Nowadays almost every up-and-coming young pro gets their first foothold on the career ladder through internships. The idea is an exchange of free or low-paid labor for industry knowledge and marketable skills, but all too often what really goes on is an exchange of busy work for a bright shiny name on a resume. So how can you make sure you actually learn something and your internship isn't simply an exercise in padding out your credentials with fluff?
InternshipRatings.com has six awesome tips, which could just as easily be applied to help newbies seize the bull by the horns at an entry-level gig.
- Consider applying at a start-up -- While working at a new company may not have the same name-brand appeal as working for an established company, start-ups are a lot leaner and chances are you'll get to do much more "real" work. Also, because the company is trying to get its feet off the ground, the work you do makes and impact and the "big bosses" can see it.
- Do Your Homework -- Prior to your interview, research your potential new company (spend time- I am talking a few hours, not a few minutes- on their web site or see where their product is at in a store, read up on competitors, etc.). Takes notes and keep all this information in a notebook. During your interview, give some thoughts/feedback that shows you know, (1) a lot about their company and (2) to do research and have analytical skills. Transform the interview into dialogue by asking thoughtful questions.
- Be The Go-To Person At All Times -- When you start, aim to be that responsible go-to person that can efficiently and quickly accomplish any task asked. When I started at Wesabe, the CEO left me at my new desk and said he'd email me my first task. The subject line read: Competitive Matrix. I opened it. The contents: "Please use this model as the basis for your list. Best, Jason." Attached was a list of the competition." What the f$%^ was a competitive matrix? There was nothing else, no direction, no how-to, no example. So, I got resourceful, began googling, called everybody I knew that might know what a competitive matrix was. I pieced things together. When I had a grasp of this competitive beast and our competition, I headed back to his office and asked if I was headed in the right direction. Turns out I had some things right and some things wrong. But my research made me look capable, responsible and like self-starter.
- Be innovative: Think before you ask -- Before you say, "I don't know" or "I need help", think, where could I find this answer? What other resources could help me answer this? Every single time, I do this before asking a question, I almost always find it's something I could answer myself. Additionally, "I don't know" questions are always better, when you posed as, "In response to x task, I checked a, b, and c, resources and found d, is this the direction you'd like me to follow?"
- Think like the CEO -- When in doubt, think about what you could do that would best benefit the company. Really think, brainstorm, about how you expand your duties to help the company succeed, and then do it without being asked.
- Take Notes and Always Have To â€" Do List -- Whenever you meet with your boss, bring a pen and notebook and take COPIOUS notes. After your meeting has finished, recap the major points/deliverables to your boss, so you can make sure your both on the same page. After the meeting, I often summarize the contents of my notes and then try to think outside the box. Given these priorities, what else can I do to help the company succeed? I add these to my to-do list.
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