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Advice for Interns: Invest Your Time Into Developing an Opinion

As an intern, your real job for the summer (other than to make people like you) is to develop a point of view. This is actually a more sustainable output than trying to insert our Corporate-branded jargon into your rehearsed interview answers.

Here’s why: when you are early in your career, there is a gap between your work and your ambition.

Your ambition is high, but the quality of your work is not.

This is why you’re given busy work. Managers do not have enough time in the day to delegate tasks to you and then to carefully manage their completion. It’s not a fun truth, but it’s ok because you have potential.

The encouraging part is, as a former intern myself, I can tell you that summers full of non-Instagrammable busy work isn’t necessarily a waste. Don’t quit. Instead, invest your energy into building a point a view.

First, convince your boss to empower you:
Later in your career, you’ll know this as “managing up”; but when you’re only at a job for 10 or 12 weeks, it means “demonstrate how quickly you can draw lessons from experiences”.

The key word is ‘demonstrate’. Many interns make the mistake of approaching an office environment the same way they would approach a classroom; always waiting on instruction. But the rhythm of an effective workplace is not the same as a classroom.  The most successful interns are proactive. They spot a pattern, apply what they already know, and then demonstrate what it means via a new idea, even if the timing is wrong for implementation of that idea.

As an intern, you should be full of ideas! They don’t have to be the right ideas, but when you can show that you are capable of thinking without your manager’s oversight, they will be more comfortable giving you opportunities for visibility and access.

Access to a diverse group of employees and roles is the secret ingredient that can super-charge your POV.

Then, ask sharp questions in order to increase your understanding:
The unwritten social rules around interning give you the freedom to ask questions judgement-free; uncertainty should never be a reason why you don’t establish a solid point of view.

But there is an element of gambling when it comes to asking questions to people you’re trying to impress – so when you don’t seek clarity on a business objective, what it really reveals is evidence of how you confront risk.

You have to learn how to use those odds and not be paralyzed by them. Start by asking questions that aren’t trying to prove a point, but rather to critically explore an idea that you already find interesting.

Here are 5 of them to get you started.
– “Do you think it’s true that #UnderlyingAssumptionOfPlan?”
– “How did #ThingThisYear compare to #ThingLastYear?”
– “Can you describe how #ThisAction impacts #ThatDataPoint?”
– “How will #ThatThingYoureWaitingOn be helpful to you?
– “What are you trying to understand about #ThatThingYouAskedThatPersonAbout?

(see how I used hashtags to give you a framework? I am applying ideas from my interns. You already know to replace the hashtags with topics that are trending at your company).

When you neutralize questions like that, you’re just trying to get to the essence of an answer instead of the hard truth of it. From there, you have wiggleroom to play around with the information and add your own spin. It’s the difference between digestion and regurgitation – and it’s foundational for developing your own POV.

Lastly, embrace the tension:
There are always going to be consequences to fast-paced dynamic people-interactions that can make or break POVs that were created without their consideration. In the workplace, these “consequences” may look like employees encountering problems that have no clear owner, teams working together with competing objectives, or even turnover.

If you skated through an internship without experiencing any of these kinds of conflicts, I will tell you that version of reality was not authentic.

If you were exposed, but found yourself uncomfortable in these situations, here is my advice. The only way to resolve tension around conflict is to embrace it as a natural part of work. Healthy conflict is not a bad thing. It is part of the process and should be your building blocks for creating a well-supported point of view.

The grander theme of all of this “advice” is that you should not spend any time in your internship hiding. A point of view is a reflection of you.

When you begin to create work that is a reflection of your point of view – your work will improve.

When you can create a career that reflects your point of view – your life will improve.

 

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