I would have never guessed that I would learn so much about my career path in 2012, mainly through my internships and jobs. Although it seems that 2012 just flew by, when I think back to a year ago, it has, indeed, been a long and eventful year.
Three experiences stand out to me the most:
I can hardly believe it has been one year since my first internship — a “winternship” with a travel magazine. It was brief. Extremely brief. I'll admit I did not seem to get as much out of it as I had hoped, even though I knew all the things interns should do: always keep occupied; instead of asking for things to do, create them; follow up every few months after the internship; try to be involved as much as possible; etc.
Instead, I asked for things to do, and of course when I didn't have any tasks, within a few days, I sat idly, waiting for assignments. I had broken the infamous intern sin — and I knew it. But I was young, and everything at this magazine already seemed to work so well without me.
It wasn't until a few months after the internship, when I was supposed to but didn't receive the copy of the magazine I had worked on, that I reflected on my mistakes. I knew it wasn't a productive internship. I had failed, and it wasn't enough to comfort myself with the knowledge that I had yet another line on my resume. I had wasted that time.
Yet, I did learn.
Lesson #1: Always choose an internship for which you can work at least 6 weeks. Because let's face it: You'll end up feeling like you haven't done much, and the first three weeks are usually the most unproductive, because you're just starting to get a feel for what it's like working at that company. Have a few weeks to spare but not enough to make the most out of an internship? Know the company. Don't apply to a random position, simply because it's open. I'm not saying winternships don't work because of the short time period (at least for my school). It most certainly can, in terms of happiness in both professional and personal aspects, as long as you come in having been familiar with the company for years and have specific goals to accomplish.
Lesson #2: Go in with goals, leave with those accomplished and more. If your only goal is to learn, then you should either find another company to work for or create some real goals. Otherwise, you'll leave feeling much as I did — having accomplished little. But why limit yourself to those goals only? As cliched as it sounds, expect the unexpected.
Lesson #3: Really make those connections. Don't just come in and out every day you work without making a genuine effort to know your coworkers. You can be as nice as you want, but the difference between that and productive networking really shows when it comes to recommendations and references for future jobs.
Lesson #4: You may discover new passions. I realized tweeting on a professional level was an actual job. Although I was an editorial intern, I was able to tweet for the company about upcoming events and generally promoting clients. And I loved it. Now, I also look for opportunities where working with social media is part of the job description. You may discover that you either love or hate something, and either way, that knowledge is worth it.
2) SUMMER INTERNSHIPS
I was lucky enough to snag two summer internships, and I decided I could manage to do both. Both were amazing opportunities, and you can imagine how happy I was to receive these offers.
Lesson #5: You can do more than one internship during the summer. The obvious lesson here. I accepted both internships, because I knew I had the time and could manage it well. In the summer, if you're not taking classes or even vacations, then the real question is why not do two part-time internships when given the chance? Internships, especially unpaid ones, are often flexible in terms of how many days you work. I was lucky also with housing. Given that one of the internships was located in Boston (not my hometown), I was able to appeal to my close family friends in Malden, where I stayed for most of the summer. I still managed to see my family and have weekend vacations.
Lesson #6: Aim high when applying for internships. I'll mention this name, only because you can find this information within seconds: USA TODAY College. I aimed high as just a freshman in college, and I am so glad I did. I was able to write for a national online publication before I was even a sophomore. Did I expect to get this opportunity? Yes and no. Yes, because I had worked hard my freshman year to gain as much writing experience as I could. No, because I still saw (and still do see) myself as a young student. But once you get that opportunity, you let this fear go away. You realize you do have the potential.
Lesson #7: Start-ups exist. How embarrassing, huh? I now am very interested in the start-up world. Believe it or not, I had little to no knowledge of start-ups and was even more shocked to learn that so many colleges students around Boston were budding entrepreneurs — and successful ones, at that. You may find that you love retail, or you love the food industry, or whatever it is, you can expect to learn a lot about the industry you're working in. For me, one summer internship at a start-up introduced me to a world I now follow and love.
Lesson #8: You may find what you're good at and like doing. Before these summer internships, I knew only that I was interested in magazine journalism. But when I worked for two online companies, I found myself loving the online aspect, and knew I could not work without it. Moreover, my most-successful/most-shared articles were ones related to tech and social media. Cue light bulb. I found my focuses.
3) STUDENT AMBASSADOR
I applied to work for my school's career and academic centers, where they had just created the new position of student ambassador. They tweaked our job duties by taking out resume review, which was definitely one of the factors that made me want to apply. I believed in my resume-writing abilities and wanted to help others. Yet, when I got the news that resume review would be a different position (with less pay and fewer responsibilities), I made a rash decision: I would become an ambassador who would have to present in front of students every week.
I say rash, because leadership and public speaking had not been my strengths. Why, I am a writer — we writers tend to think most clearly and feel most confident when alone. Yet, I love my job because of the lessons I've learned.
Lesson #9: Take a chance! It turns out that I actually love being a student ambassador. Believe me, I was incredibly nervous and actually doubtful of my choice. Did I make the right decision? I knew I would have been much more comfortable just as someone who reviewed other students' resumes, but I decided to take a chance. I love mentoring students in a more public way. I know my public speaking has improved. Step out of your comfort zone, and only then will you be able to learn the most.
Lesson #10: Do every task to the best of your ability. You may have some not-so-pleasant tasks to complete at work. Sometimes, they may seem pointless, making you not want to do anything at all or putting little effort into these tasks. But when you put in the effort and work hard, your employers will see that, and at the end of the day, you will feel better about yourself.
Now, whether you agree with these lessons or not, I know that I will take these with me for 2013 and beyond. I have certainly gained a lot, and it may be time for you to do the same.