How your internships can set you up for the future

Key ways:

Find out what you like

The reality is ‘we don’t know what we don’t know.’ This saying is uttered a lot and for good reason. Essentially, we all live off experiences, lessons, biases, preconceived notions, fears, and generalizations which create an image of this world that may not always be entirely true. The best teacher, of the aforementioned, is the experience. Use these internship opportunities to try different things, work in varying positions, and meet all kinds of inspiring or uninspiring people. Before you’re locked into a full-time gig or a contract, an internship gives you the ability to test things out. My experience: When I was in college, I worked briefly as a licensed insurance producer. I was a 19-year-old kid trying to convince grown people that I knew what was best for their money. Needless to say, after countless rejected cold calls, zero deals sold, and a lot of down time in a cubicle, I realized (at that point at least) the financial planning/insurance career wasn’t something I was passionate about. Even through my struggles, the place said I’d have a job waiting for me after I graduated. Although it was a great opportunity, I knew it wasn’t my opportunity. That summer internship helped me to find that out.

Develop business etiquette & professionalism

Be punctual. Be polite. Be aggressive (in a good way). And, be productive. Internships offer us the opportunity to make ourselves stand out from the rest. Strive to be the first in the office and the last out. When you’re assigned a task, get it done. No one is going to coddle you or walk you through every little detail. You need to learn quickly, decide quickly, and finish things efficiently. This ability will serve you well throughout life; so, why not learn it now? The faster you can do things the higher quality of projects you’ll have thrown your way. Prove that you can knock the little stuff out of the park and watch as your workload, trust load, and payload increases. My experience: When I worked with Johns Hopkins School of Ed, as a senior in high school and during my first summer home from college, I made it my goal to be the first in the office. I would drop off my sister across town and jet to my office where I’d often be the first person at my desk. I’d get my work done by around lunch time and would have the entire second half of the day to do and read whatever I wanted. Once my office co-workers picked up on this, they began inviting me to events around the city, meetings with city officials, and would even begin asking me to contribute to bigger projects. The things they admired the most was that I came ready to work every day, completed my tasks faster and more efficiently than the other interns, and I greeted everyone with a smile when I’d see them. Remember, everyone sees you. Even those that don’t work directly with you. The ability to treat everyone with respect and ask others around the office how you can help them will go a long way in setting you up for the future.

Learn to put your best work forward

My mom always told me ‘don’t ever submit half ass work.’ The quality of your work represents you. The look and feel of your work represent you. It’s not just important that you can solve the mathematical equation your professor was asking for. What’s most important is when you can solve that equation and lay it out in a way that anyone, mildly familiar with the subject, can follow along with and learn from as well. Learn to work at a high pace, unorganized environments.  In rapid environments where there’s not much direction, it helps you to learn how to prioritize work and it teaches you how to find work that needs to get done. My experience: As a high schooler working at Arby’s, I always believed you learned more about your coworkers when the lunch rush was over rather than when it was happening. When things are busy, everyone knows their roles and what they’re supposed to do. It was when the commotion ceased where you saw the best workers cleaning the dining room floor, refilling the syrup for the soda machines, restocking the fries, and cleaning out the bathrooms, in prep for the impending dinner rush. It’s not just about what happens when the bright lights are on, but how you prepare, when no one’s looking, that sets you up for success.  

Additional notes:

Learn from higher ups

There’s no better way to learn what it’s like to live another person’s life than by putting yourself in their shoes…Since that’s not always possible, the closest you may get to that may be through that internship you’ve coveted over the last year or so. Internships present great opportunities to learn from folks in action. Sure, you get directions and tasks passed down to you directly; but, beyond that, the ability to sometimes just sit back and watch how an organization, good or bad, functions, can be an extremely great lesson. Take this opportunity to learn the ins and outs of an industry and the nuances in the process you otherwise might not have known. For many, internships are the first time we are confronted with ‘office politics,’ horrible bosses, and times of nothingness and boredom in the workplace. Well, at least you find out now, what you like and what you dread. Use these lessons as markers to look out for when touring and interviewing with a new potential company. And, also, when it comes time for you to lead a batch of interns or hire your own, you know exactly what it takes to keep them excited, motivated, and task oriented.

Build your network & stay in touch

This will sound funny because I’m using this medium to convey a message right now, but in all seriousness, take advantage of LinkedIn from an early age. The day you step foot into a professional environment is the day LinkedIn needs to become your good friend. Networking has morphed from the idea of exchanging business cards at a mixer and hoping someone reaches out to you, to a world where as long as you’re armed with a name, you have a chance of becoming part of that person’s everyday visual. I call it placing nuggets. When you meet someone in your internship, add them to your online network (LinkedIn makes sense for a business environment but in the arts and music industries and in more creative spaces, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may make more sense). Give the people, that you hope to stay in touch with, a window into your life. With social media, we tend to feel more comfortable with folks we really don’t know than ever before. Six degrees of separation has turned into three. Take advantage of it. Lastly, understand, everything has its time. Nothing last forever. Just like at the end of a networking event, all the work starts once you leave an internship. While you’re progressing in school, in other jobs, or within your own endeavors, you never realize how important those connections you made, during your program, will become in helping you in a new area of life. Keep in touch with your former employers. Ask them about their children. And, drop in every now and then if possible. This world runs off of relationships you form with people…That’ll sustain you longer than solely being the smartest person in the room.