Saturday, September 13, 2014

True Life: I was a Summer Intern

Internships aren't all the same. During my summer internship at New York Life I gained so much experience about the ins and outs of corporate America, from scheduling lunch meetings and mastering Excel worksheets, to networking among interns and team members. I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post summarizing a typical day including how to make the most of your internship through completing small tasks that not only help the company, but also instill career habits that shape you into a savvy job candidate.


Ok, so, as college students, we all know that getting up in the morning is hard, especially when it's summer vacation, and you just finished watching a late night True Blood episode. But, have no fear, Nicole is here!  Managing my sleep schedule was one of the most vital things to ensure that I got through the day. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep is extremely important when working a 9-5 job.  Arianna Huffington, pioneer business woman and founder of The Huffington Post, believes employers should allow workers naptime for better work production and creativity in the office.  With Huffington's endorsement and Google's nap pods, I don't understand why corporate America hasn't adopted widespread change.  I think you understand how much sleep means to me now.

Something else that has been drilled into our brains is the importance of breakfast. I mean, who doesn't like breakfast? It's the most important meal of the day and without it, you'll be sitting miserably at your desk, your stomach grumbling loudly with hunger. I know that we all have time constraints but even a granola bar and a banana make a huge difference. Breakfast is the fuel of the masses.

gif by ReallyAlly
At Work:

When I settled into my cube for the day I immediately checked my email and schedule. Many companies have programs like PivotNote that save calendars and show when people are online for instant chatting if you have quick questions. One skill that I enhanced this summer was sending professional emails. Email may be the most common type of correspondence you'll have with colleagues so it is important to use professional email etiquette  (even when you're itching to greet your boss with "Holla"). Communication is key in an internship, allowing you to contribute effectively while learning new skills from coworkers.  One thing I enjoyed about my internship was the inability to access work email from home. This created a necessary boundary and a strong motivatation to finish tasks before I left for home.  And when I did arrive home, I wasn't worried about work. An 8 hour workday can be exhausting, so this boundary was important.

When I decided to be a New York Life Intern, I wasn't sure what to expect working for an international insurance company. As a consultant, my job was to broadly assist my manager and team in completing tasks. Interns often don't know what to expect at the start of their internship.  You can avoid this by asking questions during your interview! Great questions demonstrate how important the internship is to you and how committed you are to company goals.  A common theme I found in many of the projects I was assigned was using Microsoft Excel. Dun dun dunnnn. I hadn't used Excel since freshman year, and that was for doing a basic scatter plot in Bio 13. If you learn one thing from this post, that would be to freshen up your Excel skills, especially if you are looking to intern in the finance, consulting, and communications sectors. (I will be writing a post about this later. Look out for it!)

Lunchtime = Networking Time!

Lunch is a time to relax and take a break from your day. However, many people don't realize that it's also a very useful time to get to know your colleagues better and to learn about their career experiences.  Schedule lunch or coffee with managers and other leaders in the office in order to gain insight into how they were able to achieve success at the company. New York Life encouraged interns to network. Everyone seemed open to meeting with interns, and I enjoyed many informative lunch meetings. It's important, then, to review business lunch etiquette. One day a friend and I lunched with a Tufts alum, and we weren't sure who was going to pay the bill. Do all three of us split it, or do we offer to pay for it? What if the alum offers to pay? We were so anxious about this one detail. In the end, we ate at a small sandwich place, so we all paid separately.  Even if you are just taking a short coffee break, remembering to employ good etiquette is key.

And this all leads to the importance of "follow-up."  Following up and sending a thank you is not only common courtesy in the business world, but also shows that you know how to close a deal.  The person you met with will know you are grateful for their time, opening the door for continued conversation and making a positive impression of you as a potential employee.

Strike the balance!
An internship is an amazing opportunity to build skills in networking and etiquette, among other things. It's important to strike the balance, so you gain the best experience while also demonstrating strengths and talents to your employer. Here is Forbes' list for the best internships of 2014 - great internships with amazing benefits and opportunities.  

Finally, I hope you were able to attend the Career Carnival this past Monday. It was a blast! If any of you missed it, check out Sean's blog post about tips for finding the internships you really want and the resources available to you on the Career Center websiteAlso, information about the upcoming Career Fair and how to prepare is on the website.  Approximately 145 employers are scheduled to attend, the most employers attending the annual event to date.  This is a major opportunity to learn about summer internships and to gain experience in talking to employers.

Hope the first few weeks of school haven't been too busy, and everyone has embraced the beautiful New England fall weather. But remember, winter is coming.

Carpe Diem,

Nicole Brooks
Class of 2016