After founding and running a few significant intern and coop programs, I have to say that few people ever realize the opportunity that they have earned. Most limit their effort and exposure to their immediate work, staff and other intern colleagues. An internship in any form should be so much more! It’s your only real chance where you can be a newbie, screw up and not likely have it affect the rest of your life. Given that, you just may learn more there than what you learn on campus. How to be effective, find your style, learn about varied industries and their practices, how various functions interact and on and on. It is indeed the chance of a lifetime. So use it!
Accordingly, here are just a few of my thoughts for interns, coops and even medical residents:
1. Watch and Observe the Staff
See who’s an ass and who is not. Who is listened to and who is not. Who whines and who does not. Who comes in early and leaves late versus who actually gets something done. Learning the industry is nice if you care for that business, but learning about corporate behaviors is maybe more important.
2. Watch how people – colleagues, customers, suppliers, management – react to the various staff
Who is liked? Who is effective? Who is respected? Who is hated? Who inspires? You get the picture.
3. What’s your Style?
While doing the latter, realize that you are unique. You will see multiple ways to be great, ok and bad. For the great, you will see multiple styles and a few major consistencies. See how they match up to your preferred styles and focus on those people a bit more. That’s who to have lunch with on the subject.
4. Watch and Observe Management and Senior Leadership
Again – See who’s and ass and who is not. Who is listened to and who is not. Who is tough but fair and who leads by example, etc… Who come in early and leaves late. Who interacts with the staff casually and who does not. Who gets their hands dirty, who does not.. Again, pure experience is nice if you care for that business, but learning about management behaviors is important too.
5. Don’t just ask simple questions! Take a deeper dive!
Have a purpose. Think. Say things like “I’ve noticed we have this type of brand image versus our competition who has this type? What’s the rationale considering who our respective target customers are? This shows your not just asking basic, simple question but rather that you’ve done research on your own about the firm, it’s competition and customers as well as the industry. Most interns simply do not do that. Stand out.
6. Get out of your department!
It all depends upon the situation, but you are reading this on LinkedIn, aren’t you? Within the firm while you are there and via LinkedIn before and while you are there, connect with people doing things at your firm that interest you. Ask for a tour of their departments or areas, to be introduced to various people in various functions. Take someone to breakfast, to lunch. It’s one thing to network on a computer, another to learn to meet and sit down with real people with highly varied backgrounds.
7. Intern in multiple industries and aspects of the supply chain!
If you like fashion, intern at a fabric or fiber company. Intern at the home office if a major apparel maker. Work at the mall in the store. Into engineering? Intern at those doing coding, those cobbling products and launching them, those building the hardware, the devices and finally again at the retailers. Work in a big firm, but often the smaller firms will give you far more overall operational exposure.
Before each internship starts, connect on LinkedIn with your likely boss, colleagues and others at that site or area that you can do all of the above with. Take initiative. Connect with former staff – former interns. Learn what the place is like if you can before you get there. Research the company, the industry, the supply chain and competition. Research what you will be doing.
You may only get one but you could get up to five internships. Whatever you get, maximize your learning and don’t just get through the days and weeks. It will indeed pay off. I guarantee it.
My last advice – for those administering these programs, take the chance to encourage or even formally program the above! But that’s another post….