities?
What compensation do I expect from an internship? Can I afford an internship financially?
Am I looking for internships in a specific location or am I spatially flexible?
Based on your formulated goals and general conditions, the search for an internship can begin. There are several ways how and where you can find a suitable internship:
If you already have a clear idea of which company you would like to work for, find out more on their homepage. Ideally, there is a "career" page with available internships. Otherwise, you are sure to find contact information for those responsible, to whom you can send your unsolicited application.
There are now several online portals that specialize in internship searches. Here you can specify your interests or areas that interest you the most. By filtering the results, you save time. The selection of internships is very large, as the whole range is represented, from global players to small regional companies.
Mostly universities and colleges have their own portal where companies can publish different offers. This is a great way to search for internships, since you can assume that the companies are already interested in the students of the respective university or college. This is especially true for the CBS - companies appreciate us and specifically search among our students for candidates for job openings and internship vacancies. You can find current advertisements online in our CBS Career Center. Or you can be inspired by representatives of companies who are guests at career events at the International Business School.
On Xing and Linkedin, there are not only regular job postings, but also internship postings. It is also possible to directly narrow down one's field of interest, and all information regarding the company can be viewed directly on the platform.
However, if you don't want to spend hours browsing online portals, you can of course also use a variety of information fairs or job fairs and get direct personal and individual advice there. Take your application documents directly with you and ask interesting companies personally for internships. Here is a list of the best-known information fairs in Germany:
Clearly, prospective students often get the best internships through acquaintances, family and friends. Here, the companies often make much more effort and are even more willing to let you work on interesting tasks and projects. So tell everyone that you are looking and what you are interested in. Also use your network of friends and fellow students - personal tips and door openers are valuable. At CBS you have multiple opportunities to directly network and connect with local and international companies. From Business Projects that are integrated into most of our degree programmes, to multiple career days that take place throughout the year.
The structure of the job advertisement can already tell you a lot about the internship. Of course, the tasks you will perform during your internship should be described in detail. A good internship ad should not be too short, because that could be a sign that the company does not know exactly what it wants. If, on the other hand, the ad is too long, there is a risk that you will be hired for a regular position. Look carefully at the tasks and check if they match your expectations. The ad should also contain information on duration, remuneration and the required qualifications.
If you have found interesting internship offers, you should not apply immediately, but check first whether the respective company is a good fit for you at all. The company's website, social media channels, press kits, brochures or even employee newspapers are good sources where you can learn more about the company. The information gained there can then be perfectly used later for the cover letter or in the interview. But also look for external sources such as press articles. This will give you a comprehensive picture of the company and enable you to clarify whether it is a good fit for you and your goals. The following questions can help you:
Does the company's philosophy match me and my values?
What is the company's public image like? A reputable company naturally reads better on your resume and will also impress recruiters more.
What are the requirements for employees of the company and can I meet them?
What are the exact fields of work of the company? Can I expand my knowledge and skills there?
What are the tasks of the department in which the internship is offered? Can I contribute my strengths there?
How big is the company?
Large companies are often quite rigid in their internship selection and sometimes several hundred interested parties apply for the advertised position. The advantages here are, of course, the strong company name and the positive impact on the resume. However, small and medium-sized companies can also offer many advantages. Often, interns there have a more flexible field of application, learn directly on the job and usually have better chances to take responsibility for their own projects. Small companies often take more time for interns and sometimes allow for a more intensive experience. If you find an internship with an international focus more interesting, large corporations with locations abroad are more likely to come into question. As you can see, large and small companies have their own special advantages - go according to your interests.
The internship search is sometimes quite time-consuming. But it is also an important basis for the following application process. You will save the time invested in the application process, because you now know exactly what is important to you and what your intended internship employer expects from you. If you identify yourself with the offered position, the cover letter and the interview will be much easier for you. This is because personnel managers usually recognize quickly whether you are really interested in the position or not.
The same rules apply to the internship application as to a normal job:
Your documents consist of a cover letter, a CV in a tabular form, and attachments (e.g. references, certificates).
Especially with the cover letter you should make an effort and write exactly why you are interested in the position and why it is worthwhile for your internship employer to select you.
Have all documents proofread by another person - a valuable cross-check that your thoughts are coherent, the wording is clear and there are no spelling mistakes.
Before uploading or emailing, print everything out and check it carefully yourself.
If you send your application by e-mail, combine all documents into one PDF. Make sure not to exceed the specified file size.
