The Lessons Interns Won’t Find in Textbooks:
What college students need to know about the working world
The summer isn’t even over yet, but I can already tell that this will be the summer I remember as one of my life’s biggest turning points. You see, up until this summer I worked jobs that required more brawn than brain. To be fair some of my previous jobs did require some brain, but the amount of brain needed was equal to the amount of mental effort a pea-sized brain dinosaur would put into eating its meal. Tasks would range from carrying jugs of chemicals, lifting back-breaking boxes, and pushing carts (I think my record was over twenty carts in one push). Needless to say, I had spent my teenage years enjoying a life of manual labor. However, this “blue collar” lifestyle wasn’t foreign to me at all. Since I was old enough to walk, my parents enjoyed giving me tasks that included weeding gardens, cleaning the house, and other physical assignments. Then when I finished these labor intensive chores, one could find eight-year-old me in the backyard digging for fossils with a shovel in a muddy hole. To this day I have yet to find a dinosaur bone.
Time passed and the inevitable happened. I grew up, graduated from High School, and entered adult life. At college, I spent the spring semester planning on getting a job, preferably an internship. I could see myself in an air conditioned office, typing away at a computer, and making plans for lunch dates with my wife. Yet this lifestyle was counter to everything I knew, and it made me nervous. Maybe if they asked me to dig a hole in an air conditioned office I would be confident in my ability to perform well, but the odds of finding a job description like that were practically impossible. Despite my anxiety, I was determined to throw down my shovel and my childish notions and begin searching for a new path. My first obstacle, how do I even get an internship?
This question had me stumped for months. I was familiar with how to become a bagger boy at a local grocery store. Walk in, say hello to the hiring manager, leave store, then repeat until hired. This approach clearly wouldn’t work as effectively, because the people that were hiring interns were often behind doors that if I entered I would get arrested for trespassing.
The Working World Moves Fast
Fortunately, some lucky winds blew in my favor. My wife knew someone who worked for an HR company called Zuman. Whether it was the luck of the draw or some divine act of providence, Zuman offered me a marketing internship, and all that excitement and worry crashed into me at once. Questions flooded my mind and I couldn’t wait for the day I would get to put my skills to the test. Finally, someone was employing me for my brains, of which I had yet to discover if I had or not. The countdown to my internship crawled along the calendar for weeks, then there was only…
Three days left…
And suddenly I was swept up in a stream of confusion and chaos. It felt as if I had been standing on a train platform all spring waiting for the internship to arrive. When it did there was a brief loading time, and suddenly the train took off and I went flying to the back. It was in those first few high-speed days that I learned my first lesson: no amount of studying can entirely prepare someone for the fast paced life of the working world.
Some changes that came in my first few days were new lingo (what’s HR BPaaS?), new definitions (a broker is someone who does benefit-ty things), and new technology (Uberflip isn’t a skateboard trick?). All of these “news” were foreign to me, and I had to adapt to survive. I wanted to succeed but would it even be possible?
Learn to Learn Fast
My next lesson: learn to learn fast. I can’t take credit for this quote, it came from someone during an out-of-the-office networking field trip that my Director of Marketing, Ian Brown, took me on. We visited a company known as Highwire. Ian had mentioned earlier in the day that Highwire was a startup company, and probably had roughly six employees. You could imagine our surprise on discovering that the company had well over fifty employees, and they were in a deluxe office space with a modern twist and a sweet puppy that greeted us at the door. After we settled into a room, Lauren Kiddo, Aleksander Irvin, Mariah Gauthier, and Andrew Erickson, four of Highwire’s finest greeted us, and began answering my questions. Since they are a PR firm it’s a daily routine for them to hit the ground running. While we conversed, they shared with me the skill of learning to learn fast. Sure when you’re in college you have deadlines and there is a need to get things done, but the working world is moving at a faster pace. Imagine if that English essay about John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” wasn’t due three weeks from now, imagine if was due by the end of the day. Also, not only does the final need to be turned in within such a short amount of time, but you haven’t even read the book yet! See the difference? It’s not that college doesn’t prepare you for a career, but the skill of learning to learn fast is something that can only be experienced by stepping off the platform and onto the train of the working world.
Leave Your Ego at the Door
Another lesson: leave your ego at the door. At the time we went on this trip I was becoming familiar with Zuman, and I had been editing the content on the company’s website to match a new message the company wanted to send. I was floating around 50% of my writing actually making it through the manager’s editing process. The remaining 50% was covered with more red ink then I had ever seen in my life. While the red ink broke my soul at times, it was a learning platform that helped me fix my mistakes. With only seven weeks and multiple projects to finish in that time, that red ink became my guide posts to success. Generally, mankind’s first reactions to correction is to become defensive, which is understandable. No one wants to feel like they are in the wrong. For years I used to say that cliché phrase, “no one is perfect,” but I guess it never dawned on me that I was a part of the group “no one.”
I came to this realization during a visit to Wrike where I met their content writer, Lionel Valdellon. As an experienced content writer that has written enough blogs to fill a library, Lionel’s mastery and in-depth knowledge of language could reach the deepest depths of the ocean of writing. For me, Lionel became a guru whose mind contained the “how to survive guide” of the vast mysterious world of content marketing. When he shared the sage advice to leave your ego at the door, it caused me to reflect on my own emotions that I brought into the workplace. Was this pride interfering with my writing and work success? The answer is a resounding yes that would echo all the way to the halls of Valhalla.
Within seven short weeks I have experienced a whole new side of learning that has shaped my outlook on the future. Two invaluable gifts that were instilled in me during this process were one, the gift of knowledge, and two the gift of confidence. Knowledge is something that comes from experience and hard work, and this seven week crash course in a future career has given me a chance to have both. Confidence came as a result of knowledge and experience, yet confidence also came from accepting the reality that I don’t have all the answers. While allowing correction from others into my life might seem counter to building my confidence, the truth is that my self-confidence has sky rocketed because of it. That pressure to preform perfectly is lifted from me. Don’t get me wrong, I still strive to perform my best, but unrealistic expectations are not a burden on me. I also have the confidence of knowing that there is someone to catch me if I stumble. Whether that be a co-worker, a manager, or a trusted friend, I can confidently face challenges with someone in my corner coaching me.
I’ve heard it said that there are two people in this world that you can never fully repay. These two people are your parents and your teachers. Your parents because they gave you life, and your teachers because they helped shape your life. I thank my parents for teaching me work ethic through “gruesome” chores, and I also thank my teachers at Zuman for giving me the opportunity to experience the business world. Ian, Mike, Doug, Angela, Devraj, the entire Zuman team, Lionel, Highwire, and so many others, I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with you and the insights you shared with me. A poem says that a traveler took a road less traveled by, and that made all the difference, but the only reason this path made a difference for me, was because of all of you. My final lesson: be grateful to those that shared their time with you. Time is the world’s most valuable commodity, because no one can buy it back once it is spent. Treasure your time as an intern, and treasure the time others share with you.
About Andrew Larsen:
In my mind I am a crime fighting super hero, but in reality I am a published author, MMA enthusiast, miniature painter, and comic book nerd, who is married to the greatest girl in the world. You can find me on Twitter, and LinkedIn