Pssst. Employers and Managers, please enjoy and send this to your interns!
co-written with our Summer Associates Delia Borbone and Matt Curry
Last week I spent some time meeting several Sidwell Friends students (my alma mater) in Washington, D.C. as they embark on their summer internships. My hats off to the students for electing in high school to seize an opportunity and work full time while their friends are in Costa Rica, Bethany Beach, Camp and many at family houses at the Jersey Shore.
I came back to the Twomentor offices and asked two of our awesome interns, Delia and Matt, to join in and share our top 15 pieces of advice to start interning with your best foot forward. Here are my top recommendations followed by Delia's and Matt's great insights:
1] Finding Yourself Professionally. An internship will teach you what you like and what you don't like professionally. This is invaluable experience as it might give you insight to help inform your college major and the direction you might want to go in life. Having confidence in yourself professionally before you go to college (ideally) is equivalent to having keys for a new car. You will need it and an internship will give you merit-based self esteem.
2] Avoid the Jellyfish. Study the culture of the company you are working for and try to avoid the jellyfish (politics/ gossip) you are swimming with. Yes, even adults can play games like middle schoolers, have childhood fears, and you don't want to be in the mix with people who are negative or causing harm professionally to their peers. Remember the adage: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Also, if there is a Debbie or a Dan downer in the office, just be polite. Maybe they are going through something hard at home. Try not to judge too much.
3] Get Focused Early. Define with your boss your A, B, and C priorities. Focus on doing an amazing job and delivering on your 'A' and 'B' priorities first. If you have too much on your plate and are given more daily ask your manager to help you prioritize what's an 'A' or a 'B' and expected deadlines. This is called managing the manager. Please keep a journal and write things down so you remember what you've been tasked with.
4] Socialize. Go to out of work events with your colleagues, managers, and more. One of the students from Sidwell already joined the company softball team for the summer. People do business with people they like. Be likable. Offer to get someone a cup of coffee or grab lunch for them here and there. It's kind and appreciated for sure.
5] Capture Metrics! So Matt (who you will hear from below), gets really proud when we get 'At bats' with senior executives and leaders. An 'at bat' is a first call and we have a goal of having 20 calls always on the whiteboard. The thing is once we've had three calls, we are down to 17 and Matt (and our other awesome intern Febin from Georgetown University) want to make sure we stay at 20... when we hit 20, he (and I) are thrilled and we all need to celebrate small wins.
6] Get a Good Housekeeping Seal of Intern Approval. Offer to help write a reference letter at the end on how you did this summer. Bottom line, you want one before you leave from your supervisor or another key executive. Offer to draft something and definitely give him/her a one pager on your summer accomplishments and results for the files. It's much harder to get a letter after you leave the internship for the sheer fact that people get busy.
7] Keep Connected. Have a Linkedin profile yet? Create one and connect with the key people you met on your summer journey including your boss. Send authentic personal thank you notes to anyone who touched you and helped you, and keep people in your network. These relationships are golden and you will want to maintain them for years to come.
8] Find a Mentor. Find someone at your office who you found welcoming to you when you started the internship or that you just fundamentally get along with. A person who has been there and has more experience in the company. A person who is generous with feedback and/or sharing perspectives. Ask that person to lunch or coffee to initiate a mentoring relationship and share some of your internship goals.
Advice from Delia Borbone, Furman University, The Washington Center Summer Associate
9] Be Open-Minded. When you first start an internship, you go in being prepared to share what you like to do, what your skills are, and what your work style is. Yes, you will be given assignments where your skills will shine, but that will not be the case every time. The whole point of an internship is to be exposed to the unknown and challenge yourself. Don't say no to a project because you don't think you will be able to do it perfectly. Taking on a task that you aren't familiar with and putting in your best effort means a lot more. Take advantage of the many opportunities given to you, and remember that if you mess up it's okay, this isn't permanent. This is a time to explore all possibilities; you may end up learning about or liking something that you had no knowledge of before. I will be the first to admit that I'm hesitant to venture out of my comfort zone, whether it be trying new food, meeting new people, or taking on an "out of the box" assignment. More often than not, I find out something new about myself that I'm actually good at or really like doing.
