Internships Enter the Private Sphere

VedomostiBrokers at VTB Capital, which offers two paid internship programs.

Since Soviet times, internships have been a staple of university life in Russia, as students often interned at government ministries and enterprises. Today, more private businesses are offering internships, giving Russian students greater opportunities to gain professional experience during their studies.

One high-profile private-sector internship program to appear recently is offered by VTB Capital, the investment-banking unit of Russia's second-biggest lender. The company is holding the second year of its Elevate Program, which is aimed at recruiting highly qualified young graduates who will complete an internship of four months following a six-week induction course and training session. Thirteen candidates have been accepted this year, including both Russian and foreign students.

"The program will allow each of the participants to gain experience in different business units," Natalia Nikiforova, head of human resources at VTB Capital, Russia, said in a press release. "This will help young professionals make a better-informed decision regarding the future direction of their careers. The Elevate Program is an excellent opportunity for graduates, who will be starting their careers at one of the leading investment banks in Russia."

Greater Confidence

A survey conducted by Page Personnel this year showed that internships are a very common practice for students in Russia: 85 to 90 percent of all students in Moscow will complete internships during university. Men usually start a little bit earlier, during the third or fourth year of their studies, whereas women more often do internships during the last year of their studies. In addition, headhunters including Ancor have begun recruiting interns for companies due to increasing demand for this service since last year.

Internships offer benefits to both students and businesses in Russia's growing economy. Interns can gain a deeper understanding of the speciality they are studying for, get practical experience related to studies, learn to feel at home in a business environment and pique the interest of potential employers in the future, Artyom Ivakin, director of Page Personnel in Moscow, said by e-mail. Meanwhile, companies can take on extra hands to fill seasonal needs or pick up the slack during an expansion, as well as recruit talented employees at the very start of their career.

Although nowadays internships are no novelty in Russia, the number of private companies offering internship programs in the 1990s could be counted on one hand, Marina Fateyeva, senior consultant for recruitment at Ancor Russia, said by e-mail. Today many companies offer internships, just as government institutions have been doing for years, especially in the fields of marketing, sales, finance and logistics.

Often students who complete long-term internships feel more confident about their professional future and want to begin their careers as soon as possible, Fateyeva said. Graduates with internship experience can often claim better jobs and bigger

paychecks and gain more responsibilities at a young age.

The investment banks VTB Capital, Renaissance Credit and Troika Dialog are among the few companies to launch and promote large-scale, long-term internship programs.

VTB Capital started two paid internship programs last year that offer work experience at the company's headquarters in Moscow combined with training courses in London. The Elevate Program, which began its second year in September, targets young graduates and offers them the chance to be hired after the 16-month program. The Fixed-Term Analyst Program, on the other hand, lasts up to a year and accepts undergraduates. This targets a problem often faced by Russian students, namely the difficulty of finding an internship that does not interfere with their studies.

Other companies offer scholarships to complete an internship in the desired field of work. For instance, Brunswick Rail runs a scholarship program focused on students specializing in railway management and logistics. During the 2011-12 academic year, 32 students obtained scholarships of 10,000 rubles ($330) per month to complete an internship  at Brunswick Rail along with their studies.

Finding an Internship

Inconvenient class schedules at some Russian universities can keep students from doing an internship, said Anna Khramtsova, 24, a freelancer working in events management after completing a bachelor's degree at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and a master's degree at the Institut Superieur de Marketing de Luxe in Paris.

"We can have long hours of free time during the day, but we have to stay at the university all day to attend evening classes," Khramtsova said by e-mail. "Therefore, no one can credibly propose to a company to work a few hours a day on an irregular basis, especially considering that Moscow is such a huge city and that leaving the university even for a few hours is problematic."

Students overcome this difficulty by completing an internship during the summer, if they manage to find one, Khramtsova said.  

However, finding an internship can be difficult. Students typically rely on personal contacts to find opportunities. They rarely find internships through the Internet, students at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations said. Personal contacts can be especially useful in fields in which companies don't often recruit interns, such as law firms.

Many internships at private companies are paid, and students often don't distinguish between internships and part-time jobs.

Khramtsova said she enjoyed the way her master's degree was structured in France, where her university held classes in the evening and required her to go to an internship during the day. She said this experience helped her win a job at Cartier in Moscow as the head of products for watches and accessories for Russia and the CIS before she even finished her degree.

Mandating that students complete internships is not a uniquely Western approach, however. Many Russian universities require students to complete an internship in the second year of their master's, and state-affiliated schools typically offer credit for internships.

The Moscow State Institute for International Relations, or MGIMO, is one such university. According to professor Yevgenia Obichkina, specialist in international relations and coordinator of the university's double master's degree with Sciences Po Paris, internship programs are a longstanding tradition at MGIMO. In Soviet times, students were required to do an internship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is affiliated with the university, or in the Ministry of External Trade.

Although the scope of possibilities has since increased to include private companies, banks, embassies, NGOs or even foreign companies abroad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains a popular place to intern among MGIMO students. Not only is it logical for students to gain experience in the ministry, since many of them are destined to become diplomats, but arranging the internship is also much easier. The university handles the administrative matters, and MGIMO students have privileged access to those internships.

Moreover, students said that completing an internship in the ministry helps them get a job there once they're done with their studies.

Tool for Recruitment

Ivakin, of Page Personnel, divided internships in Russia into two categories: mandatory internships, such as the one at MGIMO, which are prevalent at state-affiliated universities; and voluntary internships, which, unlike most mandatory ones, are often paid.

The length of internships in Russia can range from one month to two years, Fateyeva, of Ancor, said. With long-term internships, the question of pay clearly becomes more important. In such cases, large companies usually offer a competitive wage.

The compensation for interns depends on the type of program and can range from 20,000 to 60,000 rubles per month. In smaller companies, the two parties usually negotiate an amount, she said.

If Western companies have been the pioneers in terms of internship programs in the private sector in Russia, Russian businesses are now also looking for interns to increase their recruiting pool and improve the company image, as taking interns is a relatively common practice across Europe and North America.

Asya Kolosova, head of the human resources department of Pricewater­houseCoopers Russia, said there is now fierce competition between large companies, both Western and Russian, to attract young and talented graduates, not only from leading Moscow universities but also from regional institutions.

One such company is Ozon, the leader in Internet sales in Russia. Ozon has been offering internship programs since 2005 and takes on about 10 interns a year.  The company offers flexible schedules so that current students can do internships there, and it is looking for talented individuals studying mathematics or IT to help cover technical tasks.

"We encourage students to continue their studies, as it is equally important for them and the company. We arrange their work schedule so that they can combine both," Valeria Minenkova, who works in Ozon's HR department, said by e-mail. "It is not an easy life, but our interns are very mature despite their age, and they can balance their schedules."