To the Future Intern
Blog post by ELP Student Mira Kaufman (Business Administration | Class of 2021) Interning at Mighty.com
Moments after walking into the office of my first ever startup experience, I found myself sitting in the company’s conference room with the founder and CEO. During that first meeting, we went over a number of expected talking points such as what I hoped to gain from the experience and any questions that I had for him, but before we wrapped up he offered to give me a little bit of advice; it was simply to be intentional because intentionality matters.
As I left the room the weight of his advice started to sink in. While his suggestion might seem like an inherent truth or blanket aspiration, its implications drastically informed how I approached my role. The reality of working at a startup, let alone interning at one, is that change is the only constant. Roles, organizational structure, processes, and even the work itself are constantly evolving. The ambiguity that correlates to working at a startup is what makes it exciting, but as an incoming intern it can make attempting to prepare for success a significant challenge.
With so many aspects of the internship experience out of my control and no clear idea of what I would be working on throughout the summer, a reminder to be intentional was the exact advice I needed. And, I would argue that while the notion of intentionality might seem nebulous at first, it is essential to any successful internship.
Now, finding myself almost halfway through my internship and reflecting on why it has gone so well thus far, I come back to this moment and this single piece of advice. This advice doesn’t necessarily outline a clear path toward following it, but below I have articulated the steps that worked for me.
Decide how you hope to be perceived by your employer and colleagues.
The core premise of intentionality is making conscious and informed decisions that shape your behavior. Taking the time to articulate how you want to be perceived creates a set of parameters that you can come back to when making decisions about how to show up.
My answer: Reliable, hard-working, honest; executes on assigned tasks but also takes initiative to add value.
Identify what aspects of your internship experience are in your control.
It’s impossible to be intentional about aspects of your internship that you simply don’t have control over. By uncovering where you have the agency to make decisions that shape your experience, you are able to harness the control you do have rather than let it go unused.
My answer: What time I got to work every day and what time I left; how I organized work that was assigned to me; how I spent my time when I didn’t have a lot on my plate; how I used observations I made about the company to add value.
Make some assumptions.
At this point you have the two key ingredients for a successful internship, it’s just a matter of hypothesizing how to bring them together. Once you have completed the first two exercises you can strategize how to leverage what’s in your control to create your desired perception and in turn prepare as best as you can for a successful internship. While you can’t control how other people interpret your actions, you can make educated choices as to how you approach your internship and in doing so create a set of internal guidelines for yourself.
- I’m one of the first people in the office every day and stay late to get a time sensitive project done even if others have gone home.
- I digest feedback and make necessary changes quickly.
Execute on Assigned Tasks
- I create a summary of who made the ask, what the task will require to accomplish, what the expected deliverable should include, and when it is due to share with the person that assigned it. This way if there is a miscommunication, it is caught early.
Takes Initiative to Add Value
- If I don’t have a lot on my plate, I draft projects that no one asked me to do, but that I think would be useful to the company or make someone’s job easier in any way.
- The caveat to this was that any action I take proactively has to have zero chance of causing any harm. If there is any possibility that I could create unnecessary work for someone, or my actions could have negative ramifications then I would never pursue the idea.
- I always take notes on everything and if applicable distribute notes to relevant parties.
- If I come out of a meeting confused on something, given a task that I feel I won’t be able to execute on to a high standard, or asked for an opinion on something that I’m familiar with, my first reaction is always to ask for time to review the material further and do my own research. After this, if I still have questions, then I ask someone.
While there are many ways to approach breaking down what it means to be intentional, and this is not an exhaustive list of guiding steps, these are the core benchmarks that were helpful for me. Regardless of whether it’s your first day on the job or your last, being intentional about defining what showing up to work really means for you will only help you to create more value in your role, whatever that role may be and however much it may change.
If my assumptions are correct and the only constant you can rely on is the reality that change is everlasting, let intentionality be your greatest asset in identifying how to make the most of what is in your control and shape how you react to all of the unexpected wonders that make working at a startup the incredible learning experience that it is.