Five Tips for Starting Your Internship

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tomorrow, I will begin the fifth week of my internship with General Mills. In many ways, it’s hard to believe that I have been there for more than a month now. Everything still has that shiny, new feeling to it. But in other ways, I already feel more seasoned. Things that were initially daunting are a little less scary and I can now confidently find the bathroom (and my desk), all on my own. I can also provide you with a killer graph of Nielson data, rattle off GMI jargon like nobody’s business and expertly (almost) explain to you the GMI chain of command. 

While I am elated at my progress, it took time to build confidence. While Carlson prepared me very well, there were certainly moments when I felt confused, awkward and unsure of myself. If I could go back in time and bestow some advice on my whole month younger, naïve self, I would impart this wisdom:

1.    Be approachable- No matter who you are, or where you from, everyone has first day jitters. I think as MBA’s, we have an expectation that we should have it all figured out…and we assume that everyone else does as well. So rather than waiting for the group of interns from another school to reach out to you, go up and introduce yourself. You’ll feel better knowing someone and I guarantee they will be grateful that you broke the ice. 

2.    Observe the culture- Your first few days are a great opportunity to learn the culture of your new company. Pay attention to how people dress, whether they stop to chat in the halls and even the frequency with which employees email/call/schedule a meeting. At my past employer, communication was usually done by email so it took me a few days to recognize that the norm at General Mills was face-to-face communication. Be especially observant your first few days to understand how things are done.

3.    Know the expectations- Some managers will be completely transparent with you. They’ll tell you exactly what they want from you, when they want it and how they expect you to interact and deliver. Others will not. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager about their preferences: do they prefer to schedule a meeting or advise via email? What form should your final presentation be in? Are they direct in their communication? If you answer these questions and understand exactly what your manager wants from you, you will be a lot better off…and when you can extrapolate and anticipate his/her needs, you will win major brownie points. 

4.    Ask questions- Anyone reading this is now rolling their eyes. But asking questions is so important that it bears repeating. Your internship is one of the few times you have the unfettered ability to ask questions. So ask lots. But there is one caveat…

5.    Answer your own questions- I try never to ask a question without trying to answer it myself first. Even if you can’t come up with an answer or aren’t sure if what you deduced is correct, your coworkers and managers will be incredibly impressed that you tried and pleased that you don’t take their time for granted. By all means, ask those questions, but make sure you put in the legwork first.