As the month of August creeps to an end, so does another chapter of internships around the world for some of the best and brightest students and our future workforce. Just as one door closes, another opens and as the fall approaches, so do more interns all vying for those precious and limited slots at their dream company. For the lucky ones who are chosen, they will have the opportunity to take what was a chance on them and transform that into the possibility of becoming a full time internal employee in the future at that particular company.
So, how does one go from intern to internal hire?
I recently had the pleasure and privilege to speak with a few high profile program managers (from the SF Bay Area to New York City) about what it takes for an intern to be successful and the feedback was nothing short of applicable and valuable.
Applicable in that it doesn’t take too much on the part of the intern to apply and practice certain traits, behaviors, characteristics or skills to ensure they are noticed in the best way possible as someone who could be a culture fit for the future.
Valuable in that what was discussed to be successful and how it can be applied to anyone in the current workforce (intern or internal) as a reminder to always do your best and ensure you are part of the solution and future versus the problem and the past.
Here is what they had to say:
1) Take Initiative.
In a 2011 Harvard Business Review Article, taking initiative was the fundamental principle in describing how an intern can succeed within an organization. Although it states that your job is to make your boss’ life easier and produce results, that’s not entirely the whole truth and it does depends on where you intern and the scope of your position. Whether you are supporting one boss or aiding other interns within a group dynamic, always try to anticipate the needs of others and look to deliver on it before it’s requested of you.
2) Work Hard (and Smart).
This may be a no brainer but hard work does pay off. At the same token, being in action doesn’t always produce results. In the words of one program manager:
“We look for people who aren’t just diligent in their efforts but also able to produce tangible results from whatever task is given to them. In some situations, we have the interns work as a group to see how they function within a team dynamic”.
Success is a state of mind or and every day you must have the mentality that you’re going to give 110% effort in all that you do. The saying goes that people will forget what you say but remember how you left them feeling so do your best to complete your tasks and projects with excellence. How you show up now is what people are noticing. Doing thorough work will pay off on many levels – the first is that your boss or manager will take notice and the second will be an increase in potential role and/or responsibility; all good signs in standing out in a sea of interns.
3) Be Humble.
Many interns can be…um, well let’s just say entitled. When I asked a few program managers, the word that came up the most was “arrogance” and how that was the biggest disappointment and frustration in how these people would (or wouldn’t) integrate well with others and the overall culture. To be fair, everyone I spoke with was emphatic in sharing that they have a pretty stringent screening process for interns. In fact and I quote:
“Some students show up entitled and arrogant forgetting that it’s a privilege in many respects to have an intern spot here within our company and that there are 100 other people who would love to be here right now. There is no fool proof way to know for certain that who we bring on will work out but that’s what we aim for”.
In short, don’t be that intern and don’t be arrogant. Cultivate a sense of humility and let it be seen and felt both others. There is a quote that I love which goes like this, “It’s not the happy people who are thankful. It’s thankful people who are happy”.
4) Be Curious.
Ask a Lot of Questions. Not so many that you appear as if you are not listening but enough to ensure you understand what’s being asked of you. It’s better to ask a stupid question than it is to make a stupid mistake that could have been avoided.People recognize you’re an intern and your professional work experience is limited so use that in your favor to ask questions and learn from others.
“One thing that always impresses me, are the interns who not only ask questions but did their homework prior to asking”.
So go ahead, raise your hand or your voice but remember to ask those questions. It will show your engagement and interest in the conversation.
5) Be Respectful (Of Everyone).
Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. There really is no excuse to feel “higher or mightier” than anyone else. Although this is sometimes hard for interns to understand as their exposure and experience in the corporate world is limited if not non-existent but understanding that giving everyone the same level of respect is key in building relationships. As one person said:
“One of the brightest moments this past summer was when one intern wanted to create an appreciation day for all the admins within the company. This was met with a resounding yes and all the intern came together to throw one of the most creative parties for some of the hardest and sometimes unseen workers in our company”.
Never rule anyone out and see every person and every connection as an opportunity to grow as a person, your internship experience as well as the potential for referrals and connections moving forward.
6) Say Hello.
When you have the opportunity to introduce yourself, take it. You can’t expect that people will just walk up to you and introduce themselves so be proactive and let others know you are there to help. Make it a game if necessary and see how many people you can meet in a day and find out what they do. You never know when someone else in the company is doing something that might interest you later down the line. You may not want to work for your company past your internship, but you will definitely want to get a recommendation from them for grad school, your first job or a future internship. Knowing too many people is never a bad thing when you are intern and in fact, having more people who know (and like you) can be the differentiator when it comes to you and someone else who is lesser known should a position open up after your internship.
