1. Find a Mentor
Find a mentor. They will tell you all of the keys to follow plus more. And more importantly find a mentor that’s truly interested in you, and also someone who has qualities that you would like to see in yourself one day.
My first true mentor took a strong interest in me but it wasn’t immediately. He actually preferred other interns initially, but I won him over eventually and he observed what my strengths and weaknesses were and worked with me to develop my weaknesses into strengths.
My first impression of my mentor was “that guy is so phony; no one can be that nice all the time”. But I realized he had something I needed to improve, presence/charisma and being able to articulate a vision to all audiences. And much later I learned his personal/nice guy personality wasn’t an act, he was actually the definition of being genuine.
My mentor helped me become the youngest manager in my department. I took note of how he commanded a room, how when he spoke he didn’t just pick a spot and stare. He looked everyone in the eye; he used his voice like a rollercoaster inflicting crucial points with lows before highs. He had tremendous self-awareness; he understood his strength wasn’t being an expert on technical items but his strength was more the big picture, creating get-it-done culture and surrounding himself with people that complimented his weaknesses.
He taught me how to talk up in conversation to higher ups, the importance of inclusion and creating a positive spirit when facing challenges. And the day I went to turn in my two weeks’ notice to tell him I accepted another job. I was scared he would be upset after helping me reach milestones early in my career. He wasn’t, instead he took the time to talk with me for hours to discuss why and what I desired in my next position. He prevented me from making a bad leap into the wrong company, and pointed me to a better situation with a better salary. He was/is really invested in me and my career. Find a mentor like this, they will help you develop, provide perspective and guide you away from career pot holes.
2. Show up
It will be plenty of days in the hot summers when you will think of a million other things to do than spend the day being a slave intern. On these days GO IN and be present mentally. These are the days that turned out to be the most important for me, whether it was making a work breakthrough or finally having a conversation with a CFO in an elevator. Show up when it’s most difficult because you will be stronger for it, and don’t miss out on the unforeseen opportunity.
3. Be on time
For regular employees this is a mandate not an option. For an intern you may think no one is watching but they all are watching, timeliness and punctuality shows responsibility, maturity and reliability.
4. Look the Part
If you are an intern and you have a vision of being the boss one day for the place you’re interning, you have to look the part first. Not like an intern, look like boss material. Don’t overdo it and be obnoxious; just don’t look like a child. One day on my first full-time paid analyst position, my boss spoke to the vision she had for my career and all the potential I had to climb the ladder. I smiled ear to ear but as she started to walk away she firmed up and said “Ryan it starts with not wearing that book bag; please stop wearing that book bag”. So I bought a messenger bag that night…
5. Identify Opportunities
This is simple, look for problems. And once you find them don’t brag about finding a problem, the real value is solving the problem. Find the problem and then present solutions.
6. Your Energy is a big strength
When I was a manager I didn’t necessarily enjoy having a good intern but I did appreciate a good intern. A good intern has great energy, they ask a ton of questions, and they knock out the work you give them quickly, including the busy work. They are constantly looking to engage in something. So in turn that makes the boss become a better mentor, manager, and the intern’s curiosity/energy challenges the boss. As an intern you really have the power to influence your environment and people around you. Embrace your differences and appreciate the fact you still have new eyes and/or a student perspective.
7. Be Eager
This was kind of covered in previous points but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being eager and having a can do attitude about everything. If you don’t have this eager and excited approach, they could have simply hired a temp to do the work. Interns come with expectations.
8. Be Humble
I had the opportunity to intern and work along salary employees and hourly employees. As intern I was hourly but I knew my wage could be a lot more than most expected and more than some I interned for but I knew to never disclose this information. I attacked each assignment with a “put my head down” and work attitude no matter who the work was for. In conversation always look for the relatable factor between the other person, it pays off, you create genuine connections and people feel and remember that. My first management jump came as a result of the group of hourly workers really championing me and everyone feeling they had a part in my career. I truly believe them championing me mattered more than the Vice President recommendation I obtained for the position.
9. Learn when to keep a low profile
No gossiping, no statements out of turn. Unfortunately, the more you stay out of work drama, the more people will want to include you in the drama. So it’s going to be a constant battle of doing what is right.
10. Make and maintain Connections
It’s really easy to identify who you need to make connections with and once you been through the process and worked up the courage it’s really easy to make the connection. But the real work is maintaining the connection. One trick I used whenever I hit a milestone in school, I sent an email update and I was sure to express my interest in the company still. Another tip if you see your company make headlines send over a quick email or call to discuss what has happened.