December 21, 2018

7 Tips For Selecting an Internship + Bonus Ideas For When You Land Your First Job

A benefit for those of us further along in our careers is being able to take advantage of the opportunity to reach back and help those who are just starting out. Recently, I had a mentee ask for advice on pursuing his first internship, with passions to grow in both software development and project leadership. I shared with him some of the following thoughts as he considers where to take his first steps:

  1. Real-World Experience: You are looking for real-world experience as much as possible to help build your credibility and trust for future employers. Beyond adding to your resume, you are looking to prove that you contributed in making an impact for your team and the organization, and that you are ready to keep building on your experience to make a difference for your next team.
  2. Modern Trends: You are looking to be involved with modern or even cutting-edge technology and platforms. Learning and gaining experience on the latest technology will give you a step up as you build your expertise. You don’t necessarily need to be ahead of everyone else just starting out, but you do want to be careful to not invest your internship experience in a technology that industries are moving away from. This helps to ensure you are relevant to help with the technology challenges and needs other organizations are facing as you continue along your career path.
  3. Building a Network: You are looking for an organization where you can start to build relationships and connections with genuine and respected individuals that can be future references for you. Those relationships will help open up new opportunities and additional connections in the future, based on the impression you leave with them and the difference you make for those around you.
  4. Mentorship: You are looking for organizations who openly value mentorship, and want to pour into the next generation. As an intern, you are there to help, but also to learn. Healthy organizations want to help you along your journey and will be able to tell you how they will invest in you. This could be, and really should be, more than tech skills. You need to learn soft skills, like learning how to be a great team member, how to manage and deliver a project, and how to communicate in a professional environment. The best environments will also help you see your individual strengths, and how you can grow your impact by investing in and growing your specific strengths.
  5. A Culture of Continuous Improvement: You are looking for an organization that has a culture of continuous improvement and learning; Avoid organizations who are not keeping up the with times, appear to have stalled as an organization at some point, or are not hungry to learn how to improve themselves. A culture of learning will generally produce an environment where people want to share what they are learning and are open to new ideas, which will benefit you, as well as provide you the opportunity to share with others. Sometimes you can just tell by walking in and ‘feeling’ the tone of the company – do they feel dated, stuffy, low energy, and not very friendly? Maybe look elsewhere…
  6. Start a Community of Friends & Advocates: You want to be able to find a company where you can build relationships with other people who are motivated and are building their own reputations in the same direction that you want to go. Find others with the same or complimentary passions so that you can be advocates for each other down the road, even at different companies or organizations. Pouring into and building off of the energy of others headed the same trajectory makes a huge difference in pushing through challenges that come up in your journey. Make friends, help each other, and cheer each other on!
  7. Look For Where People Like to Work: Most larger cities have annual awards for organizations where their employees take a survey to measure how much they enjoy working at and trust their respective company. Search out your city’s “Best Places to Work” award winners over the last couple of years. These companies will generally have employees who are proud and happy to work together, and are likely to have opportunities to grow and do meaningful work. Usually, these companies have a very collaborative environment and will also provide professional development or a formal internship program. This doesn’t mean companies that don’t make the top of the list are companies to avoid. However, these award winners can be a great place to start if you don’t already have your eye on specific companies.  

Bonus: Ideas For When You Are In Your First Internship

  • Take a Chance; Do Lunch: Take a risk and ask people you would like to learn from to lunch or coffee. Most people will be willing to pour into those who are just learning or starting out. Take a risk and don’t hold back, no matter their role or position. In healthy companies, even the top leaders will try to find time to connect with you, if you ask them. This will also help build your comfort within the organization, as well as your network for when you move on.
  • Share What You Are Learning & Give Credit: Don’t share company secrets or speak negatively of others, but consider blogging or posting your experiences and things you are learning on LinkedIn or in other channels that might be seen by others. Show that you are paying attention, engaged, and learning ways to improve. Give credit to those who are helping you, even in little ways. Giving credit is always good for relationship building, but is also important for you to start learning when it comes to project leadership. The practice of giving credit and recognizing others will be important in building trust within a team you have influence in, and increasing the team’s confidence to take on new challenges and help others.
  • Explore Your Passions – Ask!: If you see something within the company that interests you, whether it is a project, team, or initiative, ask if you can be involved or shadow somehow. There may be expectations on you for other work that you need to stay up on, so also keep that work current, but as long as you are getting your main duties done, most healthy companies/leaders will want to provide you the opportunity to take time to explore your passions and gain new experiences. Sometimes all you need to do it ask!
  • Encourage and Give Feedback: Practice giving people positive feedback. It may be a challenge for an intern to provide constructive feedback in some environments so you might avoid that path to start. However, in growing in your leadership skills, practice giving positive feedback even to a senior role. For example, you might share, “I really liked how you pulled the team together and communicated the next steps on the project at the meeting today. You brought everyone’s focus to the high priorities, and help identify ways to deal with current challenges. That was a great example for me as I want to learn more about project leadership.” You could then also ask follow-up questions to learn their thought process. Who knows, you could easily find your next mentor this way.
  • Be a Connector for Others: Help others build connections. You will start to build a reputation as a bridge-builder and connector, and also help others in the process. This is a valuable trait to build as you eventually work in cross-functional teams and project work. Being able to pull people together towards a common goal is a great leadership trait that you can start growing now.

These are only a few ideas. If you were giving advice to someone just starting their career in tech, what would you tell them to look for in their first internship? What should they look for or look to do to get the best experience to move forward in their journey?

Cross-posted on LinkedIn:

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