You've invested a lot of time in finding an internship, successfully made it through the application process, and now it's time to get started. You can do a lot to become a respected team member and be remembered afterward. Some internship tips may seem trivial or self-evident to you, but for other people, they may hit a sore spot. For example, "punctuality" and "politeness". Hand on heart: Do you like to be a few minutes late or hand in documents a day after the deadline? Then work on yourself - it's worth it.
"Please", "thank you", "I'll be happy to", "no problem", "can I help".... You have many opportunities to show yourself as a pleasant and friendly person. Even if things get stressful, there is time pressure or you actually wanted to finish work long ago. Mutual respect and politeness still go down well even in the coolest and most modern companies.
Do you like the extravagant, casual, or revealing style? Keep a low profile, especially in the first days of work, and observe the daily routine in your new internship. If no one is wearing a suit, you don't need to. You will quickly notice what the range is like in the workplace and develop a feeling for what is appropriate and what is not.
On your first day of work, inquire about work hours. Clarify terms like core time and flextime and whether they apply to you. Then always show up on time for work and meetings. Bursting into a meeting late will be noticed negatively. Ask and write down the phone number of the people you need to call if you are late. Clarify the necessary steps if you can't come to work for important reasons. For example, the e-mail address and contact person.
If something is unclear, be sure to ask: asking questions can prevent interns from making many mistakes. For example, where files are saved, how folders are named, whether you are allowed to download software, and much more. You are new to the job and mostly inexperienced. Your colleagues will understand this and will be happy to help you. However, you should not ask the same question twice. This reflects badly on you and your ability to learn. With many questions, you signal your willingness to learn. You can also ask questions that are not directly related to your job, but concern other areas of the company. This demonstrates foresight and commitment. And you also learn a lot along the way.
Don't be shy and don't just wait to be given tasks. Once you have completed a task, think independently about where you can contribute. And ask proactively for new tasks. Try to actively help your colleagues. Keep your eyes and ears open and try to recognize situations where support is welcome. Then offer your help. Your environment will appreciate your willingness to help! If you are particularly interested in an area or a project, talk to the responsible employees and ask them if you can help out. In this way, you can specialize and also show motivation.
No matter if it is a small task or a big project - take every task seriously and don't be too busy. You will probably be given less demanding tasks at the beginning of the internship to test how carefully, reliably, or independently you work and deal with problems. Being conscientious during the internship will qualify you for more challenging work.
If there are deadlines for presentations or other documents, be sure to meet them. You should not underestimate your behavior during the internship in terms of reliability. If you can foresee that you will not be able to finish certain things on time, bring it up in good time. This way you can look for solutions together.
Of course, it feels good to get tasks done quickly and correctly. But then they might be things you already know how to do and where you don't learn anything. An internship gives you the opportunity to try new things and discover new sides of yourself. Therefore, dare to take on new challenges and learn something new. If you can do that, you will quickly find new, exciting jobs.
We gave you many tips on how to behave during an internship in Germany, and you are well prepared to start your internship and even survive difficult situations. However, some characteristics are not so easy to turn off. Therefore, as a small warning, three behaviors that others find unpleasant. If you are prone to them, be aware and try to avoid them:
Even if you notice grievances or mistakes in the first few weeks, be rather reserved and wait for the right moment to adjust this. Especially as a newcomer, you run the risk of quickly being counted as a know-it-all. Your own initiative and good ideas will be appreciated especially if you do not present them in a know-it-all and lecturing manner, but if they are factually and argumentatively well-founded.
Especially as an intern, you will make mistakes. This is mainly due to your lack of experience, but your colleagues know this and usually understand. If they criticize your work, this should not be seen as a rebuke, but as feedback. So don't take the criticism personally, listen carefully and try to learn from your mistakes. The next opportunity for you to prove yourself is sure to come!
Gossip and rumors are unfortunately part of everyday office life. But as an intern, you should keep a low profile and never participate in the gossip! Instead, observe and listen. This will help you learn a lot about the company and the informal relationships between employees and departments. Then ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable in the working atmosphere in the long term.
Companies value the CBS International Business School and therefore specifically look for candidates among the students.. You can find current advertisements online in our CBS Career Center. However, we also encourage you to search for an internship at home or abroad yourself. Follow your interests! Or let yourself be inspired by representatives of companies who are our guests at career events at the International Business School. No matter which company you ultimately decide on, the CBS Career Service supports you in evaluating job offers and creating application documents. We help you avoid mistakes and give you insider tips on dos, don'ts, and unwritten rules to help you find a suitable internship. Of course, the application itself remains your task.
We hope that you enjoy getting to know more about our school, study programmes and what we stand for. Follow us on Instagram & Facebook, get to know us at one of our Information Events, or Contact our student advisors to get more info.