What I’ve Learned as an Intern

Ways to be successful in a new role and set yourself up for a career

My Story

Nearly all of my previous job experience came in bars and restaurants; not necessarily environments conducive of the most professional attitudes or practices. I was in school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and reached a point that I knew chatting people up from behind the bar and serving well-done sirloins wasn’t going to make me happy or put me in a financial position that I could be satisfied with long-term. I watched my friends start their careers working in downtown offices with incredible views, travelling around the country to see clients, and doing work they could be proud of. I knew that it was my time to start doing the same, so I visited a career fair. I met a recruiter from a well-renowned financial institution and began talking to her. She must’ve thought there was something redeemable about me (I still can’t imagine what that was) and set up an informational interview. One thing led to another, and I was offered an internship in financial planning. I went to the bar that night for a shift and took a good look at the opportunity in front of me. Two weeks later would be my last shift at the bar. I took a leap of faith and set down a new road, one that would end up providing me with more opportunities and a skill-set I never imagined I could have.

The smile I had when I left the bar was far more genuine.

Success

Before I started working in my position, I thought I knew what success meant. I thought it was basically being able to afford the things I want. Sure, money is important and a huge driver for me, but today success means much more to me than that. My vision and outlook change everyday to some extent, and my definition of success has changed along the way. Today, my definition of success is as follows: Being able to provide my family with financial freedom through helping others with theirs.

Find out what success means to you, and find a way to achieve it.

What activities bring purpose and impact to my professional life?

When I first went to school at UIC, I wanted to become a doctor. When I realized the schooling involved (and feeling that I may not be as mentally equipped as I needed to be), I switched directions…to study law. Again, feeling over-matched and under-prepared for as many more years of schooling that would inevitably be required, another mindset switch was made. The reason that I wanted to go into those fields was to help people (it didn’t hurt that a 6-figure income was typically associated). The things that bring me happiness and make me feel that I’ve made an impact in my position are similar to those I looked for in medicine or law. The feeling that I get when I see clients visualize their financial futures brings me the same satisfaction and provides the same value as I imagine performing a successful surgery or defending an innocent defendant would. Providing the tools for clients to see the end in mind and to start planning today brings me a sense of purpose and accomplishment that I have never felt before.

What advice can I give?

As my internship winds down and I move into the full-time space, I look back on everything that I’ve learned about my work, about people, about myself, and about being an intern. Below is a list of the best advice I can give to those thinking about an internship.

· Don’t wait: When you have an opportunity, take it. Don’t wait for one to come to you if you don’t see one. Go out and get it.

· Look the part: If you want to be taken seriously, never look like a slob. This goes for while your at work, but also any time you leave the house. People see you wherever you go. Act and dress the way you want people to perceive you.

· Be early: Being early is as almost as good as being late is bad. It shows a strong work ethic and that you can follow a simple schedule.

· Do your research: When you walk into a room, do your best to be the best educated. That being said, don’t be a know-it-all. You will be an intern among a group of professionals, after all.

· Be patient: There will be difficult moments that will make you want to pull your hair out. Weather the storm. If you can get through an internship and deal with everything that comes with it, you will show your value could earn yourself a full-time job.

· Put yourself out there: Introduce yourself to everyone in your office. Volunteer for difficult assignments. The moment that someone in charge sees you going above and beyond to take tough tasks, meeting everyone and taking risks, you put yourself on a different playing field than your counterparts.

· Have fun: Yes, you’re at work, but if you can have fun and do your job, you may have found your calling. If you’re able to have fun, it will make going to work much easier.

· Learn from your mistakes: You will make mistakes. Lots of them. Don’t let those moments be a complete waste. Use them to better yourself. Show those around you that you can grow from them.

Competency: How can you be career ready?

The NACE lists a number of competencies, all of which can be very important to the success of a graduate. The list is lengthy, but one specific competency resonates with me and has been used the most in my internship: Professionalism and Work Ethic.

As I mentioned in my story above, my previous experiences were largely in environments where professionalism was an afterthought. People showed up late, hungover, made excuses, and didn’t finish the job. Walking into my office on day one, I realized none of these habits would fly. I quickly learned that my work ethic and professionalism with coworkers and clients alike was paramount not only to my success, but my reputation as well. I would sit in meeting with clients when I first started, and was far too casual. Maybe it was my language that wasn’t accurate enough or that I wasn’t spending time in the office efficiently, and realized that my lack of professionalism and work ethic would not get me anywhere. I had to work harder, perform better, and act the part. This not only got me far more career ready, it got me a career.

Looking ahead

I was by no means a perfect intern and I will surely have my flaws as a full time financial adviser, but I can safely and honestly say that if I could do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learned so much from my experience as an intern, and couldn’t recommend it more. Potential new interns, I suggest you take my advice. You will be thankful that you did, and you’ll never have any regrets.