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 Nicole Hazard, head of talent and innovation at AXA US.
Internships are invaluable for gaining crucial experience and professional knowledge that can build your resume for future jobs. The new skills you develop can also help you decide whether to focus on a niche practice area within your chosen field or confirm that you’d rather be doing something else.
Either way, your job as an intern is to not only be a sponge, absorbing as much as you can, but to also hone what you bring to the table as a potential new hire.
Employers today are challenged to fill jobs, from entry-level positions to top management, requiring more specialized skills amid changing circumstances and environments. And to fill those jobs, recruiters rely on digital tools that enable them to conduct broader and more diverse, inclusive searches. The deeper insights they gain from using increasingly sophisticated technologies capture more about a candidate’s skills and aptitudes than ever before. It’s not just about what someone has done, but about what they’re capable of—their future potential.
Therefore, during this skills revolution, standing out from the pack has never been more important. Besides having practical abilities, like excellent communication skills, you can differentiate yourself in other, equally valuable ways by demonstrating so-called “soft skills,” such as leadership, teamwork, and adaptability.
As you’re developing new talents, remember these tips to let your strengths shine at your internship, your first job, or your fifth:
- Challenge everything
Challenge yourself, of course, but also try challenging the status quo. Employers appreciate an inquiring mind—someone who thinks about tomorrow and how to make it better, with the courage to express those ideas.
Every summer, our tech interns complete a summer-long project that’s presented to IT leaders at the end of the internship. This past summer, they participated in a hackathon, where they showcased ideas to senior information officers. One of the team’s ideas was to create a company store, which would allow people to wear their AXA pride. This is something we had in the past and were looking to bring back and refresh. Having the interns’ new perspective and recommendations will be extremely helpful in getting us closer to executing on that.
So keep an objective eye and an open mind for new ways to improve processes and solve challenges. Going beyond just completing assignments adds significant value—to yourself and to the organization.
- Don’t bring problems—bring solutions
When you run into a problem, before immediately asking for help, take the time to think about it first, and try coming up with your own insight or possible solution. However, if you need more information to complete a task, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. And take advantage of the opportunities different challenges bring to learn as much as you can about your department, company, and the industry in which it operates.
- Be a team player
Better yet, harness the power of team problem-solving and collaborate with peers in your department and beyond. Remember, seeking input from others is not a sign of weakness, but rather demonstrates your strength as a team player.
Last summer, our interns participated in a scavenger hunt in New York City. Each team member brought their own knowledge/expertise to the group to find the clues in the required time to take them to certain destinations. All of our teams successfully completed the scavenger hunt, and we were told that our scores were higher than other companies that had participated. A team that works well together can achieve great things.
- Get engaged
Being proactively involved in your internship shows you have leadership potential. If you finish one assignment, ask for another. Show your interest and enthusiasm by asking smart questions and offering responses during meetings. Take advantage of opportunities to network. Participating in activities and volunteering to help at events says you’re giving this internship experience your all and increases your visibility in the company.
- Think outside of your department
Think of your career as a jungle gym—not just a ladder to climb. In other words, you can often gain broader, more transferable skills from a lateral move than linear progression, whether in the same or a different company. Taking your core competencies and moving them to similar roles within the organization expands your frame of reference about how the organization works and makes you a stronger asset, even if you return to your original department. Talent managers call this career flexibility, and in today’s competitive work environments, it’s highly valued.
Keep in mind that as employers are evaluating you, you also should be evaluating them and the overall workplace culture to see if you belong together. Even if you’re just starting out, certain factors should be a given:
Employees are any company’s greatest asset
They should be valued, respected, and appreciated in an environment of diversity and inclusion. That means instituting norms and values that promote trust, where people can be relentless in pursuit of new alternatives to existing practices and realize their full potential.
Employers should foster a “learning culture”
A good internship should make you feel like part of a team. Colleagues should be available to support you with advice and guidance. A company committed to a “learning culture” invests in the people it depends on, not only to help retain a competitive talent pool, but also to satisfy the basic human drive to more fully expand knowledge and experiences.
All in all, if you approach your internship with confidence and enthusiasm, and see yourself capable of contributing more than is expected, others will see you that way, too.