Guest Subject: 5 Lessons from interning in 5 industries by The Feminequity Factor
As a first-year student at university, there was nothing I was more excited about than landing a summer internship. The thrill of wearing cropped pants and a blazer tucked behind a cubicle didn’t intimidate or depress me, but rather, it excited me. I was fascinated by the business world, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it.
Yet part of what? You see, I’ve always been interested in business, but when it comes to which particular business, I’m remarkably fickle. One day, I may be obsessed with retail, and the next I’m on a hospitality kick. Or perhaps I’m researching digital healthcare, and then I’m off reading all that I can about finance. I studied Human and Organisational Development because I’m captivated by people and organisations, but when you ask me which type of organisations, I’m at a loss.
On one hand, my indecisiveness has allowed me to explore multiple industries and experience various working climates. On the other hand, it’s added a lot of unnecessary (yet, admittedly self-induced) stress to my life. We live in a world where everyone feels like they’re expected to know what they want to do. Well, guess what? Most of us don’t.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve interned at a boutique hotel/special events venue, a digital healthcare startup, a global consulting firm, a global wealth management company, and as a venture fellow. Through my vast array of experiences, I’ve learned a few lessons about internships and industries:
Networking is key. Of the internships I’ve held, only one came from simply applying online (and even that one was applying through my university’s job portal). I’ve spent countless hours submitting applications to online company portals, and not one of them worked out. That’s not to say it won’t for you, but it’s difficult. In my opinion, the best way to land an internship is to first set up informal chats with people who work in the industry. From there, start networking within a company you’re interested in until you’ve made yourself familiar with enough people that when you apply for an internship, people know your name. After all, companies are made of people, and people prefer those they have a connection with. Make connections.
Knowing your strengths will take you a long way. As an intern, it’s important to know what your strengths are. These are usually activities that you enjoy. For me, it’s anything involving public speaking. That means I love doing presentations, running meetings, and conducting workshops. Why is this important? Because as an intern, you want to play to your strengths. If you’re good at something, let it be known. Raise your hand when opportunities come up, and if they don’t appear, ask!
Knowing your weaknesses will take you a long way. Knowing what you don’t like to do is just as important as knowing what you enjoy. Fortunately, this tends to be easier to identify. However, it’s not always clear that what you don’t like doing aligns with your weaknesses. Practically everyone hates grunt work, but think about the other tasks you dread. For some, it’s writing. For others, it’s using excel. Whatever it may be, this is your chance to improve. So, just as you raise your hand for things you love, jump at opportunities that scare you. You’ll come out of the experience having learned something incredibly valuable about both the job and yourself.
Anyone can be a leader. This might seem like an odd lesson because as an intern, you’re probably at the bottom of the hierarchy. But just because your formal title is at the bottom, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an informal leader. Take when I was working in wealth management. I knew nothing about finance, but I had experience in consulting. When our firm went through a major change in technology, they solicited my advice to help strategise the plan for adjusting to the change, knowing I had organisational consulting experience. Trust me, we’ve all got some leader tucked away in there!
The people are what make the job. After interning in many fields, I’ve found that it’s the people who have made my experiences so great. My favourite internships weren’t necessarily because of my role or the industry, but rather the people who I worked with. So when you’re interviewing, take a look around. Are these the people you want to spend every day with?
Five internships and five industries later, and I still haven’t figured out where I fit into the world of business. You might look at my resume and think it looks like a mess, so it’s up to me to make connections between my experiences. And guess what? There’s one place where my hopping around is an advantage: my current job.
I’ve chosen to pursue a career in management consulting as a Business Analyst where I work with clients in various industries. By interning in multiple areas, I learned that my fascination with business isn’t limited to a particular industry, but rather I find it exciting to study different types of organisations, help them solve problems, and then move on to the next. As I continue down this career path, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day something just clicks and I find “my” place in one industry. At the same time, I’m also comfortable with the fact that I may never settle into one space. For now, I’ll continue to approach each day with the same excitement as my intern-self, constantly testing new waters and exploring new surfaces.
Jordan is the founder of The Feminequity Factor, “a girl's guide to owning her life." Her personal blog focuses on embracing femininity, owning your life, and revolutionising what it means to be a young, successful woman in today’s world.