To the Future Intern: Starting at a Startup
Guest Blog by ELP Student Sara Ciarmella – Art & Design – Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design – Class of 2018
As I’m approaching my last week at my ELP summer internship, I’ve been taking time to reflect on the past few months. I’m working on marketing and design at a startup in Farmington Hills, MI called Service.com. Overall, I’ve loved this experience and I am grateful for all that I’ve learned. I’m about to start my senior year of college and the nostalgia is setting in, so bear with me as I try to leave some words of wisdom for the ELPers of the future.
It might be overwhelming sometimes.
A couple of my peers have used the metaphor of jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool to describe their experiences working at a startup and I have to agree with them on that. There are no arm floaties, and you have to be ready to learn on the spot. Sink or swim.
I will admit that even though I was aware of this when I started, I didn’t expect to feel so unprepared. I struggled the first few weeks, but I kept asking questions and working through the things I didn’t know (and there were many, many things I didn’t know). I remember feeling like I was blindly navigating this new world, just hoping that I didn’t screw something up. As a part of this program, there are very high expectations of us as interns, and rightfully so. The fear of not meeting these expectations was one motivating factor in trying my absolute best to complete every task given to me and to make a positive impact. The other factor is that at a startup, even as an intern you are a vital part of a team all working towards the same goal. You are there to gain experience just as much as you are there to contribute to the success of the company.
It’s true that you can learn to swim by climbing down the ladder, holding on the the wall, and slowly letting go as you adjust but it will take so much longer. People don’t become entrepreneurs because they like to be safe and comfortable. Working at a startup will be a lot of work, and it will be a challenge at times because chances are you’re doing something you’ve never done before. It will also be very rewarding in the end.
Take the plunge, and when you’re underwater don’t stop kicking.
Learn from those around you.
Chances are, you’re going to be working with some very interesting, intelligent, creative people. Talk to them, learn what they do, listen. You can learn a lot about leadership by observing. While I did learn from watching our CEO in action, it was my manager that I learned the most from. Not only was he running marketing and helping me as an intern, but he seemed to be the glue that kept everything together and running smoothly. It’s true that in a startup you wear many hats, but I think I saw him put on about every possible hat in the time I was there. This really showed me how valuable it is to be versatile and how much of a difference those people can make to a company.
Another one of the many things I appreciated about my internship was that we ate lunch together almost every day. This is a great time to get to know the people you work with. Even when we ended up on a random topic, I felt like I was usually learning something or hearing a new perspective.
This one doesn’t need too much of an explanation. Working at a startup will be fun, and because of the fast paced nature of startups, it will fly by. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was starting out and hoping for the best. As I go into my last week I can say that I am amazed how much knowledge I gained that I would have never gotten from school alone. Trust that you know how to succeed, and when you feel stuck know that you are surrounded by people that want to help you.