It’s that time of the year when students are getting a taste of what it’s like to bring home the bacon with summer internships.
Before I delve into this post, I just wanna say I’m so glad I was born in 1975 because I never had to worry about internships early on as a student. In high school, I was biking around the neighborhood and volunteering at the hospital. In college, I was desperately trying to pass Physics and surveying trees at Forestry Camp. The only time I ever had a paid internship was the summer in-between my 2 years getting my MBA. I hated it, but that was irrelevant. Just because you detest the work doesn’t give you license to suck.
Tip #1: Underpromise and overdeliver.
Tell whoever you report to that while you’ve never done this kind of work before, you’re going to work day and night to make sure you understand the ins and outs of the business. This is very important: this is your opportunity to absorb and learn. If you don’t know, ask questions! You’re the intern. It’s ok to not know. After your internship is over, if you still don’t know, that is a big problem. You probably won’t get hired and if you do, that’s worse because you won’t know jack shit and people will wonder why you’re such an idiot. You will never get this opportunity again. Don’t let it slip. Ask, absorb, learn, network. No question is a dumb question. Ask, ask, ask!
Tip #2: Appearances are everything.
Wear a suit. Dress a notch better than everyone else you will interact with. Be the first person at work. Be the last person to leave.
Tip #3: It’s not about you. It’s about your boss.
Forget about all those thoughts in your head about whether or not this is the right job for you. It doesn’t f*ing matter. When you’re staring at a handful of offer letters, that’s when you can start having those ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ conversations. Right now, it’s all about having a successful internship and landing an offer when the internship is over. Bottom line: make your boss look good. Your job is to make your boss’s life easier. If you notice that your boss is spending an inordinate amount of time running reports, learn how to run those queries and take on that responsibility. If you notice that during meetings no one takes notes, then take notes and distribute them to the team. What a great resource for someone who missed the meeting or isn’t able to attend! Seize opportunities to make yourself be useful. Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do. Don’t be a monkey! Be a problem-solving, creative human being.
Tip #4: Understand the culture and play the game.
During the start of my internship in graduate school, the recruiting manager talked about how this was the first time they were putting together a formalized internship program. She had conceived of the idea herself and was very proud of how the company had rallied around her idea.
At the end of the summer, the recruiting manager asked for feedback. A fellow intern, I’ll call him Larry, proceeded to give her very detailed, very critical feedback on how the program could be improved. Everything he said was warranted, but foolhardy. Larry didn’t know how to play the game. As he continued his critique, I could see the recruiter manager hang her head solemnly. She looked very upset.
After the room had cleared out, I went up to the recruiting manager and said, “I just want to say that I’ve never been a part of an internship program before and you did such an amazing job. It was extremely well-organized. I especially liked how you balanced the technical seminars with the networking events. I’m looking forward to applying all the knowledge I’ve learned this summer when I hopefully work here full time. And I owe that all to you. So thank you so much. I know it will make the transition that much easier.” She thanked me for those words and told me how much they meant to her.
I understood the culture. I mean, this wasn’t investment banking or management consulting. Sure the recruiting manager was looking for feedback, but you’ve got to read the situation and people properly. I couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to make someone feel good about herself and the work that she did. She was going to tell the hiring manager that she loved me and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I received an offer. Even though Larry was a rockstar intern, he was denied an offer. I’m sure the recruiting manager had something to do with that!