A short story authored by students and based on their academic research carried out for the bachelor paper no 1 in the bachelor program “Export-oriented Management” at University of Applied Sciences Krems, Austria. [~ 10-15 min]
- Artjom Jekimov
- Fabian Zaiser
A pleasant reunion
Do you know that beautiful feeling you get when walking down the streets in Vienna? It has become one of my rituals. Every day, it does not matter if the sun is shining or rain is pouring down, I allow myself another ten minutes after my lunch break to clear my mind. I know what you are thinking. Does my boss not care about me taking extra time off? No, he does not.
Why would I be mad with myself? Yes, I am my own boss, I own a steadily growing company located in the heart of Vienna. And these ten minutes walks after my lunch break allow me to forget all the unnecessary information I stored in my brain during the day. My mind is somewhere else, just like this time. Just as I turn the corner, I bump into somebody. These things happen quite often to me during these breaks. Normally, I apologize and walk on.
But this time something is different. I bumped into a rather short woman with curly blond hair. She does not yell or complain, she just looks into my eyes and smiles. My brain is on standby during those walks and it takes some time to go back to its normal state. From one second to another it hits me. This short woman is Diana. I have not seen her for ages! An apology is not enough and neither is the chitchat we are having at this moment. I have the urge to ask her questions and to laugh about our time together. I want to know what happened in her life. Do you know the greatest thing about having your own company? You can organize your time schedule.
So I ask her: “Do you want to grab a coffee?” She puts up that half grin just like she always did back then. “Let’s go.”
My first internship
I recall every little detail about my first internship. The department was dead silent. Nobody was sitting in front of those expensive looking monitors that were surrounded by printers and massive amounts of office supplies. My brain stopped for a moment. I began to ask myself if my first day there was on another day. Just imagine. Nobody picked me up at the entrance hall.
The office was empty. Frankly, I felt insecure. Did they forget me? As I turned back towards the shiny elevator to leave again, a young lady stepped out. Her eyes glared at a piece of paper that she held in her hands. Her professional appearance did not distract from the fact that she was not much older than me. If I had not stepped aside, we would have bumped into each other.
The young lady stopped looking at her piece of paper and looked at me with big eyes. “Are you Fabian, by chance,” she asked. “I am sorry; Mr. Kreuz and the other employees are at the weekly department meeting right now. I was supposed to pick you up downstairs, but you were not there. My name is Diana.”
My insecurity stopped me from saying something professional, so I only mumbled a few words and followed her into the office. She asked me to sit next to her and we talked about a lot of organizational stuff. We printed my ID card, she showed me my desk and we went through several documents I had to sign. Diana was nice. She seemed competent and professional while our conversation still felt casual. I asked her why she was not part of the meeting. “The meeting is for employees only, I am an intern,” she replied. At this point, it was no big deal for me. “She is no real employee. She is just like me,” I thought. This sounds like a horrible first day, doesn’t it?
My professional career started with an internship at one of the biggest companies in Germany. You have to know that I was an extremely ambitious student. I wanted to prove to myself that I was as good as I thought. That’s why I applied for an internship at this huge company and they accepted me. I was as proud as a Spaniard that they wanted me, but when I walked in on my first day, I was devastated. Diana saved me from completely losing my mind. But let us continue.
An hour later, the meeting was over. All the employees came back. They were chatting and laughing while they entered the office. When they saw me the atmosphere seemed to change. They acted more professional. All of them introduced themselves and shook my hand like you would see it in some movies. It felt as if the employees observed every step I took. Mr. Kreuz showed me my basic tasks, but he explained them too fast for me to understand. Open programs and documents filled my computer screen and he expected me to work with them immediately. When I finally commanded all my courage to ask him if he could repeat what he had explained he said that he had too many emails to answer. I should just try to do my best.
