It can be a little bumpy.
I stumbled upon this position by accident. I’m not a business major, and what I know about startups comes from an HBO sitcom and a monthly subscription to Wired. I’m no expert.
But that’s okay, because business is at its best when you have people from various backgrounds. For those of you in similar situations, there’s more to take away from a business internship than Impostor Syndrome and a hatred for dress pants.
My job is in marketing & communications. The beginning weeks were a blur of research, copy-writing and frenzied scribblings in a new notepad that was one hell of a bargain at $3.99. There’s no time to smell the roses while rushing from point A to point B. It becomes a triage of projects as you rank the life of one project over the next.
Startups have small funds and even smaller teams. Which project do I need to save first? Which can I slap a band-aid on and come back to later? The only thing I know for sure is that project management feels like whack-a-mole without a hammer.
The company website’s microcopy might be on life support, or it might become a vegetable while you work to fast track other collateral. We have to figure out what’s most important, because it’s impossible to forecast what’ll come up next.
University has prepared us for this moment: we walk into class fresh-faced and ready to take on another 4 months of agony. Our professors hand us a syllabus that gives us every project that’s due and how much it’s worth. The good students will throw it right into their calendars and get right to work. There’re no surprises coming our way.
We’ve become masters at prioritizing. Except we haven’t.
Vilfredo Pareto, a man who needs no background because we’ve got hyperlinks in 2019, recognized that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the people. The original idea was applied to economics, but because of our love of business buzzwords, we can apply it to this situation too.
A) Following this rule, 20% of a marketer’s messages will be responsible for 80% of campaign results.
B) 80% of your advertisements will produce 20% of your sales.
Schooling can sometimes forget a few vital things. Dealing with a changing workplace is one of them, and there’s no easy solution to that.
The 80/20 rule in your own work means making 20% of your work the main priority. While it sounds easy, figuring out what 20% of work is most important will take serious thought and effort. Half the work will be figuring out what the work will be.
The first step towards that is remembering the job you were hired to do. Startups are incredibly involved, and it’s too easy to get caught up in other aspects of business. While those are great learning experiences, they can remove us from the skills that we’re hired for to begin with.
Focus on your strengths first. The job you’re hired to do is your first priority.
No student wants to be the one who tells their new boss that they can’t complete a task. Who wants to be the person that shuns initiative?
Consider this: they hired you for client outreach only to find yourself flooded in Quickbooks statements as an arts major whose math skills peaked at grade 11.
Yes, that’s me.
Take inventory of what skills you have and set boundaries. Saying you aren’t prepared for a task isn’t respectable, it’s encouraged. You stopped damage from being done and pointed out where your company needs to hire. A good boss will appreciate your honesty, and the fact that you didn’t accidentally invoice $50,000 dollars to that one annoying client.
It’s Okay to be Confused
Hiring a student comes with its perks, but 10+ years of relevant experience isn’t one of them. There will be things that you won’t know, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s one of the biggest opportunities you have: a blank slate.
These are new companies with new services. You won’t have years of cynicism and processes nailed down to a T. You’re looking for new solutions to old problems with a level of enthusiasm that your company wouldn’t get from an experienced professional.
You’ll have the opportunity to grow beside the company — trying new strategies, failing at most, and going back at it again. If you’re not confused, you’re doing it wrong.
There are fewer placements that can provide as much tangible value to the student intern as startups can.