7) Be Observant.
There is a fine line between being invisible and being observant. Observant looks like paying attention to what’s happening and not happening. What works and isn’t and most importantly what you should or shouldn’t engage in.
“One of the biggest disappointments is when I see and hear the interns gossiping about people whom they don’t know or about the company that they have only been interning at for a few days. Gossip is ugly and although it’s prevalent everywhere, it’s not something I want to see in my group”.
If you have to, excuse yourself from the group and/or conversation. Nothing is to be gained by speaking on something or someone you don’t know.
8) Be Open To Feedback.
Receiving feedback, taking criticism or hearing about your performance may never be easy but it’s a necessary evil for not only one’s development but foundational in almost every organization. You don’t have to wait to receive feedback, in fact – asking for it shows not only the desire for improvement but also the initiative we discussed earlier.
“Recently, I had an intern approach me and ask my, ‘what’s one thing I could do improve upon that would make me a better culture fit?’ – this was to my surprise an excellent question coming from a 19 year old with no formal work experience”.
In order to grow as a person you have to be able to hear what others have to say and although this can be a tough pill to swallow, incorporating as a daily vitamin will definitely make you stronger and possibly provide you an insight and edge over your competition.
9) Be Positive.
This may sound like an odd one but the energy you (and everyone else) put out is there for the taking and no one wants to be around “a glass half empty” person all day. Show up with enthusiasm and a smile. There is a famous quote by Thich Nhat Hanh that goes “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy”. Nothing could be truer, the science (and yes there is actual data regarding the power of a smile) has spoken and people who smile are seen as not only more approachable but also more likeable and hence positive. Even if your goal is not to get hired, you should still want to be someone who get’s pulled into projects versus having to push your way through the door.
10) Be Professional.
Dress to impress. Okay, so if the companies culture is flip flops and t-shirts then by all means you “may” dress the part but make sure you aren’t wearing wrinkled, stained or ripped clothing.
“On our first day of orientation this past summer, I had to send one person home to change their clothes. They believed that due to the culture and dress code of what they read (not saw), they could get away with wearing a t-shirt with offensive language on it. I respectfully asked them to change and explained why so they understood why I was asking”.
Perception is everything and how you show up has a lot to do with how you will be addressed. Make sure you not only do your research online (www.glassdoor.com) but also take a trip to the company and see first hand how people are dressed. Take into account that if you do plan visits to go between Monday and Thursday as some companies have more relaxed dress on Fridays. In addition to dress code, personal hygiene is equally important. Make sure you comb your hair, brush your teeth and basically shower. Although these sound like no-brainers, it’s the small and basic things people (everywhere) forget. Just as no one wants to be around the “glass half empty person” – no one wants to be around the “person who doesn’t shower”.
11) Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan.
Keep track of your projects and take notes in any meeting you sit in. This will not only keep you on task but also show others that you are paying attention. Keep your workspace neat and clean (as well as yourself – see the above). Keeping a list of all your assignments and projects will come in handy if your boss or manager asks for an update and/or your looking to add projects or accomplishments to your resume afterwards.
“I love it when an intern asks me if they can keep examples of projects they worked on for their portfolio or for later use. That level of excitement and strategic thinking shows me they are looking at the big picture”
Asking for permission to use or show work from your internship is great for a few reasons but one of the most important is regarding ownership of the project or assignment. What you are working on is most likely the property of the company you intern for and you may need approval first. No one expects you to be a taskmaster or have the strongest relationship to your time management skills but if you are able to knock things off your list to-dos – ask for more. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the projects or workload that you have, talk to your manager or supervisor about prioritizing your work. Asking for help shows the initiative we discussed earlier, the desire to stay organized and the humility to admit you need support.
An internship may not be glamorous and you may not be exactly where you want to be “yet” but rest assured being an intern is an excellent opportunity to try out a career field, build skills, grow your network and potentially become employed at a company full-time after graduation.
If you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the following people who started off their careers as interns:
Steve Jobs (Intern at HP)
Bill Gates (Intern at U.S. House of Representatives)
Chris Gardner (Intern at Dean Witter Reynolds)
Betsey Johnson (Intern at Mademoiselle)
Steven Spielberg (Intern at Universal Studios)
David Geffen (Intern at CBS Mail Room)
Andrea Jung (Intern at Bloomingdales)
Ursula Burns (Intern at Xerox)
Patrick Ewing (Intern at Senate Finance Committee)
Tom Adams (Intern at London Brokerage)
Anderson Cooper (Intern at CIA)