Dear Summer Intern: This is an audition for your future
Once upon a time â€“ i.e., eons ago â€“ one of us had a summer internship that mainly involved playing golf with the boss, who appreciated the company of a college kid with a single-digit handicap. Not much work got done, but it didnâ€™t seem to matter, particularly to the boss. The other one of us (the one whose handicap is so obscene it canâ€™t be printed in a family publication) once had a summer job that revolved around asking, â€śWould you like your eggs bagged separately?â€ť It was boring, sure, but the hours were great if hitting the pool is your kind of thing.
As the song goes, â€śThose were the days, my friends. We thought theyâ€™d never end….â€ť
Well, they did. They really, really did. Today, due to economic conditions that need no explanation, most college grads have to fight and claw for entry-level jobs in their chosen fields, and many, perhaps as many as 25 percent, arenâ€™t even able to get a well-shined shoe in the door.
So say goodbye to your fatherâ€™s,Â or even your older brotherâ€™s, summer internship, when the office was, for all intents and purposes, where you passed the time between weekends at Â Cape Cod, and the best thing about going to work each day was that it meant â€“ hallelujah! â€“ you werenâ€™t going to classes or taking exams.
Say hello instead to a summer that offers what might be your best hope of landing a real, live job upon graduation. That is â€“ if you can just remember two little things.
O.K., maybe they arenâ€™t little.
The first is to be keenly aware of who is courting whom this summer. Sure, the cheerful hiring people might have assured you that your internship is designed to introduce you to the companyâ€™s wonderful staff and culture and help you gain valuable industry experience, which is all well and good. Take that stuff in. But the bottom line is that, whether youâ€™re working at an investment bank or a radio station, your summer internship should be more about giving than getting. Indeed, it should primarily be about you giving a helluva performance, over-delivering, making an impression with your insightful, unexpected ideas and terrific, sweat-the-details kind of output that prompts people to say, â€śHoly Cow, this kid really wants it.â€ť
You need to do stuff that makes your boss look like a hero. Suggest a small process improvement, come up with a cool packaging idea, offer deep-dive insights into a customer segment. Do something, anything, that might make your boss think, â€śIt would really stink if this kid worked at one of our competitors.â€ť Thatâ€™s the kind of wow youâ€™re afterâ€¦every single day.
Our second â€ślittleâ€ť piece of advice is both easier and simpler. Be likable. Just that. Fun, upbeat, friendly, authentic, filled with positive energy, happy, agreeable, chit-chatty about sports and the weather and The Avengers, or frankly, whatever everyone at your company likes to be chit-chatty about. Get in the game and play, even literally, if thereâ€™s a softball game to be had. Let people know you. Let them hear you laugh. Let them see your humanity. Sure, some people are so freakishly smart, their personalities donâ€™t matter and they donâ€™t have to make the kind of nice we suggest. But those people are rare, and most of them donâ€™t need summer internships anyway because theyâ€™re millionaires by age 18, with a couple of patents or apps to their name.
Finally, we would be remiss if we didnâ€™t mention one last summer to-do item, which is not to take place at work but rather in the privacy of your own cheap rental. The pastor and author Terry A. Smith makes the case that people are happiest when they are working in their â€śArea of Destinyâ€ť â€“ that gorgeous piece of emotional and intellectual real estate that exists at the intersection of what youâ€™re uniquely good at and what deeply interests and excites you. We couldnâ€™t agree more; indeed, we talk about â€śArea of Destinyâ€ť so often with our own college-aged kids that theyâ€™ve been known to greet us by saying, â€śMy area of destinyÂ is fine today, thanks, howâ€™s yours?â€ť
Theyâ€™re joking, but itâ€™s not a bad question to ask yourself. So this summer, while youâ€™re over-delivering and winning likability points in extremis, also think long and hard about whether youâ€™re on the road to a career that someday will give you the chance to simultaneously do what youâ€™re good at and what you love. Because that is the place you want to land. Itâ€™s where you belong.
And the first step in that direction, dear summer intern, is getting an A on the job right now.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.
PHOTO: Nora Barnett, an intern for House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), waits with stacks of paperwork in anticipation of a committee meeting to mark-up health care legislation titled “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst