Positioning Yourself for Success: An Intern’s Guide
Guest Blog by ELP Student Anna O’Neill – Mechanical Engineering – Class of 2020
Upon beginning my internship at Amway, the largest direct selling company in the world, I adopted three philosophies that would serve as my mantra throughout the summer. Working in a department called Global Discovery within R&D, which is responsible for delivering innovative ideas and technologies into the product development pipeline, I was determined to be as sponge-like as possible. I sought to absorb as much information as I could, like a sponge absorbs water, and provide value throughout the process, the way a sponge leaves its path cleaner than before. The three philosophies that follow are an effective way to tackle starting a new internship and can be applied to combat challenges faced by those at startups or at multibillion dollar organizations.
Carry the Objective to Learn
I deliberately decided that I would enter every situation with the objective to learn. Adopting this mantra allowed me to disarm any political tension between departments, engage with employees who have been at the company longer than I’ve been alive, and stay quiet long enough to expose problems I might be able to help solve. For many of us, myself included, learning is not our natural state. We’re addicted to how good it feels to talk and be heard; we crave the validation. However, carrying the goal of learning into every situation enables you to always walk away with new things you didn’t have before: new knowledge, new curiosity, new opportunities, and new points of view.
Give Yourself Permission
I made a decision about the type of person I wanted to be. I decided I did not want to be someone who waits to be granted permission. Instead, I chose to be the type of individual who grants herself permission. In a fast moving and intricately structured workplace, I quickly came to understand that the best way to showcase your individual abilities is to simply begin. When you are working for a multibillion dollar company with more than 23,000 employees globally, rarely will you be personally asked for your expertise or opinion. Especially if you are 18 years old. Similarly, at a startup, your team is likely too swept-up in the whirlwind of meeting their next deadline to stop for a second and articulate how you can help. In order to successfully add value throughout the course of my summer internship, I knew I would need to find ways to align my skillsets with the needs of the teams around me. Instead of waiting for permission or for an invitation to apply myself to a problem, I began granting myself permission to exercise my skills by tuning in to the challenges of the people around me and of the company as a whole.
Intend to Help Others Succeed
I approached this summer with the intention of making others successful. While this approach may seem counterintuitive, taking this vantage point allowed me to build relationships with my coworkers and add value in ways I would never have considered. At the end of any interaction, which I entered with the intention to learn as the first principle suggests, I would always conclude in the same way. Regardless of how much I had on my plate, I would ask the other person some version of the question, “What can I do to be helpful to you?” Using this simple technique at the end of an encounter with someone ultimately leaves the idea fresh in their mind that you are interested in helping them succeed. From the past principle, we know that this person might never approach you or explicitly ask you for your assistance. However, because you have genuinely expressed your desire to help them succeed, this becomes much more likely. And if you are practicing the second piece of advice correctly, you have already begun to think of ways that your skillset and experiences can apply to the problems this person is experiencing, which they might now be more willing to consider. When you intend to help others succeed, you open doors of opportunity by positioning yourself to be viewed as a valuable asset.
Let’s Get Started
By learning at every step, doing without being asked, and expressing your desire to be helpful, the last day of your summer internship will be just the beginning. Turning these simple three philosophies into a mantra is an effective way to ensure that you leave with invaluable knowledge and leave behind significant value.