Your first internship is foundational.
The connections you meet and the skills you learn earlier can have the biggest swing on your career trajectory.
Early decisions can close certain options and have a bigger swing on where you end up long-term.
So, how can you make the most out of your first internship?
Being an intern is a priceless excuse to network with anyone in the company.
In my recent jobs, I’ve been able to connect with directors of multi-billion dollar companies, the kind of people who would never have time for me if I was trying to reach out to them cold.
In your first internship, it can be scary reaching out to new people.
I remember I didn’t network with a single person outside my team in my very first internship. To this day it’s one of the biggest regrets I have.
But put yourself into their shoes.
If you are a senior in a company, and a new intern is reaching out to learn more about your experiences, would you really say no?
Your seniors have all the incentives in the world to help you succeed.
The ball is in your court to make the most out of it.
Something you can do — ask an accountability buddy who you see regularly, at least fortnightly. Ask them to keep you accountable to reach out to at least one new person for a coffee meeting .
Transfer them a small amount of money, not too much to impact your living but enough to make you care about losing it. Ask them to only transfer the money back to you at the end of the internship if you’ve stuck to what you promised.
Accountability without skin in the game can mean nothing. Warren Buffet took a $100 public speaking course for this exact reason.
One piece of advice — don’t let networking distract you from the work. The work is what matters most.
A wide “network” doesn’t mean anything if you have a bad reputation in your team.
2. Keep Yourself On Your Toes
Interns should ask to be rotated across different roles, because this exposes you to new ideas, people and skills.
Early in your career, you want to optimise for a generalist skillset. Unless you have conviction to be better in a particular skill, it’s much better for you to gain a generalist skillset in your first internship.
It’s tempting to stay in the same team doing the same task because it gets comfortable over time. But in today’s landscape, the only way to survive is by constantly being outside your comfort zone and learning new things.
In my current internship, I’m working with a new team on completely different projects every 2 weeks. Because of this, I’m forced to learn and work faster than I’ve ever had to. Ironically, to have comfortable career options you should be in jobs that make you uncomfortable.
Another factor that people underprice is that you only get to do this as an intern. Past graduate programs, it is very rare for you to get opportunities to explore so many different teams in such a short time.
Make the most out of this luxury while you can!
3. The Priceless Question
One of the most timeless pieces of advice is to learn from the successes and failures of others.
Remember the quote:
“The best leadership lesson is the experience of either working for an outstanding boss, or equally, working for a terrible one.”
Your first internship is the perfect place to start analysing the personalities in your team and distill the qualities that makes someone successful.
One thing I love doing when I join a new team is to ask my manager this question:
What are some of the common qualities that makes someone a successful intern in this team vs. not?
This allows me to learn from the triumphs and tragedies of every past intern who has been through this team. It also sheds light on the manager’s values.