10] Be Confident in Yourself. Whether it is work, school, doing a presentation, or an internship, almost everyone is nervous the first time they are doing something. Being nervous is natural, but don't let it take over. When you lack self-confidence, others around you notice. Believe in yourself and what you are doing. No one expects you to know how to do everything, that is why it's an internship. It is easy to be overwhelmed by your new surroundings, but don't be afraid to ask questions and speak up. The best way to shake your nerves is to jump right into the new culture around you and fully embrace it. So be confident and show your peers and superiors your potential! Yes, I know this is easier said than done. It's easy for me to think I'm not nervous until I walk into a room for the first time. Once I do though, I make myself ask more questions or add to the conversation until it becomes natural.
11] Be Positive. Everyone has a bad day now and then. No one likes waking up late, forgetting something, or spilling your coffee on your shirt. Meetings may not always go as planned and you won't always see eye-to-eye with everyone. Things happen! However, how you choose to carry on with your day is key. You can let those things ruin the rest of your day, or you can put them out of your mind and focus on what is next. Having a positive attitude influences everything around you. If you're still annoyed by the time you get to work, you'll most likely be annoyed about any other mishaps during the day. However, if you choose to let it go and think positively, you can still have great day! Staying positive, no matter the circumstance, is the difference between having a bad day versus a fair day, or a fair day verses a great day. It's hard to not let the little things get to you, I let them get to me more than I'd like to admit. When this happens I tell myself that someone out there is probably having a worse day than I am, something worse could have happened, and that I am the only one standing in the way of making my day better by dwelling on it.
Advice from Matt Curry, Radford University, Summer Associate
12] Ask Questions. The whole point of interning for a company is to learn new skills and hone in on existing ones. Asking questions will only increase your knowledge repertoire. Personally, I know that sometimes I need additional information or I even miss vital directions in completing a task. So it is essential for me to ask questions to be able to understand exactly what I need to do and thus, finish the job effectively and on time. Also, asking for feedback is an additional way to gain insight on your progress and what you can do to improve your work. Don't stop there though! Be sure to make a conscious effort to implement said feedback into your work efforts.
13] Know Your Goals. Knowing precisely what you want to get out of interning is very important to learning usable skills and ideas that you can apply in the future. These goals should be specific and challenging, yet broad and feasible enough to perform in only a few months. You'll still learn a great deal going into the office on the first day, naïve of your goals. However, knowing what you want to get out of the experience will ensure your time is well spent. Furthermore, it's a good idea to inform your boss what your goals actually are. This way you will be assigned work that is in alignment with your ambitions.
14] Build a Network. Assuming you don't live under a rock you've heard the phrase, "it's not about what you know, but about who you know." Don't get me wrong, once the right person helps get your foot in the door it is, in fact, about what you know. But getting there has a lot to do with your connections. Having said that, it's important to meet as many people as possible that could later help you with your professional life. The reason I'm here right now, working this awesome internship, isn't because I'm super smart, but rather because I knew the right person. It's imperative to constantly build a network of reliable and upstanding people around yourself.
15] Be Observant. One of the most efficient ways to learn from interning is to be attentive of the business professionals around you. How do they conduct business? What behaviors do they exhibit? How do they communicate with customers? Try to listen up on sales calls or sit in on meetings to witness exactly what makes them successful. Obviously they're doing something right, so figure out exactly what that is!
Interning is not only about what you can do for your company BUT what your company can do for you too. You are learning and improving professionally, just as you are helping your company advance in its industry. Realize that the effort you put in will be reciprocated with insight and experience that is invaluable to your success. The greater degree you advance your company the more you'll learn and be remembered in years to come.
By the way, did you know 95% of employers said that candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions according to the latest annual survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). "Not only does participation in an internship make the student a more attractive candidate, but it can also be an avenue to a job," says NACE Executive Director Marilyn Macke.
No matter what your internship is this summer, you have an amazing opportunity ahead of you. You will learn so many new things about yourself: how you work, what field you want to work in, and what your professional goals are. You will also learn what you don't like which can be equally important to seed your future. Please feel free to share in the comment section below with others, what you are learning at your internship so far. This is a time to push yourself, build a network, and gain invaluable workplace experience.