At that moment, I realized that this was not university. The theory in class did not prepare me for my work life. All my good grades meant nothing now. Practice was what was important for my internship. Nobody would ask me about the history of controlling. I started to feel depressed. I was sitting at my desk with all those office supplies and documents in front of me and I could not figure out how to solve my task. My confidence dropped from hundred to zero within a couple of hours. Unable to finish my workload I looked around the office. Most of the employees played on their phones. One guy came back from his third smoking break in two hours. Two ladies were joking around. Mr. Kreuz grabbed his third coffee.
The only person that sat in front of the computer and seemed occupied was Diana. Her eyes were only a few inches away from the monitor and her facial expression revealed that her brain worked non-stop. From time to time employees went over to her and dropped files on her desk. It was obvious that Diana had enough stuff to do, but she just thanked them for the new tasks. At one point, she turned her head and recognized the clueless expression on my face as I looked at my files. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her approaching me. “Fabian, I have to analyze three documents on new cost centers, but when I am finished I can help you,” she said. At first, I wanted to decline because I did not want to be a burden for her. However, she insisted and I had no other chance than to accept her proposal.
Diana was the one who showed me how to work with the different programs and how to enter the data from the files given to me. At the end of the day I had finished everything even if it was long past my normal working hours. I could not have done it without her help. At least the awful start of a first day ended on a positive note. The weeks passed and I spent a lot of time with Diana. She explained things comprehensively and without complicated phrases like Mr. Kreuz did. The employees seemed to avoid me, but I could feel their looks on me from time to time. My knowledge developed solely because I relied on Diana and her knowledge.
For me it felt like everybody in the department was doing the same thing. Each time one of the employees faced a problem he or she asked Diana for help. Can you imagine? A 43-year old controller asked this tiny young woman for advice on a topic that he should know about himself. This girl was special. She knew stuff that nobody else in the office knew. Slowly I started questioning things. “Why was she not taking part in the weekly meetings? Why did she not have the same privileges as the others when she clearly put up an excellent performance?” I could understand that I was not invited. Although I improved myself enormously, I was still a rookie.
Diana, however, was one of the most important members of the department. It did not make any sense to me. There were countless examples for her commitment. I clearly remember one morning when Mr. Kreuz came back from a meeting with his boss and looked like he had just finished a marathon. The problem was that we had to repeat our forecast for the next month because of errors in the calculation and slight changes in the exchange rate. He asked everybody who had time for this big and unexpected project. Not a single person stood up and offered his or her help. In the end, Diana volunteered and took the task of Mr. Kreuz’s hands. She had enough stuff to do. Her desk was full with documents. Still, she was the only person willing to do extra work. The next day she told me that she had clocked out at nine in the evening. That was more than astonishing to me.
Two months after starting my internship the tides turned. The situation changed completely. Instead of insecurity, I felt confident again. I did not need Diana’s help anymore to handle my tasks. The atmosphere had changed a lot as well. Gone were the serious and professional conversations with the rest of the department. The employees did not keep their distance anymore. We laughed a lot and I realized how nice Mr. Kreuz was. During lunch breaks, he told me a lot about future career options. My appreciation for him grew steadily. However, two months after I started my internship Diana’s ended. At that time, I was under the impression that after a successful internship the company would offer you a full-time contract. Diana had not been doing an internship for a university program and she did not have any responsibilities to return to. I was one-hundred percent sure that the department would not let her go. Additionally, I wanted her to stay. I admired and appreciated her.
Although by now I had a very friendly and casual relationship with the employees, I had not forgotten who had helped me to become such a reliable intern. I still spent most of my time talking with Diana and was impressed by how professional she was. When I came in the next morning, the employees had their usual department meeting. I was not surprised to see Diana’s empty chair. I assumed that she was a regular employee now and entitled to be part of the meeting. Then I heard the people return and laugh as always. I waited for them to enter the office so I could congratulate Diana on her full-time contract. Although I waited patiently for every single person to pass me by, greeting them with a slight nod, Diana did not appear. It took me several seconds to assess the situation. Then, it hit me like a truck. As calmly as possibly, I asked Mr. Kreuz if Diana was sick. He just looked at me confused. “You know very well that her contract expired yesterday. She will not come back.”
