How I Landed an Internship in Tokyo

One of the unique selling points of ALU is how work experience is built into our degree programmes via our annual four-month internship period. After a successful first year at ALU spent garnering various leadership, project management, data analysis and soft skills, I opted to do my first internship at a top-tier management consulting firm. This cut-throat industry provided an ideal environment to develop an aspiring entrepreneur and business student such as myself.

To my delight, I earned an offer to intern at the consulting firm again in my third year. However, this left the unavoidable question of where I want to do my second-year internship.

My moonshot aspiration for my second-year internship was to work on a different continent so as to broaden my experiences and challenge myself to deliver high-quality work in a completely different environment. Global relations is a crucial skill for world leaders and this is a skill I wanted to begin developing while still in college.

Early in the year, I created a list of international opportunities based on the list of partner companies the ALU Career Development Team shared with students as well as my own research (and the help of LinkedIn’s job search feature!).

I narrowed down the list to ensure it only included options which could equip me with skills relevant to my broader life ambitions in addition to providing an international experience. Given that I have a burning passion for social impact, particularly women empowerment; fashion and a keen interest in business strategy, there were a variety of opportunities for me to explore.

Expectedly, there were also a variety of challenges. The largest being that our internship season is during the fall which is an off-peak season (most international internships take place in summer). The global economic downturn also caused a number of companies to cease hiring interns temporarily, while many international opportunities require a prior work permit in that country.

Despite these challenges, I landed an international internship using three key tools/strategies:

  1. Proactivity

The ALU Career Development Team is in the process of developing a transparent system which matches students to internships. While I leveraged the system by completing all the necessary assessments to ensure I qualified to be matched to top-tier partner companies, I did not rely on it fully.

I was pitched by ALU  to a variety of companies, however, there was one organisation which was among the top options on my list of international opportunities which I was not pitched to. Upon inquiry, I was informed that ALU would not be able to pitch me. To make matters worse, the international companies I was pitched to opted not to take interns due to various internal and economic challenges, while my self-sourcing efforts were impeded by the aforementioned issues.

Nonetheless, I decided to apply one of my favourite tools which we had explored in our first year Entrepreneurial Leadership class: proactivity. In the spirit of fearlessly and unrelentingly pursuing my ambitions, I reached out to the said organisation independently, targetting all four of their regional offices with a well thought-out email and a carefully constructed resume.

Notably, I was aware of the fact that not being part of the group of students ALU had pitched to them could negatively affect my application, if not invalidate it completely.

Despite this, I maintained a proactive spirit, following up with the two offices who were open to hiring interns during the fall while enduring seemingly delayed responses and overlooked emails.

The more I learned about the opportunity, which is centred on business strategy in Africa, the more I wanted it.

After several weeks of communication with the organisation, I secured an interview. Only two days after my interview, I received an offer to a fully-funded internship in Tokyo, Japan!

  1. Melissa-Njeri-KariukiPersistence

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity required relenting persistence in addition to proactivity.

I began my quest for an international internship in May and secured my internship five months later in September. During that period, I felt as though I was on a rollercoaster… I fiercely pursued and invested my energy into opportunities which slipped through in the last moments, I got rejected and I felt disappointed time and time again.

But what I refused to do was give up.

  1. Positive Energy (consisting of confidence & rechannelled negative energy)

A crucial aspect of my persistence was the spirit in which I conducted it. I consciously decided to remain positive.

When I was informed that ALU would not be able to pitch me to this organisation despite my keen interest, I was extremely disappointed. But I did not allow that disappointment to deter me, instead, I rechanneled that negative energy into motivation to succeed.

Importantly, I did not perceive this setback as a reflection of my abilities and/or worth and thus maintained a healthy amount of self-confidence.

Underlying all my efforts was the belief that I deserved an opportunity of this nature and I would put in the necessary work to achieve it. I was also familiar with the reality that it would not be easy but I did not doubt that it would be worth it.

Additionally, in all my internship-centred interactions, from those with the Career Development team to those with local companies, and even with my peers, I maintained a positive aura. I believe this was a crucial aspect of my journey as when companies consider who to employ, over and above skills and experience, they also consider culture-fit which is essentially a professional way of describing the vibe a person would add to the office environment. On a personal level, my positive energy feeds my sanity and pushes me to avoid complaining and remain solution-orientated.

It was my conscious positivity that allowed me to be proactive and persist in good faith and land an internship in Tokyo. I encountered uncountable challenges, I faced the temptation to indulge in negativity and finger-pointing. However, I fought to realise my ambitions and succeeded by applying proactivity, persistence, and positivity!

I originally posted this article on the 5th of October 2017 on the African Leadership University’s website.