Paying it forward

Reflections on my internship experiences as I mentored my team’s first intern

In my current marketing and demand generation role at AlphaSights’ New York office, I was given the opportunity to work with a summer intern. I was responsible for developing a training plan, communicating our processes, and assigning projects our intern would own. This included setting realistic deadlines for the 10-week internship period.

In the proposal to my manager, I outlined the areas where I would benefit from an intern. I led with an introduction section that outlined current ‘challenges’ followed by ‘the ask’ for each project, and instructions on how to get started. I thought this format would be most helpful in setting the stage and creating an easy-to-follow plan. My manager, Greg, reviewed the proposal and left the following comment: “Let’s phrase as more of an initiative rather than a challenge. I think it is important with interns to convey a sense of professionalism around the work we are doing rather than making the summer feel like an extension of a college/school project.”

Greg made a great point — it was easy to think of all the ‘challenges’ that I was eager for our intern to help us with: mapping out ideal customer profiles, organizing sales materials for client meetings, monitoring social media for relevant industry conferences, building lead lists for sales outreach, etc. If we presented each of the tasks at hand as singular ‘challenges’ with a clear beginning and end, we weren’t going to give our intern the opportunity to take ownership and find solutions we hadn’t considered.

How do you as a manager and mentor set interns and employees up with ‘project requests’ that still allow room for growth and creative thinking? Bigger than that — what can young mentors do to ensure that interns find passion in their summer programs, feel inspired by the project requests and take each to the next level independently?

This made me reflect on my own internship experiences. I was so fortunate with the mentors I worked with in the past. I wanted to emulate the same level of professionalism and knowledge I had I derived from them as I stepped into this new role as a mentor and trainer myself.

My internship experiences

Before joining AlphaSights, I interned for three individuals who are change-makers in each of their respective fields, and I have them to thank for the opportunity I was given at the start of my career. Thank you, Danielle Ogden, Joanne Trout, and Devon McDonald.

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival, 2011

In each of my internships, I was given set tasks but always had the opportunity to go beyond the ‘assignment’ and test something new. In my first internship at the Westport Arts Center, I was hired to assist in after-school art classes. Over time, I was brought in on other initiatives. I worked a few weekends per month as a gallery docent, assisted with special events, developed a proposal for an improved membership benefits, and attended the annual gala fundraising event to help with last-minute details, and social media. I was proud to work with Danielle as she built the Special Arts program. I gained exposure and learned from managers in all departments which helped me gain a better understanding of business acumen and the value in strategic collaboration.

At Omnicom Group, I was tasked with contributing to the social media efforts to build awareness for the group of top agency creative. Instead of retweeting or reposting agency-provided content, I found a way that Omnicom corporate could directly connect to its agency teams and give recognition. I created a list of brand ambassadors and influencers at each agency that we could partner with to feature teams in our social content. This approach led to a 23% increase in social channel followers over a 12-week timeframe.

OpenView interns, 2014

In college, I worked at OpenView Venture Partners in Boston and again was able to work across departments and functions with an amazing mentor. One of the initiatives I worked on included evaluating the lead nurturing campaigns of companies within OpenView’s portfolio. By monitoring the cadence of email and phone outreach from sales representatives, the quality of the follow-up, and whether the company was utilizing paid retargeting advertising, I realized the importance of multi-channel sales follow-up and structure.

When I finished my internship at OpenView, I wrote my manager Devon McDonald a note saying I considered her the ultimate definition of #Goals. She had taught me to push myself, encouraged me to always take the initiative, and speak up when I felt I should. A year later and I still consider her a key role model in my professional and personal development.

Full-circle

My reflections made me realize how much I wanted to provide our AlphaSights intern with a similar experience to those that I had been so fortunate to have. The thing is — I’d be lying if I said I had it all figured out. I wanted our intern, Jacqueline, to be inspired to be the best version of herself but I wasn’t sure I could be the same type of inspirational figure everyone I had worked for had been to me.

After the guidance from my manager and current mentor, I went back and edited the incoming intern’s project to be more open-ended and fluid. There were no concrete steps to follow, just ideas to explore and research. I encouraged Jacqueline to take on each task with a bit of skepticism, ask questions, and try to think creatively about how to solve the issues at hand. I had her sit in on every meeting I had with senior stakeholders to see how I set out to solve the challenges I was facing. I also asked that she invite people from different departments within AlphaSights to weekly coffee chats to hear about what they were working on and how they were addressing their own business challenges.

Jacqueline and I met afterwards to discuss what she had learned and how it related to the bigger picture. It was important to me that she see how everyone at the company might have a million different things to do in their day-to-day, but that each of us was always thinking about what’s next and how to take our jobs even further. I was hopeful that by having these conversations she would realize how her work could contribute to something bigger than her day-to-day — and ultimately, be inspired to do the same.

AlphaSights team event at the Mets game, 2017

At the end of the summer, Jacqueline wrote me a thank you note that made me feel I had succeeded at my job of making the internship a valuable experience. I won’t share the whole thing but Jacqueline wrote that my passion was inspiring and that she considered me “a true SIW” (Strong Independent Woman) — which felt pretty similar to me calling Devon #Goals a year earlier.

The biggest thing I took away from the experience was that when given an opportunity to mentor an intern, it’s our job to create a good plan before they arrive and assign valuable projects that give them the room to learn and to be inspired — that counts.