This post was authored by customer solutions marketing GTM and data center networking Intern, Courtney Buhl, from North Carolina State University.

Every intern wonders the same thing leading up to their internship: what advice do you have for me to add value to this company?Courtney smiles behind her Cisco laptop and branded water bottle.

In 2019, I was a Digital Marketing intern, and was nervous – but excited – to be a part of something bigger than myself. I took every opportunity to network with professionals and would even stop employees in the café and ask, “what is your role?” The office atmosphere was open and welcoming, and I found my spot along with the other interns. Everyone on my team and throughout Cisco supported my success and answered every question I had which enabled me to find confidence in the work I was producing.

Looking back, I also wish I knew how grateful I would be to drive 20 minutes and sit in traffic on my way to the Raleigh office.

Over the course of the summer, I knew there was no simple X marked on the map to guide me. Cisco internships are a bit more, “Choose your own adventure” and that really came to light when I got the email saying that my second internship would be entirely virtual.

I am appreciative Cisco kept the interns on during these trying times but this added a whole new challenge in figuring out how to add value, especially over just a simple screen. This summer I was also entering a whole new team, the Customer Solutions Marketing Go-To-Market, Data Center Networking team.

A screenshot of Courtney's peers on a Webex call.Being in this new environment, I was not worried about resources or the technology. If any company could take an internship virtual – it is Cisco. But, this time around I realized I had to take more initiative to network. I also had to set a schedule for myself, and learn a new form of working while keeping on the search for the treasure of adding value in the digital world.

Agility is key for an intern, especially now when virtual work could be the new normal for many interns in the future. In my time as an intern in the office last summer to currently in the final stretch of my second internship, a common theme was that I wanted all the advice I could get.

My team this summer has given me the support I needed to find my way virtually and grow into their team strongly. I knew I wanted to leave an even bigger impact so I asked Cisco professionals from various teams all this same question:

How does someone on your team add value and how is it measured?

Below are some of the most important responses that I have applied to my internship journeys. They have encouraged me to learn the most in a short time and to be confident in what I am bringing to my team. These tips have also helped me find my place in Cisco’s culture and they are the reason I came back for a second internship.

1. Be proactive and persistent: As an intern you might have trouble figuring out next steps of a project. Instead of waiting to get an email from your manager, email them or set up a meeting to discuss it. This shows you are eager to keep working and adding value to their team. Additionally, take your projects to the next level by not just doing what is asked. You will leave your mark by looking at business outcomes and the big picture in order to formulate action of something bigger than just the task at hand. Trust me, you can take that next big leap!

2. Fail Fast, Succeed Faster: Devin Hood and Daniel McGinniss have given me this advice, and it has shaped my work ethic to this day. But what does it really mean? To me, it means that you shouldn’t be afraid to take risks when it comes to putting your ideas out there and implementing them. Some of those ideas may not work out but the more you quickly go through them, the higher the chance you will find that golden idea which leads to success. This concept is integral as an intern. You are not meant to be perfect – you are going to fail a few times. The secret is learning and moving on from those mistakes.

Courtney's pup sits by her computer.

3. Don’t be a Networker be a Relationship Builder: Getting to know as many people in the company seems like the right thing to do. However, something I learned from the CEO, Chuck Robbins, is that having people know your name is one thing but having people sponsor you, seek to work with you, and connect with you on a personal level is another. Strong and valuable work relationships can enable growth in your role and your future career path.

4. Spread Smiles: Be happy! I know how simple this sounds but believe it or not, when on video after a long day, it makes a difference. In a virtual setting a smile and personal conversation can go a long way especially when times are tough. By starting off a meeting sharing something great that happened over the weekend you can help spread smiles to everyone else and make the dynamic of the meeting positive. This helps to motivate the team and yourself to accomplish what is at task.

5. There is no such thing as a stupid question: I ask millions of questions a day! This is okay to do. It shows you are curious and willing to learn. Always remember the full-time employees were in your shoes before and that they know you are new. They are here to help you understand and eager to help, so ask away! It’s always better to know instead of guess as that can make or break your project in the future.

6. Be authentic: VP, Michelle Chiantera, taught me this my first summer at Cisco and I still live by it today. Being your true self will make your work stronger, enable your passion to grow, and make your time at Cisco meaningful. People will want to work with you for who you are not who you are supposed to be, remember that! If that means having purple hair, sharing stories about your dog, being loud, joking around- DO IT! Your work reflects you at the end of the day, so make sure to let you shine!

My two Cisco internships have helped me to grow as a marketer and I have used these ways to add value to my teams. Also, it’s helped me to know the full-time employee I want to be in the future and will help to guide me to seek this treasure in any role I enter.

X does mark the spot; you just have to work hard to find it!

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