How to Make the Most of Your Summer Internship
By: Chris Lettini
By: Chris Lettini
Home Depot’s new slogan “Let’s Do This” is how you should approach your summer internship. I came into my summer internship within global procurement at Pfizer with a positive, can-do, roll-up-my sleeves attitude. This attitude went a long way in completing my projects on time, but most importantly, fitting in with those around me. Most of your summer internship opportunities are meant to see if you’re a fit for the company and that the company is a fit for you. You can best figure this out by immersing yourself completely in the company culture. Pfizer did a great job of making sure we were completely immersed by having team-building activities, an MBA case competition, a volunteer day, as well as MBA networking events and brown bag sessions. However, if your company does not offer formal events, you should make sure to learn the culture to the best of your ability.
I’m not going to tell you to work hard on your projects and show a strong work ethic, that should be a given for any MBA’er. What I want to impart on you are the “other skills” that will help you get recognized during your summer. You need to separate yourself from other colleagues as your internship is really a three month job interview. There are many ways to do so and Dean Vera gave some great advice prior to my summer. Listening to his advice was a great way to not only make sure I enjoyed my summer experience but also received a full-time job offer upon internship completion.
Connect with those both in your business unit and outside. The best way to learn about the company and different roles is through informational interviews with colleagues. I put this very high on my internship responsibilities list, alongside my projects, and spent about 20% of my summer internship speaking with colleagues and learning the company culture and strategy. I found that not only did they enjoy the discussions, but it enabled connections that helped me complete my summer assignments. If you mention what you are working on, oftentimes colleagues will connect you to someone who has either completed a similar project or can lead you in the right direction. Plus, if you come across as smart and driven, recommendations will spread through word of mouth should your name come up for an opportunity. Plus, when it comes time for your end of summer presentation, you don’t want those in the audience to be meeting you for the first time and say “Who is this person? I’ve never met them. They never took the time to get to know me.” You want them to be your allies and the only way they can possibly be is if you have taken time to get to know them.
I cannot emphasize enough how much connecting with other colleagues will benefit your summer. Also, be sure to write friendly follow-up emails after your conversation thanking your colleague for their time. Your colleagues are very busy and go out of their way to sit down with you, don’t abuse this privilege. If you think the conversation went well, it also wouldn’t hurt to connect with them on Linkedin. This helps your colleague put a face with a name and they can also view what you’ve accomplished throughout your career.
You should also make sure to connect with RBS alums within your company for the same reasons stated above. They can be great allies and help both on questions regarding your project and facilitating connections within the company. Remember, they’ve been there and also had help along the way and you’ll be surprised how much they want to help.
Connecting with people and being a friendly colleague goes a long way. You must genuinely want to meet people and learn about their career and the company. If you are not genuine, it will show, and perhaps that company or industry isn’t the right fit for you. Your connections must also be a two way street. If there is something that interests you and you think it could help your colleague, share it with them. Making your colleagues life easier goes a long way toward making a meaningful connection.
The next piece of advice I’d like to give regarding immersing yourself in the culture is to volunteer or organize events, join a sports team or intercompany clubs. Get out and meet people. Most companies offer many extra-curricular activities. Meeting colleagues of all levels and connecting outside of work is another good way to see if there is a fit, plus potentially help you connect with colleagues who may have similar interests. I volunteered for everything during my internship. I had previously worked on a recreation committee at my past company. When it came time to plan a summer picnic for my group at Pfizer, I jumped at the chance. Not only do I like event planning, but it made me visible to people throughout the company who I may not have otherwise connected with. Being visible and taking a leadership role is important during your brief internship. These are qualities that many companies desire.
You won’t be given direction through every step of your summer projects since your managers are very busy, so you must make the most of your time with them. Do your due diligence if you have a question for them. Research thoroughly and ask questions of others at your level, before you go back and ask for help. Take initiative and lead your project from start to finish with minimal handholding. This will go a long way to show that you are a self-starter. No one wants to hold your hand throughout your internship. Take ownership. This is a very important trait within the Pfizer culture and part of what led me to work there.
One of the best pieces of career advice I was given this past summer was from a VP in Procurement. He said throughout my career to be “positive, polite, persistent, and productive.” Doing so will result in a fulfilling, successful career. I agree with this attitude wholeheartedly. You cannot just have one or two of these characteristics, you must seek all four. Being positive and polite will only go so far and you need to remember that this is an extensive job interview and you need to produce. Be persistent without being annoying and you will be productive.
My final piece of advice is to pay it forward. I was given so much great advice from the RBS Class of 2014 during my internship search and I sincerely appreciate it. I wanted to write this blog to begin paying it forward and help members of the Class of 2016 secure your dream job. If I can be of any additional help along the way, please contact me.
Good luck and make sure to listen to the Office of Career Management, they know what they’re doing!