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I completed my MBA in 2008 – the year that still sends shiver through many people’s spine. I was in a foreign country, did not speak the local language, carried this huge education loan on my back, had a fiancée of 4 years who was waiting for me to marry her and then I fell right into the gut of one of the worst economic recessions of our times. Jobs were becoming very hard to come by. And the only thing that kept me floating was internships. Internships did not only keep me afloat but helped build my whole career post-MBA. I did 4 internships across 4 years before I landed into the job that I am doing today. Yeah, it was a tough time.
During my internship years I made all kinds of mistakes – in fact if you create a list of “what not to do” things, I will perhaps get a tick mark in all of them.
So, I thought of sharing some of my experiences as an ex-intern.
1. Always understand the bigger picture
Being an intern it is very likely that you will sometimes get uninteresting jobs like data-entry, documentation etc. The way to get motivated for these kinds of job is to always understand the bigger picture. If you have been asked to fill in an excel, then try to understand what will be the impact of that excel on the company’s operations and strategy. You may find out that the excel would be used by the CFO in one of his M&A projects or by a manager in one of his client engagements. Understanding the bigger picture will help you to remain motivated for what otherwise is a boring job.
2. Display passion
Along with motivation also display passion in your work. Even if it is just a data-entry assignment you can still be creative in structuring the data in a way that helps the management in easy analysis. Your work will not go unnoticed.
3. Add value
Displaying passion does not mean you spend hours in doing a job perfectly which you should have completed in an hour or which did not require perfection. You will not get any brownie points for the extra dressing. If you have been asked to analyze something fast and present your findings, ask the purpose of the analysis. If the findings would be used to present to a client then you can spend time and create a professional PPT. But if it is just for internal work-in-progress discussions, you can create a simple presentation and use the remaining time for other assignments. Making an impact is what is important.
4. Take initiatives but do not overdo it
In one of my internships, with the objective of showing how good a candidate I was, I took on so many assignments that at the end of it I could not do justice to any of them. Such actions display a candidate’s immaturity and lack of understanding of time management. Do take initiatives. You must. But be realistic in terms of the time that would be required to be spent on each assignment.
5. Be nice and flexible
This is one of the strongest characteristics that an intern can have. Everyone likes to work with someone who is nice, flexible and easy to work with. It is one of those traits that can get the internship turned into a job. It is not a substitute for good performance though. You must perform well and be nice at the same time.
6. Never lose your temper
There is no place for ego and temper in a workplace. It applies to both an intern and a full-time employee but for an intern it can be the price of losing a job opportunity. A friend of mine came very close to turning an internship into a job.During his appraisal, an employee, who he did not like, gave a negative feedback on him. He took it personally and gave back an equally negative feedback on the employee. His feedback was correct. But his attitude was wrong. It did not go down well with the bosses. Always think calmly and always take feedback positively. And remember, a company would always listen to someone who has been working with them for 5 years than listen to an intern who has joined just 3 months back. My friend did not get the job!
7. Take regular feedback
Taking regular feedback on one’s own initiative and working on the negative ones speaks loads about an intern. It shows that the intern takes his job seriously and wants to continuously improve. This along with good performance and being nice can land you the job.
8. Never take lunches alone
Never do it alone. Always try to take your lunches with your colleagues or bosses. It gives the picture that you are integrating with the team. Plus, lunch conversations will help you to understand what’s going on in the company, where could be the opportunities, who are the influential people that you need to network with etc. But never ever talk shop only during your lunches. Talk also about hobbies, movies, news etc. First see which topic your colleagues are talking on and then try to participate or else you also can start an interesting topic. Lunches are excellent platforms to showcase your general intelligence (without being boastful), interests and niceness.
9. Play by your strengths
Let’s say you are in a marketing and PR internship. Now during the internship you get interested in analytics but you are not strong in numbers. Inherently you are stronger in areas like communication and PR. So, you have a better chance of performing well in PR than in analytics thereby possibly turning the internship into a job. Remember you only have a limited time to prove yourself. So, first secure the job and then learn analytics. This leads to my next point.
10. Do not get obsessed with the “dream job”
As an intern you will apply to full time jobs. Let’s say, you are inherently good in marketing but you dream of joining consultancy companies like McKinsey, BCG etc. If time is not on your side (it takes time to prepare for McKinsey interviews) and you are not very good in numbers then do not get overly obsessed with the likes of McKinsey etc. You will end up spending too much time on them thereby risking marketing jobs that you could have otherwise applied to. Get into a job first and then use your time to work on your weaknesses and prepare for your dream job.
11. “You can only connect the dots looking backwards”
Internship period may be quite harsh. You may be underpaid or not paid, you may be struggling to pay your bills, you may be having a hard time applying to jobs and you may have bad days in your office. Do not let all these to dissuade you from remaining happy and positive. Do not let it hamper your attitude. Do not let it affect your temperament. Just carry on with the sole objective of learning, developing and finding a job. When you will look back it will all make sense and you will thank yourself.