Grow at a Startup
Blog post by ELP student Connor Flanigan (Mechanical Engineering | Class of 2022) Interning at Spellbound
How do you maximize the value of an internship? When I was coming into my first days at SpellBound I was pretty focused on making sure I crushed the tasks that were given to me, focused on taking initiative, and communicated with my supervisor. That’s all great stuff and should not be undervalued, but at the same time, I was missing something.
Interning is often described as a learning experience, and rightly so. When you are assigned a task or responsibility, there is usually some combination of learning new things and refining existing skills as your experience in the area grows. I had to come up with a list of leads for a cold call campaign in my first week. By the end of it I could easily identify desired targets, find websites with the email format, and use shortcuts to format the excel sheet effectively. Learning from the things given to you to complete is a passive process in many ways. Passive learning is great, but if you have goals bigger and beyond being an intern, there is more you can do to make the most out of your time at a company.
Being active in pursuing the skills and knowledge you are passionate about will help maximize your personal growth, and it can often help you to contribute even more to the company you are working at. Setting goals for areas in which you want to develop, and then creating an action plan for following through on them will enable you to take your growth to the next level. While the plan may vary based on the role and company, there are three sources for personal development: your peers, your supervisor, and the company itself.
Learning from Peers
Your fellow interns are a great resource – make use of working alongside them. If they have a similar role to you, find what they excel at and ask them about it. Learn their best practices and incorporate them into your own work. It’s much easier to start this type of relationship by showing them things you found valuable, so you are both benefitting. If you want to learn about something outside of your normal responsibilities, offer to help with the “boring” things that they don’t want to do. I’ve asked one of the CS interns if I could take notes for him during a product meeting, and I learned a ton while they were happy to not be crunching away at their keyboard for an hour.
Learning from Supervisors
Your boss is probably a smart, experienced person, and if they are, they have some advice that would be of value to you. Your boss is also concerned with their own responsibilities, so it’s important to consider their schedule, communication style, and belief about what their relationship with you is. Think about the best way to get information from your supervisor and what type of information you want ahead of time. Being thoughtful with your approach can be the difference between your supervisor confining your relationship to task completion and being a supportive mentor invested in your development. Ask them to lunch, stay after work or show up early if they do. Find ways to build the relationship; it will be much easier to ask them questions, get advice, and solicit feedback on your performance.
Learning from the Company
If you want to be an entrepreneur, working at a startup is an amazing opportunity to see the inner workings of a company in a setting of great uncertainty. How does your CEO lead? What do you think makes your company successful? What could be improved? Learn from the past mistakes and successes of the company. The most unique thing about being in the company versus learning about startups from books and other media is the human component. The people that make up the business are the business, and it is amazing to see how individual behavior shapes the success of the company. Analyzing this is a great way to figure out how you would want to assess talent and build company culture and systems should you choose to start your own venture down the line.