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 Kayla Kirkeby, vice president of marketing at Dizzion.
There is a lot of competition for good internships, especially as universities are increasingly requiring their students to have work experience in their chosen fields prior to graduating. Students spend countless hours on resumes, applications, and interviews, but once their internship is secured, some feel the hard work is done. While many look at internships merely as boxes to check in order to obtain the appropriate credits, I cannot underscore enough how instrumental these experiences are in determining their future business success.
So what can you do—regardless of the company or industry—to capitalize on your opportunity?
The power of ‘yes’
During an internship, the power of the word “yes” is immeasurable. By agreeing to every assignment and opportunity that comes your way, you’re able to take advantage of the wide ranges of experiences an internship affords.
In college, you may have an idea of what you want to do after graduation, but the truth is that you really can’t know until you actually work in a field. You may think you want to pursue a career in human resources, only to find out that the amount of paperwork that accompanies the job is overwhelming. You may believe that sales is the right path until you see how many cold calls you’ll have to make as an entry-level associate. In helping out across departments, you can get a better sense for where your true passions lie—even if it isn’t clear at first.
You’re your own best advocate
That said, you can’t just wait for someone to solicit your help. In many office environments, everyone is busy, and while they may benefit from your assistance, they don’t necessarily have the time to seek you out. So take the initiative and ask around for assignments. Sometimes you may feel completely out of your depth, but therein lies the potential for true growth.
Internships are all about learning and growing. No one expects you to have all the answers or to complete each task flawlessly. But at the same time, you can’t expect anybody to hold your hand along the way. If you find yourself floundering on a particular project, don’t make a beeline for your supervisor’s office. Instead try other approaches, get creative, and when all else fails, Google it. Showing your boss that you’ve tried a few ways to solve a problem before coming to them illustrates your tenacity and will not go unnoticed.
This is also an opportune time to begin building relationships with your coworkers and growing your network. This can be a scary undertaking early on in your career, but making an investment in building relationships will go a long way when you’re looking for a full-time job come graduation. And it’s not complicated: Start by saying “hello” when you pass someone in the hall or making small talk in the break room while you’re grabbing coffee. Solid business relationships can be developed and extended through even the smallest interactions, but those interactions don’t happen when you sit at your desk all day with headphones on.
These relationships will also help you more clearly develop your own career trajectory. For instance, this summer I put my intern on a growth plan. I gave him my credit card and told him to take specific employees out for coffee or lunch each week. Through these interactions outside of the office, he was able to ask questions about specific departments, specific roles, and what it took to get there. He could also pick employees’ brains to understand what they liked and disliked about their jobs. These types of workplace culture questions can be crucial to determining your next steps.
To make the most of your internship, you have to be willing to dive in and get your hands dirty. Then take a step back and use your experience to figure out what sparks your interests and lights a fire in your gut. In doing so, you’ll gain much more than college credits, and can begin to thoughtfully and purposefully shape your future.