Internships are like test drives.
They give you an opportunity to test out different industries and to weigh up their pros and their cons, before you decide which one to pursue.
I have always envied those with a grand plan for their life. Those who knew from the moment they locked eyes with a dolphin at SeaWorld on their Year 7 school trip, that being a marine biologist was their life’s calling. Good for them.
For the rest of us mere mortals, the prospect of choosing a direction for our careers is a daunting one. The number of options and pressures can be quite overwhelming.
However, you will never know which path is right for you until you give one a try.
Internships and work placements offer the best opportunity for you to make informed decisions and give you a leg up when you start applying for jobs after university.
The University’s Careers department offers a huge amount of support and information on choosing and applying for internships.
In this post I am going to talk about how to get the most out of your internship, if you have been lucky enough to get one.
I have drawn these insights from my experience during my six placements within the advertising and creative services industries – as well as my course mates’ experiences within business, consulting and finance.
I have been lucky enough to work for some on the world’s leading creative agencies, including FCB Inferno, Innocean Worldwide and FreemanXP, on brands such as Google, HP, UEFA, The Red Cross, Nivea, Shell, lastminute.com, TicTac, KIA motors and the British government.
These are not hard and fast rules – but in my experience – I think they are key to getting the most out of your opportunities.
1. FIND YOUR CONFIDENCE BALANCE
It does not matter how smart you are but if you don’t display confidence, you are unlikely to be noticed and gain the attention of senior employees.
On the other hand, no one likes a cocky intern – business is about relationships – if they don’t like you – they will not want to hire you. Don’t be over-confident. If you talk the talk, you need to be able to walk the walk.
2. WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR THEM?
Your employers are not necessarily interested in what they can do for you. They are often only interested in what you can do for them. Make sure you understand this perspective. Emphasise your existing skills and how you can add value to their operation – rather than how their operation can add value to you.
3. GO ABOVE AND BEYOND
There have been interns before you and there will be interns after you. The key for success is to differentiate yourself. You will likely be given jobs that they expect you will be able to do with limited knowledge and skill. If you want to gain access to more interesting and advanced work – as well as prove your ability – you need to show that you have capabilities beyond their expectations. For every job that you are given – think about what your manager is trying to achieve and go beyond your remit to help them to achieve their goals. This can be exhausting – but keep at it – it will pay off.
4. DON’T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY
It is easy to take your internship too seriously and become a work machine – getting in the zone and not really interacting with your colleagues. Again, to progress at this stage of your career you need to be likeable and work well with others. Remember to take a step back and try to be friendly to others. It’s very important.
5. GET OUT OF YOUR BOX
The world of work has very little relevance to the world of academia. You have been brought up to find the RIGHT answer. In the real world, there is rarely one RIGHT answer. But there are BETTER answers. Try and think differently to everyone else. Don’t give the EASY answer, give the BEST answer that you can give. Approach the problem with your unique experience and bring your perspective to the table. Try and think differently. It’ll pay off.
6. DON’T BE INTIMIDATED
You are likely to come across senior employees who will intimidate you. It is easy to shy away and keep quiet, to avoid embarrassing yourself. This is a fatal mistake. These are the individuals who have skills and expertise that you should learn from; these are the people who can spot talent and have the decision making power to keep you around. Do your best to make an impression on these people. Don’t push it – don’t become their stalker – but try and learn what you can from them. If they are impressed by you, they are likely to want you involved with their projects, which is likely to be the most interesting work.
7. TAKE THE INITIATIVE, BUT DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS
If you are confused about how your task needs to be done, and you keep going back to ask questions, your manager may feel like they are doing the work for you. This may mean that they will not ask you to help them again. So it is very important to take the initiative and think hard before asking for help – this requires some confidence.
On the other hand, it is extremely important that you understand what is asked of you. Try and think hard immediately after a task is given to you, about all the questions that you may have or difficulties that you may encounter during the task. Try and ask all of these questions at once. Your efforts will be in vain if you do not solve the problem at hand.
8. SIMPLICITY = SUCCESS
People who are insecure about how smart they are, often use the biggest words and talk about concepts in the most complicated ways. Don’t fall into this trap. The world’s smartest people have the capacity to boil complex concepts down to a format that everyone can understand. Material that is hard to understand is not impressive.
9. DON’T BE AFRAID OF YOUR OWN VOICE
You might have the best idea in the room, but if you never say it out-loud, no one will ever know. You might wonder if your idea is relevant? If you are missing an important factor or it might make you sound stupid? Most of the time it’s worth taking the risk. You are likely to have a different perspective to everyone else in the room. Use this advantage to bring fresh thinking to the table.
I was once in a meeting about an upcoming pitch for an important prospective client. It was a room full of C-level executives and I was feeling quite intimidated. An idea popped into my head which related to a film I’d seen a month earlier. I almost didn’t bring it up, at the risk of being the dumb kid in the corner talking about movies. The idea ended up being in the final pitch to the client.
10. NO WORK IS BENEATH YOU
If someone asks you to make a cup of tea, pick up a package, take out the rubbish or do some shredding, don’t turn up your nose or make a snide remark. You are at the very bottom of the food chain – never forget it. You will gain more respect for putting your back into everything that you are asked to do, with a smile on your face.
11. MAKE CONNECTIONS
It is hugely important to keep connected to the people you have worked with. I’m not saying you need to send them a Christmas card or comment on all of their LinkedIn posts – but keeping yourself on their radar is never a bad thing. LinkedIn makes this very easy. Make sure you connect to everyone you have worked with before they forget you. You never know how they might be able to help you in the future.
References on LinkedIn are the golden ticket – proof that you’re the REAL DEAL. If you have done a good job and if you have worked your ass off – the least your managers can do is to write a few lines about you. Send them a nicely written request, and keep politely reminding them until they write you a reference. These references can go a long way, especially if your managers are well known and respected in the industry.
12. DON’T BE ASHAMED TO USE YOUR CONNECTIONS
I know a lot of people who get ‘very high and mighty’ about using their connections to secure jobs or internships. They want to follow the well trodden path, applying like every other Tom, Dick and Harry – when they have the opportunity to get a recommendation from someone on the inside. This is very noble, but it often does them no favours – as they often do not get the job.
As long as you are the right guy for the job, you have the right attitude, contribute your all and add value to the team that you are part of, you should not be ashamed of how you got there. It’s a rat race out there – make the most of every opportunity to hand.
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