The landscape of business and technology is constantly changing, looking towards the future. Never before has the future been more dependent on people. Those individuals entering the workforce now will face more change than ever. If you are just starting your career, you will probably see more transformation of the technology industry during the first 5 years of your career, than I have seen the last 25 of my own. For students who are looking towards starting an internship this summer, you are in for a fantastic ride. You can never start early enough to become exposed to your career of choice and an internship is one of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding. Any summer internship will be valuable and if you happen to land in technology, you will have a ride you will never forget. Being able to enjoy the ride will be very dependent on how you approach your internship.
“How do I make the most of an internship?” Having hired and managed hundreds of interns as a Senior IT Manager at Cisco, I have seen interns who embrace their internships and interns who are just looking for a break from school. My recommendation is to aggressively tackle and make the most of any opportunity. Those interns who have embraced their internship as a chance to discover themselves, progress quickly to successful careers. Even a poor internship can provide insight into how to shape your career. An internship answers key questions, “What do I love to do?”, “How will my education translate into a career?” A bad internship can answer just as many questions as a good internship. This personal discovery can be very impactful on your career decisions.
Key behavior for interns to demonstrate in any work environment are effort, ability to learn and adapt, enthusiasm, self-motivation, and an appropriate level of curiosity. As an intern, enthusiastically approach every task you are given. Even the tasks which may feel beneath your abilities. Learning what drives your career passions is as valuable as learning what brings you down.
Every manager expects a certain level of effort and confidence. Leveraging the confidence from your education and experience, plus putting forward the effort to learn and apply your knowledge is important for success. You will find each company or organization has a certain nuance to its environment. The tools, processes, and business rules are generally different everywhere. There will be “standards”, however, the need will be to understand your immediate surroundings. It is guaranteed you will be pointed to the intranet and told everything you need to know is on the web. While this is generally true, you will be faced with a maze of information, some of which will be confusing and outdated. Tackle this task with the perspective of trying to make the onboarding easier for those who come after you. This could be your first opportunity to leave a legacy. Capture your hurdles and offer to improve what is online for others. As you go through the earliest part of the internship, you will walk a fine line of dependence and independence. Try to exhaust your resources, but do not wait to ask for clarity or assistance. You do not want to ask questions every fifteen minutes, but you also do not want to explain that you have been stuck for weeks and did not ask for help.
One of the wonderful byproducts of bringing interns into an environment is their enthusiasm and self-motivation. Having students join an organization adds an entirely different perspective and energy. Do not discount the freshness you can bring to your group. As technology is constantly changing, you can use this good fortune to share your discoveries and perspectives with your colleagues. Many senior employees are not versed in the latest social media applications, or changes to security, or enhancements to devices. Think about holding an educational seminar for your group on your observations. Many colleagues will be interested in learning from you, several may even want to enter into a reverse mentoring relationship learning directly from you.
Internships are about trying different areas, understanding the business, company culture and the people. Exercise your curiosity to learn as much as you can about your environment. If you get a chance to work outside of your immediate area, try and take on a couple of additional responsibilities. The networking and learning you can accomplish by doing extra work outside your immediate group will pay dividends through connections and experience.
Your internship is a multi-week job interview, but it is what you make of it. Enjoy your time and be productive, be social and network, and grasp any opportunity to learn. This could lead you through a door that is the rest of your life.