Wanted: An internship overseasIn a dark conference room at Motorola Korea, a young woman in a suit, Jeon Min-seon, enters, her face stiff and voice shaking with tension. As she begins a slide show, she says, “The company has weak brand recognition. One solution is to launch a customized mobile phone designed by a famous fashion designer.
“The company needs an entirely new strategy, such as hybrid marketing to link the new handset with a luxury image. The new phone will be called MotoOne.”
A middle-aged man in suit sitting at a table asks, “What is your pricing strategy?”
“Those who buy this phone already own other luxury goods. We can ask for a premium price,” she says.
It may look like yet another board meeting, but it’s actually an interview for a summer internship. And it’s not for just any summer internship: This one sends the intern overseas, all expenses paid, and many eager college students will do whatever it takes to get one, even if it means creating a marketing plan from scratch.
A number of domestic and foreign companies in Korea are starting to offer opportunities to work overseas, in addition to their local internship programs. The international internships are undoubtedly expensive, but in return the companies get to mine new ideas from the applicants and the opportunity to market themselves to college students.
Motorola Korea, which produces mobile phones, recently chose two interns who will work for a global marketing team at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago for 12 weeks. The paid internship includes round-trip airfare, a serviced apartment and an allowance for living expenses, plus a top-of-the-line Motorola mobile handset. It will cost more than $15,000 to send interns to Chicago.
Despite that cost and the time needed to screen an overwhelming number of applicants, the companies offering internships benefit from the process.
“The headquarters’ marketing team can get fresh ideas from the interns,” Ms. Min said. “This is also a good way to promote the company to students, who, as fast adopters of new technologies, are potential buyers of Motorola products and also potential employees.”
Foreign companies such as Lucent Technologies Korea and Hewlett-Packard Korea are also offering overseas internships, but they differ from Motorola’s. The interns will be allowed a brief visit to their headquarters in the United States, but they will work most of the time in Korea.
The requirements for the international internship at Motorola were rigorous. More than 1,000 applicants completed a 15-page report on subjects including marketing strategy for its top-of-the-line mobile phone.
Only 30 candidates were chosen for an interview. All but seven passed the interview, only to prepare for another hurdle, a five-minute English presentation on their report.
Their last assignment was a group discussion in English. The subject was about future marketing strategy now that cell phone numbers are portable, allowing subscribers to switch service providers without having to replace their phones or get a new number.
Preparing for a report and presentation that would have been a challenge for professions was an even more difficult task for full-time students.
“It took two weeks for me to finish the report and prepare for presentation,” said Ms. Jeon, whose major is French literature with a minor in secretarial study. “I had to rush in the end when I was writing the report and spent two sleepless nights.”
Ms. Jeon even took a survey of her school mates ― 50 from her school and another 50 from neighboring Yonsei University ― to complete the report.
One applicant had to learn the basics of marketing in a hurry. “Because I’m not majoring in business, I had to look up introductory marketing textbooks,” said Rhew Jin-hee, a graduate student in simultaneous interpretation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “I was asked to write about marketing communication, but I had no idea what it was.”
For the presentation conducted in English, some rehearsed extensively.
“I practiced presentation in an empty classroom during the weekend,” said Kim Jung-ho, who is majoring in international trading at Inha University.
The competition and eagerness to obtain internships reflect college graduates’ worries about the economic slump. The unemployment rate among college graduates in their 20s was 3.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, up from 2.6 percent the previous quarter. The numbers may appear low, but that’s because the government counts anyone who works at least one hour a month as employed.
“These days, more companies seem to prefer those who have work experience. Besides that, I felt I learned how to adapt to society better after previous internships,” said Lee Seung-bo, a senior majoring business administration at Yonsei University.
“I’m anxious about the job market, and more so because I will be a senior next year,” Mr. Kim said. “I don’t have much time, because I need to prepare for a lot of things such as English proficiency test scores.”
Some of the candidates already have had two or three internships or are currently working one now. Mr. Lee worked for L’Oreal Korea and Lotus as an intern. Ms. Jeon is working for Imation Korea. Ko Shi-hyun, a business major at Sogang University, used to work for Coca-Cola Korea and nPlatform.
Many applicants saw overseas work experience as giving them an extra advantage when applying for a job in Korea, a nation that places a premium on English fluency.
Even though an internship doesn’t guarantee anyone a job, it sometimes leads to full-time work. Kay Min, a public relation official at Motorola Korea, said, “Although there is no guarantee that an internship leads to a permanent job opportunity, some of the previous interns have landed a job at the company.
“We are going to evaluate them after the three months,” Ms. Min said. “If they’re good, we could hire them.”
In choosing interns, fresh ideas and communication skills count more than professional expertise, Ms. Min said.
“The applicants could have found the information on Internet to write the report,” she said. “Or they may have knowledge but may not have the ability to explain what they know and to persuade other people.
“Most important, we looked at their ideas in terms of creativity,” Ms. Min said. “Then we took their attitude into account ― how much they wanted to do this internship and how much of an effort they have made.”
In the end, Motorola liked the idea of a luxury phone created by a famous fashion designer. Ms. Jeon, along with Ms. Rhew, was offered the chance to go to Chicago and live there for three months.
But those who did not get the internship weren’t too disappointed.
“I guess there were applicants who were better than I was,” Mr. Kim said. He said he intends to apply for a school program that allows students to visit universities in Europe in the summer.
Though he did not get the internship, he said the effort was worthwhile. “I learned a lot from other applicants, such as my weaknesses, and what I missed in preparing the report,” Mr. Kim said. “I will do better next time. I’m grateful that I had this opportunity. I have no regrets.”
by Limb Jae-un