Grainne Conefrey

By Katie Burke

When Gráinne Conefrey graduated with a degree in Sports Management she found herself facing the daunting task of finding a job in Ireland, a country with an unemployment rate closing in on 15%. After an increasingly discouraging search, she heard about the J-1 Irish Work and Travel program, a program which allows current students and graduates to travel and work in the U.S for 1 year.

The visa stipulates that candidates must secure an internship in their field of study, and that they must do so within ninety days of arriving in America. Gráinne knew that her chances of landing a job in Ireland would be much greater if she could get some relevant international experience on her CV. With no contacts in the US business world, however, securing an internship here would be very difficult.

Enter the IIIC’s Learning Exchange Program. The IIIC are an approved sponsoring agency to process the J-1 Intern visa and the J-1 IWT staff, and this department works with young Irish graduates interested in pursuing their chosen field through a paid US internship of up to twelve months. IIIC staff help orient these individuals to their new city and then work closely with them to canvas local businesses for a relevant internship.

When Grainne arrived in Boston in July 2011, she was new Director of Intern Placements Megan Carroll’s first client. The two worked tirelessly together to try and identify a placement for Gráinne in the Sports Marketing field but, despite Megan’s multitude of contacts throughout the industry and Gráinne’s terrific credentials and motivation, it was proving difficult to get even a foot in the door.

“Sports Marketing and Management is known for its difficulty to break into,” says Megan, “especially without contacts with coaches, players, owners, and other sports professionals.” As the ninety-day deadline approached, Gráinne faced the possibility that she would have to return to Ireland empty-handed.

Then, with just six days left before the deadline, Megan received a call back from her contact at one of the country’s most renowned advertising agencies, Hill Holliday. They had called to offer Gráinne a highly prestigious internship on their Major League Baseball Account. Not surprisingly, she jumped at the opportunity to work in a firm widely accepted as an industry leader.

On the job since October, Gráinne says that she has already learned things that will be invaluable to her upon returning to Ireland. “We’ve really been focusing on social media so I’m just keeping up to date with everything that’s going on at the moment and it’s brilliant. I’d definitely love to continue [in] advertising and find something in that area when I get back.”

Of her experience working with Megan and Learning Exchange Programs manager Jude Clarke, she says: “I would describe this program as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I just have that reassuring sense that if anything ever goes wrong, I’ll have someone to contact. I would recommend this program to anyone looking to use their degree and gain a little experience.”

Everyone at the IIIC wishes Gráinne continued success in what promises to be an amazing year at Hill Holliday.

For more information on the J-1 IWT, please contact Jude Clarke at j1iwt@iiicenter.org or at 617-542-7654 ext. 38.