Interview with Director of Next Step Connections

Internships Abroad

Photo Courtesy of Jerome Le Carrou.

Next Step Connections (NSC) is an international organization that offers internships in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. In a recent interview with Jerome Le Carrou, Director of Next Step Connections, he shares how NSC originated and how it's different than other internship abroad agencies that are out there.

1. Please tell us a little bit about Next Step Connections and how it originated?

Next Step Connections provides professional Internship programs in China for students, graduates and young professionals from all over the world, where they can get a glimpse of the professional world and meet seasoned professionals from various backgrounds.

The program was created in 2007 by two French and one American who brainstormed Next Step Connections in late 2006 and officially launched it at the end of 2007 in Shanghai. We welcomed 40 participants in 2008 and are expecting 120 students this year in Shanghai. We also successfully launched summer programs in Hong Kong and Beijing. We are currently planning to expand our program to other cities outside China.

Having spent a fair amount of time building solid connections in Shanghai through years of work experience in China, we saw a need in pioneering a professional internship program by acting as a international platform for students, graduates and young professionals here in Shanghai. Next Step Connections services not only include the internship but also additional background support such as housing, insurance, airport pick-up, 24/7 support, Chinese lessons, events, etc. This ensures that our participants focus solely on their work placements while we take care of the rest.

2. What sets Next Step Connections apart from similar internship programs?

Next Step Connections promote professional and social connections between students from all oer the world. We differentiate ourselves from other programs in three key ways:

a. Professional internship program

One of the things that set us apart is the fact that we focus on creating an overall professional experience whereas other companies offer mainly internships in volunteer/social projects or just the internship itself.

The goal that we set at Next Step Connections was to create a program that give our interns a chance to grow professionally, not just through internships, but also through other professional and social events that we organize, as well as coaching provided by our coordinators.

By giving them a chance to work through an internship in a professional company, we are helping our participants to test out (or "test drive”) an industry, learn or improve on their skill sets, and add more experience to their resume. NSC offers internship opportunities to a wide-range of applicants with interests in a number of different industries. Through participation in professional and social events, our interns learn about the global market, pick up new networking skills, and start an international network of professional contacts.

We see ourselves as a stepping stone toward each participant’s professional path and have created a program to help our interns learn and experience this in as many aspects as possible.

What also makes us different is that we are completely flexible with the starting date and length of stay of our participants. We welcome participants to join our program at anytime of the year; e.g., applicants have the liberty to choose their internship field, starting date and length of stay (1-6 months)

b. Diversity

Even though the majority of our students come from the United States, Next Step Connections’ internship program caters to students from all over the world. Since we started we have welcomed students from Ghana, Nigeria, Greece, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Jordan, Korea, Japan, Venezuela, Peru, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, UK, Canada, and Australia.

After welcoming such diverse groups of participants, we can proudly say that Next Step Connections is truly a global program. We believe that experience with Next Step Connections’ program will expand many horizons. All our participants live together as a global Next Steppers community. They may speak different languages, have different customs, backgrounds but they still respect each other’s differences. This is definitely a lesson in humanity.

We have also noticed a growth in the number of applications coming from Chinese nationals who are studying overseas and wish to return to China to gain experience. These outstanding Ivy-League students joining our program are proof that students are now familiar with our brand name.

c. Connections

Not only do we promote social and professional connections during the program between our participants by organizing social events or post- program via our alumni network, we also offer our own professional connections to our participants.

We organize monthly in-house professional events where we invite our connections to come and network with our program participants. Since we started we have had guest speakers’ dinners and other sessions where professional recruiters would come and give tips to our participants on how to make the most of their internship and ways to adapt to their new environments. We also sponsor a number of public networking events around town for our participants.

3. What types of internships are available through Next Step Connections?

We cater to many different fields ranging from art to finance. In the past, our participants had internships in contemporary art centers, museums, Marketing and PR firms, architecture firms, Advertising companies, local magazines and business TV’s, international law firms, boutique hotels, international chemical brands and private equity and finance research firms. We also have a joint program with the leading business magazine in Shanghai: “The Shanghai Business Review” and are planning to launch a new program with a leading US-based trading and supply chain management company. These programs allow students to specifically apply for an internship position at these two companies.

4. What are the eligibility requirements for students to participate in a Next Step Connections Internship?

The basic eligibility requirements are:

  • 18 years old and above
  • Fluent in English
  • Mandarin is not mandatory however it surely opens up more placements options.
  • Past work experience is not mandatory but preferred

5. How easy is it for a student to get accepted for a Next Step Internship?

We take into account different criteria when we look at an application:

  • Application period (summer is usually more competitive as it is our peak season). Generally speaking we prefer students to apply at least 2 months in advance and as early as possible for those who plan to come to Shanghai in 2010 due to the Expo.
  • Overall profile (Achievement, grades, past experience, internship goal). We are looking for candidates that are independent and highly motivated to make the most of their time while they participate in our internship program.

6. Is it possible for 2 students to sign up together and get an internship placement in the same city?

Yes, it is possible, as students can choose their internship city when they apply. If two students want to share housing, they can put a special request when applying and Next Step Connections Admission office will ensure that both students (if accepted) get to live in the same housing.

With many internship programs such as Next Step there are costs involved for student participants. Does Next Step curtail any of these costs with stipends, scholarships or awards?

Internships in China cannot be paid due to government regulations. However, each participant from our program will get a monthly stipend of 1500 RMB (220 USD).

Next Step Connections still hasn't launched a sholarship program, but this is definitely in our pipeline. At the moment, we have a referral program, where students can earn discounts if they are able to refer other applicants to us.

It can achieve a 100% discount if a student refers 10 students (10 students = 100% discount).

Next Step Connections interns tell their stories:

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