Of course, I knew. But did I acknowledge the fact? The answer is no. I can understand that my reaction at that time seemed odd. Why should I care if a person was still employed or not? I would be leaving in four months anyway. However, all my lecturers, my family and my mentor, all of them said the same thing. “If you make an effort you will be rewarded.” For me, in this case, it meant the following: if you do well in your internship, you will become a regular employee. In my opinion, nobody would have deserved it more than Diana. She was the vital link to all other colleagues. I was upset and I wanted a clear answer on why the company did not hold onto Diana. Luckily, I had the perfect opportunity one week later.
Kevin, the deputy head of the department, celebrated his birthday in private and invited everyone from work. We had a good relationship, therefore I was not surprised when he asked me to come. We visited a typical German restaurant in which the air smelled of beer and sausage. Of course, at the beginning, the employees were more reserved and mostly talked shop, but after dinner Kevin ordered alcohol, a lot of alcohol. As an intern you do not really know how your colleagues who all rank higher feel about you drinking with them. When Mr. Kreuz ordered a beer for me I was relieved. He did not even ask if I wanted a drink, instead he gave me a cheeky grin. One of the colleagues showed his card tricks while everyone applauded in disbelieve. Everybody had fun and bottles and glasses were emptied rather fast. The waitress was busy that evening. After a while everyone seemed a bit tipsy. Being a student, I guess I was more used to the consumption of alcohol.
I thought that this was my chance to get a satisfying answer. I approached Mr. Kreuz and sat down next to him while he ordered his seventh beer. The look in his eyes was already a bit gloomy. I was sure that we could talk casually and I asked him outright. “Why did the company not offer Diana a full-time contract? You know that she was an essential part of our department.” I expected an evasive or diplomatic answer, but I guess Mr. Kreuz had had enough alcohol to put his caution aside. He grabbed my left shoulder and looked me in the eyes. “What exactly do you mean? Diana was an intern and her contract expired. Why should we keep her?” This answer truly surprised me.
I probed further. “Why did you not keep her? She was appreciated by everyone and she did a great job.” Mr. Kreuz might have realized that I wanted a satisfying answer from him. So, in his tipsy state he put his arm around my shoulder and took a sip from his beer. Then he continued. “Business has changed a lot over the last couple of years. Trends have emerged and technology has advanced. I understand what you want to say and personally speaking, I would have kept Diana too. However, nowadays, companies hire interns because of various reasons. Have you ever heard of the term Generation Internship?” I listened carefully to him.
His voice was serious, but he obviously enjoyed teaching me new stuff. He took another sip from his beer and went on. “I appreciated Diana as much as you do. She was a wonderful intern. She questioned the current processes and brought up new ideas on her own. Her creativity and flexibility were outstanding. I praised her in front of my boss on a regular basis. She knew how to handle today’s technology and even taught us one or two tricks. Her motivation set the bar for every single person in the department.” I wondered. “Even though you knew that she was that good you did not want to keep her. Why?”
Mr. Kreuz looked at the other employees. “Again, I would have loved to keep her. However, our business culture has changed over the past years. Our CEO prefers to have interns for certain positions. Their contracts end and the next one comes in. Our company does offer full-time contracts after completion of the internship. The thing here is that you are her successor. There’s only one scenario in which we would have thought about hiring Diana full-time: if you had been a complete disaster by now. But you are doing great. You even have the potential to exceed Diana’s skills at the end of your internship. Be happy.” He laughed.
