You can’t always learn this in class.
The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What should every college intern know about succeeding in business?” is written by Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative and author of Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary.
Landing a stellar college internship is an important first step towards long-term career success. But even more important is making the absolute most of that internship so that when the program ends, you walk out the door with translatable, real-world experience and glowing references. My guiding principles for success can be summed up in two four-letter words: N-I-C E and G-R-I-T. Here are my tips for how college interns can make their mark.
Be kind – to everyone
Being nice, respectful and polite towards your direct boss and the head honchos of the company is a no brainer. But being kind to everyone else on the totem pole – the mailroom person, the janitors, your fellow interns – is crucial too. Aside from the fact that it’s just basic human decency to treat others well, building a reputation for yourself as a genuinely cooperative, pleasant person will open unexpected doors and forge the kind of relationships that lead to bigger and better opportunities. After all, in today’s interconnected world, you never know who you will cross paths with again in the future. So, take the time to learn each administrative assistant’s name; offer a friendly smile to whomever you encounter in the elevator and make politeness a character trait, not a tool you whip out only when seemingly advantageous to you.
During the interview process, I often determine niceness with the “receptionist test” for potential new hires. Of course I expect folks to be nice to me, as the CEO. But once they leave my office, I ask the receptionist if the candidate had greeted them nicely, thanked them for offering a beverage or made small talk while waiting. If the person was rude, they failed the test, and don’t get the job no matter how talented they may be.
Do Your Homework
Before you set foot in the door, study up on the company and relevant industry news. Know the name of the CEO, know the organization’s genesis, know the gist of any major initiatives or milestones they’ve announced in the past year. These are not things you’ll be quizzed about on day one, but having the solid background knowledge will enhance your understanding of the work you’re doing and how it fits in to the bigger picture. And, if the topics come up naturally in conversation, being able to speak to them intelligently will show your boss and other employees that you’re taking your role – and your opportunity to contribute to the company — seriously.
Ask Smart Questions
When given an assignment, it’s natural that you’ll have initial questions. Instead of firing them off right off the bat, though, take a few minutes to think through your uncertainties and make sure that the answer can’t be easily deduced based on information that’s already accessible to you. If it can’t, take an educated guess of what the right answer may be. Then, share this educated guess when rounding back with your manager. Frame it as, “My question is X. I’m thinking the answer might be YZ, but wanted to check with you.” Even if your guess is wrong, you’ll be showing off your thoughtfulness and your critical thinking skills.
Stick Your Neck Out
Raise your hand for the extra challenging assignments and don’t be afraid to take on tasks that seem outside your wheelhouse. You’ll learn the most from stretching yourself in this way and your boss will see you as someone with guts, grit and tenacity who’s not afraid to tackle tough situations. And, if you fail, don’t panic. It’s not fatal. Why? You’ll inevitably experience setbacks throughout your career, and the sooner you learn the essential quality of resiliency, the better – and more successful – you’ll be.
Ask for constructive feedback on your performance – not just at the end of your internship, but throughout. When receiving the feedback, listen closely (take notes if needed) and ask for specific examples if they’re not given. Then, do your best to implement it! If helpful, write the feedback on a sticky note or better yet, make it your login password as daily inspiration for improvement.