Backstage with AJ: Confidence and hard work will get you there

Picture of By Álvaro G. Arrieta

By Álvaro G. Arrieta

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]T[/mks_dropcap]his week Medium spoke to AJ Kutlu, a student of the English track of the Bachelor’s in Communication Science at UvA who also happens to chair three committees at our very own Study Association Mercurius. He gave us an update on his daily work at COFRA, and some tips on how to get that elusive internship when all the good ones seem to have gone.

Originally from Turkey, where his father still lives and works as a graphic designer for Hürriyet, a major newspaper, he moved with his mother and brother to Germany at the age of 12 to get his High School education. He had it rather clear from the beginning, he wanted to study an affordable university programme related to media and communication. Not only that, he wanted to “learn the science behind it.” Three years ago, he looked into the possibility of studying International Sports Management, but he found it too corporate. Then, he came across the then-new English programme in Communication Science at UvA online, and contacted the study advisors for information and meetings. AJ stresses the remarkable dedication of the study advisors, who sat with him to talk about his career even outside of consultation hours. Communication Science looked like a challenge and he took it on.

Experience in Mercurius
In AJ’s view it’s important to be out there and to get involved in many activities. “In my case, they see I have done many extracurricular activities since High School, plus my experience as a board member and the head of the Career, Study and International committees of Mercurius, so they probably think ‘that person is capable of organising an event because he has done it before’,” he said.

Finding the internship
From what AJ is told, he started looking for an internship pretty late. While some of his classmates started in mid-September or in October, he didn’t rush. “I started looking in November, and by mid-December I had moved to the next stage for 5 vacancies,” he told us. Companies like to find interns months before their training starts, but he didn’t turn off his LinkedIn search and he assures “they are still looking for people even now. Don’t give up, it’s possible to start in February or March, and even in April!” You can always ask a friend of an intern if their company is looking for more people. Connections work. In any case, he was on LinkedIn “all the time for a month,” setting up keywords for job suggestions like ‘social media internship’ or ‘marketing internship’. He applied to most offers that came his way, since they were all interesting. Then, as he got positive responses for his requests, AJ would complete the assignments they tasked him with and, in some cases, got to a second and even third interview or Skype call. In the case of COFRA, “it was the last company I applied to and they got back immediately.” All in all, from the first phone interview to the interview in person at the company and to the final response, it didn’t take more than two weeks. “It was a really fast process compared to other media companies”, he said, “some had taken a month just to send a positive message back to me.” This gave AJ the impression that they really wanted him, which is always a nice boost.

Don’t give up, (…). Connections work!

The internship
COFRA is the parent company of other brands like international retailer C&A, among others, and AJ is part of a team dealing with internal and group communications under the guidance of the company’s CCO. He started on 1st February at this 9-to-5 job and works on various projects regarding internal and external communication of COFRA. He goes to the office everyday, except Fridays. “I was very clear since the first interview: every Friday I have to be at UvA for my Mercurius office hours,” he stated. “They were really fine with that, there is always the option of taking a company laptop and work outside the office, which is what I do when at UvA. There is really no stress, we do Skype meetings with those who are not physically present and there’s leeway when you’re sick, too.” So much so that AJ gave us an example of two colleagues that fell ill this week and still rang in to get an updated of who was taking care of their most pressing tasks. “People are really easy to reach, there’s regular 45 minute to 1 hour meetings and some join in through Skype.”

‘LinkedIn is your best friend’

Lessons learnt
Before you start looking for internships, remember three things: “LinkedIn is your best friend,” be confident in what you can offer, and don’t give up easily. Of course, international students might be tempted to think there will be many less opportunities if you don’t speak Dutch. In fact, AJ told us that, even when he got positive responses from companies looking for an English-speaking intern, he was rejected in around 10% of his later-stage interviews because the companies do business primarily in Dutch. But, do not despair, “there’s plenty of companies that are looking for students who can speak English and another language,” AJ said. As Communication Science students, AJ’s advice is to fully embrace the possibilities presented by social networks. “With the right LinkedIn search, you’ll see how many companies are looking for dynamic international students.”

Cover: Mercurius / Eindredacteur: Kyle Hassing


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