Maybe he thought that this would raise my mood, but the opposite was the case. To some extend I was the reason that Diana was not here anymore. I was not angry at Mr. Kreuz. I liked him. However, I could not approve the mentality of this company. I did not buy into Mr. Kreuz’s reasons. Diana was a perfect intern. She was motivated, flexible, ambitious and creative. This is everything an employer can wish for. For me it did not make sense at that moment, but I was a student back then. I had no clue how the work environment really looked like. Although I could not forget this incident, the rest of my internship was a success.
My colleagues were helpful and we had a great time. The day I had entered this office for the first time I had not imagined that the atmosphere would be so casual. One morning, while the others attended the weekly meeting I printed some documents downstairs. When I went up again and left the elevator, I almost bumped into a guy. It struck me. This had to be the new intern. His name was Jeremy. It was his first day. Immediately, I saw myself in him. He looked lost. The knot of his tie was awful and he kept biting his nails. I wondered if I had looked that nervous and helpless on my first day. But Diana was not here to help him. It was up to me to integrate him. I felt ready.
So, I took him under my wings and taught him everything I knew. In the next weeks, I explained all processes and analysis tools to him in addition to doing my normal tasks. It was stressful, I admit that. I had no breathing space because the other employees just kept adding file after file on my desk. Every second counted as it was the semi-annual forecast period of the company. But I managed. I did not even realize the similarities between Diana and myself. Most likely, she had gone through the same procedure. Jeremy was bombarding me with questions, just as I had been bombarding Diana with questions. I was happy to help him while I still could.
Finally, my last day approached. I had spent six months in this department and unlike most of my fellow students I did not regret my choice. The final meeting I was about to have was my review with Mr. Kreuz. For the last time I said goodbye to the whole department. All of the employees asked me to stay in touch and handed me their business cards. “See you tomorrow”, Jeremy said when I walked out. I did not understand what he meant. He knew that this was my last day here.
Mr. Kreuz and I entered the meeting room. I had been in there two times only, so it felt special to me. For Mr. Kreuz, I was certain, it had not been an extraordinary occasion. The conversation went by fast. We discussed my development and performance. Then we went through the necessary documents for my university and he handed me the final assessment. Before I could read it our conversation became more personal. He thanked me and praised my motivation and dedication. I was extremely pleased.
My first internship had had its ups and downs. Before it even started, my confidence had been shattered as I realized that I might not be as good as I thought. With the assistance of Diana who had become a mentor rather than a colleague, I regained my confidence. I accepted that she was not with the company anymore; yet a connotation remained. However, I liked this experience and had a lot of fun. I was certain that I would miss my colleagues and Mr. Kreuz. But the company’s attitude towards interns did not fit my values and made it impossible for me to consider a future for me there.
I know. That was a rather long story to introduce Diana. But I wanted to point out that she had an influence on everything I did during this internship. Without her I would have left on my first day, without her I could not have done my tasks. Without her I would have gained no knowledge and maybe even my relationships with the other colleagues would have suffered because of that. Not to forget Jeremy and my mentorship. I would have had no idea how to help him if I had not gone through the same procedure with Diana.
The coffee break enlightenment
Diana and I finally arrive at the coffee shop and I cannot wait to catch up with my former mentor. “I still cannot believe that they did not offer you a full-time contract.” We have talked for more than half an hour about our current lives before this sentence pops out of my mouth. I do not know why. Maybe some part of me is still upset with what happened during my first internship. I own a company now, I have a family and children, but it seems like I cannot forget this.
Diana just shrugs it off and takes a sip from her water. I want to know her side of the story. “Were you not angry? You did so much work for them.” She leans towards me with that half-smile again. Her reply is as kind as always. “Were you angry when you left the company? You look pretty happy to me now that you have your own company.” She is right. This short and curly-haired lady mentors me once again.
I could hardly care less if they had offered me a contract back then, simply because I had not been interested in a position there anyway. I had felt no anger, no disappointment like I had felt when Diana left. She easily reads my face. “You see, the company is not the only beneficiary of an internship.” I stir my coffee for a few seconds to organize my thoughts. It makes sense.
