EUSA Academic Internships: In conversation with Shelley O’Hare

We sat down recently with Shelley O’Hare, placement manager for EUSA internships. Based in their London office, Shelley’s role involves matching intern applicants from US universities with hosting organisations.

So – tell us about EUSA.

EUSA runs academic internship programmes. We are a not-for-profit organisation, partnering with US universities to place students in internships across Europe, including: London, Dublin, Madrid, Paris and Prague. There are several placement cycles throughout the year; we’re just in the middle of our spring placement period, which has seen a record intake – our team has been busy!

Sounds exciting. I know our partner firm Holland Mountain has 3 EUSA students on site just now, which is a record for them too. Does that mean you’ll get to take a break now that students are in placements?

Not at all, in fact quite the opposite. The travel period starts around this time of year, when the EUSA team go on campus to meet with students who have applied to the programme through their study abroad office.  We’ll conduct an initial consultation lasting around 30mins, with the aim of learning more about the student and their career goals. I always ask them what they’d like to gain from the placement – our key theme is future employability – EUSA acts as the bridge between students at university and having their first career experience, so it’s vital we get the right match.

That’s a lot of responsibility! How do you go about making connections to company hosts?

We have a database of companies, like Holland Mountain, where there’s an established relationship.  Our team will reach out to those clients ahead of time to see who might be interested in hosting an intern for the dates available. We also check what sort of skills or degree background would be a good fit. In addition, we do outreach to find new companies and organisations based on the industry needs of our incoming cohort. Once we’ve met with the students for that intake, each student is assigned to a member of the EUSA team and we can begin the process of matching them with a company. It can take up to 3 months to complete this; we don’t use algorithms, it’s an entirely bespoke person-led matching service.

What sort of factors are you taking into consideration? 

Transferable skills are so important, alongside academic background. When I meet a student, I’m not just looking for technical skills, it’s also about personality and softer skills. You want to get the right fit for the company’s culture and ways of working. We also ask the student for their ideas on industry and company. If we don’t have a relationship with a suitable organisation, we’ll do our best to try and set this up. We find a lot of our clients are happy to recommend us to other companies, which helps.

What types of internships do you offer?

EUSA offers a range of internships, from business & finance (which are very popular) to marketing, communications, film/tv & theatre, law, hospitality, psychology and health sciences and the arts. We have found that consulting and PE internships have become incredibly in-demand in recent years, so we’d love to connect with more companies in this space. That’s another reason why relationships such as the one we have with Holland Mountain is so important.

What’s the placement experience like for students?

Well, the first thing to know is that the EUSA placement is an extension of their studies. EUSA specialises in academic internships, which means students work towards academic credit during their placement, usually through writing a paper about their experiences. Sometimes we’ll also help organise for one of the university professors to come to London and the students will complete 4 weeks of classes in their host city before starting their internship. EUSA’s role is about more than simply linking students to companies – we help manage the end to end process, supporting students with interview workshops, for example, so that they present the best possible version of themselves.  We also help them navigate the cultural differences  between the US & UK, providing them with scenarios and asking them to consider how they’d handle this. Ultimately, they’re not just representing themselves, they’re representing their university and EUSA.

How do you stay in touch with a student during the placement?

We do a mid-placement review to see how it’s going; we’ll ask them to describe a typical day and check in on the support they are receiving. We also ask what they want to achieve in the second half of the placement, to make sure things stay focused. The great thing is that we can also use this feedback when we meet future interns to help them decide if they want to work with this company in the future. We try to share a balanced view of feedback because this is the reality – it’s not all going to be fabulous, naturally sometimes students can find certain admin tasks boring.

And on that note… do you ever have to step in if there’s an issue or misunderstanding?

Our goal is to help the student get the most out of their experience. I find the best approach is usually to coach and support them rather than stepping in directly to navigate conversations with their supervisor. That’s a last resort really – in the real world, EUSA won’t be on hand to help so it’s about helping to build their confidence and encouraging them to problem solve on their own.

What advice would you give to students interested in a placement? 

I think the most important thing for students to know before they go into a placement is to be proactive.  If you finish your work, ask for more! Students may be used to having more structure than they’ll find in their internship. This is going to be an experience they will never forget, so it’s important they’re able to make the most of the opportunity and learn skills that they may use for the rest of their lives.

Photo credit: Jake Longley

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