Blog post by ELP Student Grace Wang (Business Administration and Computer Science | Class of 2021)
If I had another chance, I would do x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c. Everyone has said this to themselves plenty of times – especially when placed in unfamiliar situations. It’s in these situations where the skill to make split-second decisions is necessary. However, being able to reflect on those split-second decisions – to think through what other options available were – the possible consequences – will help one better pick up on clues that will lead to the correct decision. Summer internships happen to be a great place to cultivate this kind of thinking.
Imagine, it’s your first summer internship. You’re fresh off the highs and lows of college. Then in a matter of weeks, you leave a rather bubbled world for one of adults. Here, actions have consequences that affect bottom lines. Relationships are carefully strategized rather than sought for the pure reason of good company. Working at startups, obtaining these realization becomes even more important. It took me many hiccups to realize these things, and to save you the trouble of making the same mistakes as me, I have compiled a list of some tips that I feel are not emphasized enough in other similar lists. These tips will make you the intern they remember out of the thousands (in a good way, I promise).
- Talk till You Die
Don’t be scared to reach out. I had the luck of going through ELP networking events where I learned how to turn small talk into actual conversation, follow-up, and most importantly, act confidently even if my stomach was in twists and turns. However, it’s possible to practice these in school by even learning how to talk to professors.
Before we jump into how exactly to reach out to people, let’s start with why networking is important. Look at all the successful people around you. I guarantee that every single one of them got advice from someone older them. Think of your parents. If you took them out of your life equation, you would not think or act the way you do (and probably be 20x more immature).
At your summer internship, you’re a baby (doesn’t mean you don’t have insane growth potential though). You won’t know how to do everything. You don’t know what’s a priority for business. Your familiarity with the business model is surface-level. Given all of this, it is absolutely in your best interest to seek answers.
During the last few weeks of my internship, I reached out to senior management at my office to ask them for a one-on-one chat. My emails were simple. Here’s a sample:
Hi (Their Name),
I have been able to learn so much during my time at (Company X). However, as the end of my internship approaches, I wanted to learn more about (something that is related to the person you’ve targeted). (Talk about why they’re the best person to ask). I was wondering if you are free anytime to grab some coffee and chat?
People love talking about themselves, which is great for noobs like us because we can add all their experiences to our own experience treasure chest. Of course, recognize that the people you are reaching out to are doing you a great favor by taking the time out of their precious days to talk to you. Be respectful. However, don’t reach out to people purely because you want to build some checklist. Talk to them because you’re genuinely interested – trust me, with their experience, they can read you better than you read them. The ball is in your court when it comes to building the reputation you want.
The first step you take into the real world is the first step that goes to building a reputation for yourself. Think carefully about this. Try to be as true to your own self as possible, but some simple givens are:
- Team Player
- Innovative (that’s the entrepreneurial spirit!)
To a degree, being able to naturally exude these qualities depends on your level of interest in your work. If you’re passionate about your industry, you’ll naturally be proactive. On the other hand, being respectful and learning how to navigate teamwork can be learned.
- Be Proactive, but NOT Mindlessly
On that point, there’s a smart way to being proactive. An example of the other extreme is the first time I tried to be proactive. I wanted to be helpful and guessed what additional information my supervisor would need for a project. Compiling an additional report to what I had been assigned took 2 days of work. The result? My supervisor didn’t need the additional material and my report headed for the shredder.
The lesson to learn is to understand the bigger picture your project fits into instead of just being a machine churning out work. Assuming you have entrepreneurial tendencies (which you probably do if you’re reading this), then your antithesis is being a cog in a machine. So, be proactive by proposing new solutions or questioning existing solution after understanding the scope of the problem.
Two examples from my own internship is that at the beginning, I suggested creating an intern workflow Excel spreadsheet that would help the entire office manage project assignments to interns. Similarly, at the end of my term as an intern, I prepared a proposal on how to improve the internship program.
- Be a person
Try to get to know the people around you. To build genuine relationships and get out of the extremely annoying (in my opinion) context of networking, treat everyone as a friend. Be human – don’t work yourself to death, and do not spend your entire summer internship thinking about how to be the best at work. Get dinner with your fellow interns and watch the World Cup (or whatever other sports event) with some good food and friends from college.
In conclusion, try to limit the number of “If I had another chance,” moments in your life by learning early on how to reflect on yourself and learn from others. The powers of observation you’ll gain will be a secret weapon on your journey in entrepreneurship!