This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern with VF Corporation as their Global Compensation Intern. Having prior internship and full-time work experience, I wanted to make sure to approach this opportunity with intentionality. So often, we get sucked into a routine of learning a position solely based on the job description when there is so much more knowledge to be absorbed—especially as interns. If I were to categorize my approach in making the most of my experience into three action items it would go like this: (1) Be curious, (2) Be present, and (3) Go beyond. Here is what I mean:
As interns, we have free reign to get in and be curious. Don’t hesitate to ask the hard, thought-provoking questions and truly work to understand why your place of work does the things they do. Some programs are more structured than others, but regardless, it should not limit your exposure to new areas or create reservations to your curiosity.
In the event there is not a set plan for your first week, ask your manager to send out an introduction email to the team. It may be beneficial for you to set up one-on-one meetings with your new colleagues to find out what they do, how they got to where they are, and if they have any advice for someone in your shoes. Getting a wide array of insight is abundantly helpful when you’re learning your way around a new organization.
Request to sit in on meetings. Sometimes this happens naturally, but some managers don’t ask because they don’t think there’s an interest. Having the opportunity to sit in and hear the conversations taking place around the projects you’ll be working on provides a foundation and allows you to connect the dots to the bigger picture.
If there comes a period when your workflow isn’t as steady as you’d like for it to be, ask for small projects outside of your day-to-day tasks to expand your impact. This could be within your direct team or surrounding teams (with your manager’s approval, of course). The idea here is to simply gain as much exposure as possible so that you leave a lasting impression.
Ask for feedback! Feedback can be uncomfortable, but the reality is an internship is about your growth and we grow most in times of discomfort. Periodically asking your manager and those you work closely with how you’re doing or if there’s anything you can do better is instrumental to your growth. It creates awareness and provides an opportunity to learn from different perspectives. We may feel like we’re doing everything great but sometimes our actions can be perceived differently than how we intend. Simply asking for feedback shows that you’re eager to grow and open to constructive criticism. This is especially important for millennials as we’re known for our fear of failure and inability to accept when we’re in the wrong.
It is so easy to get caught up in our own world, but as an intern, we cannot lose sight that we are on a 10+ week interview—meaning it is essential to be present at all times.
Some activities that take place throughout your program may be a repeat of something you’ve done previously. This does not, however, give you green light to tune out or act disinterested. It’s key to remember that there’s always more to learn and that we get out what we put in. Being an active participant in the opportunities put in place not only shows appreciation to those who took the time to plan the content, but it also opens the door to continuous learning. The room you’re in now is different than the room you were in before, meaning there are new perspectives and opinions there for you to learn from. Shutting down to this is only closing doors to your own growth.
Be cautious about taking vacation time. So often we feel that if we’re given the leniency to do something we should take it, but as an intern, taking vacation may not be the best choice. I say this as someone who took the vacation. Yes, I had a great time; however, when I returned, it was almost as if I were starting over. Internships are short, meaning we have a small amount of time to prove our worth. Taking a week out of a 10-week opportunity may not be the best use if we have the intention of staying on with the company. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take time for yourself; it’s simply stated to point out that it’s very easy to lose traction when your time there is limited.
Be aware of "phone time" or hiding behind the keyboard. This one is seemingly a no-brainer, however, it’s important to mention since our generation [Millennial / Gen Z] is practically under a microscope when it comes to the use of technology. We are often stereotyped as the ones that “grew up in a mobile technology, making it unnatural or uncomfortable for us to interact one-on-one”. So, be mindful. Leave the phone in your desk. Walk down the hall to talk face-to-face rather than sending that email or IM. Do whatever it takes to avoid falling into this mentality because we’re only limiting our exposure and growth if we do.
As if working full-time and all the other things previously mentioned weren’t enough, I’m also going to encourage you to go beyond. Branch out past what’s written in your job description and make the most of the opportunity you’ve been granted.
Take notes. Seems simple, but this can help you keep track of the people you meet and the projects you are assigned. This makes it easy to pull the information if you’re called upon in a meeting, need to submit reflections for a class, or need statistics to update your resume. Microsoft OneNote became one of my most utilized tools this past summer. It syncs across a variety of platforms making your information easily accessible at any time.
Go to activities outside of your scope of work and even outside of business hours. Whenever a company provides the opportunity to hear from senior leaders, go! Absorb all that you can. This gives insight into the bigger picture and helps you to expand your network, which is essential. Along with that, if someone offers to set aside time for you or to be an “informal mentor,” take them up on it! Don’t let their knowledge and willingness go to waste. Social activities are also invaluable. You want to grow your connections as deep and wide as you can so that when the time comes, you have a team that wants you to stay.
Express your desire to stay. Although alluding to this in conversations with my manager and folks within HR, it wasn’t until a conversation with a senior leader as to how clear an intern needed to make this. He said to me, "Put it in writing. Create a story that shows your desire to convert from an intern to full-time employee”. So, this isn’t a cut and dry “hey—I like it here, hire me”; it takes digging deep to find out where that motivation to continue with a company is coming from. You must be able to express why you’re drawn to stay and what makes you a good fit to continue. Share that with those who have the power to make it happen and continually work to prove you’re worth it.
About the Author
Kinsley is originally from the Wilmington, North Carolina area, but was drawn to UNC Greensboro in 2012 as a UNCG Guarantee Scholarship recipient. She has exposure to warehouse operations, higher education administration, and HR compensation, with the aim to remain in analytics upon completing her Master of Business Administration in May 2019. Kinsley is a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society, an Opportunity Greensboro Fellow, and the current President of UNCG’s National Association of Women MBAs (NAWMBA) chapter. By continuously exposing herself to new cultures, challenges, and experiences, Kinsley seeks to break down barriers and provide opportunities and insight to those who may not have the chance.