Many students are graduating and starting new jobs and internships this summer. Here are some pointers that I wish someone would have taught me before I learned them through experience!
1. Attitude Matters. The way you think about your job is just as important as the job itself. For example, if you think you are too important for entry level or intern work, you will probably not be successful because of a bad attitude. On the flip side of the coin, you will probably do well if you have a humble attitude and look to learn and help your colleagues through your job. Most skills can be learned through experience, but the damage done to your reputation through a poor attitude in your first job can stick for a long time. Get to know your colleagues. Which ones have a positive attitude and which ones do not? Take steps to interact with others in the same way your positive colleagues do.
2. Interns Matter. You might think “I’m only an intern.” This is a common attitude, but you should think larger than that. Interns are valuable members of the team and can make a difference in how an organization operates (especially a small one). Treat your short time with an organization as an important step in your career where you can try ideas, practice interoffice communications, and learn from your more established colleagues. There is nothing worse than a wasted internship where you later think “I could have…” or “I should have…” offered ideas, been more proactive, or taken advantage of available resources.
3. Internships Are Interviews. Whether or not you know it, your internship is an interview. Even if the organization doesn’t explicitly tell you that they hire their interns, they often do. Managers often use your time with them as an extended interview to see how you react to problems, how you interact with colleagues, and if you are a culture fit with the organization. If you do well in those areas, you might be offered a job there or given a very high recommendation for your next position. I interned with Young America’s Foundation in the summer before my senior year, fully intending to go straight to graduate school. I got in to New York University, but declined when I was offered a position as conference director as soon as I graduated. The internship turned out to be an interview in disguise!
4. Learning Doesn’t Stop After College. Most of what you learned in college is not relevant to your job, unless you are in a specific technical profession like engineering, science, or accounting. Most of your knowledge will come from experience on the job and is based on tacit knowledge, or the kind of knowledge that you can’t learn from a book or a professor. For example, how to interact with other people, when to know if you should look for a new position, and how to take initiative on different projects are skills that you learn by doing. Continue learning, reading books by successful people in your field, and attending conferences in order to maximize your potential.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation
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