I realize that interns have certain benefits as well. Diana interrupts my thoughts. “I liked my internship. Nevertheless, in the end I knew that I wanted to take a different direction. The company did not offer me a full-time contract, but I would not have accepted it anyway. Important to me was that I could put my six months there on my CV. You know that the company has a big name and an internship alone will make other firms think about hiring you. You can gain work experience while pepping up your future job applications.” I nod in silence.
What she says is interesting and I have not seen it from this perspective. She continues. “I said that I wanted to take a different direction and I applied for more internships in other fields. I worked for various departments around Europe. I was responsible for marketing campaigns and I conducted interviews to assess applicants. It was fun to try out everything.” She is right. My opinion was that the company had to recruit the intern after his contract expires.
I had never considered the intern’s point of view. I had never thought that maybe he or she did not want to stay. Even years after our last conversation Diana teaches me something new. What a mentor I have in her.
Over the last years, internships have become very popular in all industries. Companies hire interns in order to maximize profit, while students have their own interest. This paper helped to clarify the phenomenon of internships along with describing their advantages and success factors for each key stakeholder. During the internship there is a possibility to create an understanding and try how a job or industry suits you. Graduates can have more secure career path as they had a learning during experience their training programs.
Young and motivated professionals, who want to learn and work as hard as possible, who want to be involved as many things as possible – what do companies need more? It is cheap labor, but a very efficient one. Therefore, internship phenomenon, which is only getting more and more popular nowadays, will play a big role in the success of many organizations. Some industries could just develop this term and proof the case that interns will play an even more important role in all companies. Interns together will have a common value and will have a role in the success of the company.
Therefore, the term generation internship will have big popularity also in the future. New ways of internships will be developed and companies will not deny this great opportunity to save. At the same time students will not miss the opportunity to be inside of the world of work, practicing their knowledge gained at university and transferring it to practical skills that will be a great benefit in CV. That is why, while internships are bringing the benefits for all parties, it will always have a place in the modern world.
The authors on their academic research
As a part of our bachelor paper, we researched the topic about Generation Internship. Internships have become quite a normal procedure in modern business. Employers offer students and graduates opportunities to prove themselves.
The term “intern” appeared first during the time of the Civil War. Through the years, it became more popular. Today nobody is surprised when he hear the phrase “We have interns in a company”. In today’s world, modern companies prefer hiring interns to only having full-time employees. This offers several benefits for the company. Interns make life easier for managers as interns can play a big role in the success of a company and can help to save resources. Additionally, interns have a completely different mindset than full-time employees. Therefore, they are able to provide a new and fresh way of doing business. Besides, managers can train their employees to become more responsible and fair. Having an internship program in the company means that all employees may need to be-come supervisors, because interns may ask many questions and may need time to get used to the company’s culture.
Also from the intern’s point of view, there are benefits. The internship helps to be sure that the chosen work or the field of activity and the enterprise suit you. An internship helps young talents to learn how to work and behave in specific industries and companies. It demonstrates the work environment and provides the student with a feeling that he or she is a real employee with tasks that let him have an influence on the success of the company. After completing an internship there are two possibilities. One is that a student receives an offer for permanent employment. If this is not the case, there is the option to find a good position in the future with the help of managers and recruiters he had the chance to connect with. Both possibilities can be very helpful for the student in the future.
Finally, during the research we understood that in today’s competitive world every employer is looking for a talent with experience in the industry before offering a job. A few years from now this could mean that people without internships or experience could have difficulties in finding a job. That is why any student should have a practical working experience as it provides an understanding of professional world.
Testimonial by Artjom
I am still dreaming about creating my own novel in the future. Therefore, I was happy to use the thesis to express myself with my own writing style. I am quite satisfied with the story, but as a perfectionist, I know that some parts could have been better. I wanted to lay the focus on entertainment and realism and I think that I only fulfilled my wish in certain passages. Nevertheless, I had so much fun in composing this story.