Hungry for a Great Internship? Know Where to Find the Meat.

Internships are considered a must-have for many college students (and even some high schoolers) looking for a leg up in getting a job upon graduation. They hunt to find them, compete to get them, and strive to multiply them–all for good reason.

Internships are real workplace experiences that build and showcase the job knowledge, skills, and behaviors essential to career success.

So why do so many complain about those internships once they’ve been landed?

  • The work is too menial. I feel like a lackey.
  • I don’t have enough autonomy.
  • There’s too much/too little/no supervision.
  • I’m left on my own to figure out what to do.
  • I do all this work and don’t get paid (or am paid a paltry sum).

Welcome to the business world!

There is often a misconception that, once you get a real job with a real title, all the work is meaty, independent initiatives are applauded, your supervisor is supportive, and the compensation commensurate with the work. Sorry this isn’t so, but internships can help you recalibrate your expectations.

Internship Lesson #1: Teach yourself to see and understand the realities of the work place and what drives it.

You can’t see what’s really going on unless you look. Too many student interns limit their focus to the work they are asked to perform and not the experience as a whole.

Initially, there’s good reason for that: the tasks are new to them and they want to do them well. That’s a good thing but not the only thing.

The real meat is between the bun.

Internship Lesson #2:  Learn what did or did not fit you about the company, the work, and/or the environment and why.

Your internship helps clarify what you need from a job to perform at your best and stay motivated.

That means discovering are how effectively you:

  • Handle ambiguity and too little/too much direction
  • Perform under pressure
  • Communicate with executives, managers, your boss, and coworkers
  • Overcome flagging self-confidence and self-doubt
  • Use strengths and overcome weaknesses
  • Make independent decisions and come up with new ideas
  • See your work in the context of the company’s big picture
  • Influence or take the lead when there’s an opportunity
  • Stay positive and avoid getting caught up in office gripes
  • Put knowledge and skills to use in the right way

You need to make your internship as much about discovering who you are within the dynamics of the job as you do about future line items on your resume.

Here comes the judge.

This week I served on a panel to judge internship presentations at a local university. The fifteen students in this six hour undergraduate course interned with major corporations like AT&T, Guardian Life, Allstate, Abercrombie & Fitch and small businesses including a restaurant, spa/pool company, law office, and long-term care facility. Most students were business and/or marketing majors.

The students who stood out were those who discovered the most about themselves while interning. One learned he didn’t want to be in law because he knew he couldn’t defend someone he knew had committed the crime. Another loved the company she interned with (they wanted to hire her) but realized she wanted to work for a large firm. Two other students surprised themselves at how effective they were talking to front-line employees as well as the company president, seeing how they were able to adapt their communications styles successfully. Others learned how it felt to own and defend their web design assignments.

Win-win internships

There are no bad internships unless you choose not to learn anything from them. Every business is fascinating in its own right. Each has a unique business model, leader-driven culture, performance history, cadre of employees, and customers/clients. No matter what your internship role, you are always in a position to observe, explore, and contribute. So whenever you can, take a big bite and savor the flavor.

Photo from Lego-LM via Flickr

Want to Serve on a Non-Profit Board? Put Your Business Hat On.

It lifts us up when we do “good” for others: Help our neighbor, donate money to charity, volunteer at an event, or serve on a non-profit board. 

Non-profit board positions are platforms from which we can lead, engage support, and help more people. 

Some people “collect” board appointments to look important and influential. Others can’t get beyond operational details to focus on the long-term. Many are so uncomfortable with risk that they obstruct growth. That’s not what non-profits need. 

Non-profits need board members with a strong business sense. 

A non-profit is a business 

“No, no,” some say. “We’re not a business because:  

  • We’re publicly funded.
  • We have a mission to fulfill.
  • We don’t compete with anyone.
  • We don’t need fancy business processes.
  • We’re a small agency, more like a family. “

The reply: 

“You’re a business when you need money from someone else to pay the bills.”

Non-profits are in the business of doing good work. So they need to operate like a business and board members need to ensure it.

The challenge for non-profit boards is to understand how to merge: 

A mission-based model where the: 

  • bottom line is social change
  • revenue stream comes from donors, grantors and/or members
  • work is done by paid (perhaps) and unpaid staff (volunteers)
  • approach requires partnering

And the business model where the:

  •  bottom line is profit
  • the revenue stream comes from customers and/or investors 
  • work is done by paid staff 
  • approach is competitive 

Plenty of non-profits compete against each other for the same dollars and support, accumulate large surplus dollars, build endowments, and have significant staffs and property. That’s how we know that the business model is alive and well in the mission world of non-profits. 

The mission is your business: It’s what the non-profit exists to do.  

As a board member, your job is to look at the organization’s performance results and determine whether or not they are delivering on the mission. 

Lead: Don’t meddle 

Board members aren’t executive directors. They don’t handle day-to-day, operational matters. Effective board members understand their role is governance, meaning they: 

  • Collaborate with the Executive Director/CEO (their employee) If there is no paid staff, the board president and/or executive committee are default leadership staff.
  • Raise and/or contribute money
  • Provide fiduciary oversight
  • Ensure mission advancement 

Board leadership needs to focus on: 

  • Defining the realities facing the organization 
    • capabilities and risks
    • environmental/political conditions
    • financials
  • Setting direction and communicating with constituencies 
  • Demonstrating:
    • Ethics and integrity
    • Decisiveness and commitment
    • Respect for people and viewpoints
    • Accountability for outcomes
  •  Goal setting that turns good intentions into real outcomes 

As a board member, you make sure the organization doesn’t lose its way. Your job is to treat “doing good work” like any other product or service, using the same rigorous business best practices, tough decision-making, and calculated risk-taking that you’d undertake at a for-profit business.

Make a difference 

Non-profit board positions are precious opportunities to lead with a purpose. If you want a taste of leadership for your career growth, there are few better opportunities. If you want to drive change, non-profit boards are powerful platforms.

The challenges are great. Too many non-profit boards flounder for lack of business acumen, skill, or courage. They need you.

Our communities can’t afford to have its non-profits go out of business or to perform below their capabilities. The work is too valuable. Non-profit organizations are our collective way to better world. Let’s make them better. 

Photo from hoshi7 via Flickr

Your Job’s Your Choice. No Complaining! | Taking Issue

Complaining is epidemic. People with jobs complain about the work, their bosses, coworkers, working conditions, or pay. Those without jobs moan about how the company did them wrong, that no one’s hiring now, or they can’t get an interview.

Stop already!

If you don’t understand that jobs are business deals and not wedlock, you’re in trouble.

Every employee needs to understand this:

A business is a legal entity that exists to produce goods and services for a profit. (Even a non-profit is a “business” but that’s for another day.)  

Businesses hire people to do work that leads to profit! Everyone who gets hired has made a deal.

How the deal works:

The business has a job vacancy. It solicits candidates. You apply and are selected. When you say “yes,” you agree to this deal:

  • You will perform the duties as assigned according to standards.  
  • The company will pay you the agreed upon salary and benefits.
  • At the end of every day worked, you and the business have met your obligations. You’re even. 

That’s it! No more…no less. The deal does not promise you a boss, colleagues, or working conditions that you will like. It does not promise you professional growth, promotion, or a raise.

Choose to stay or choose to go.

We miss the point when we fail to realize that, every day, we go to our jobs by our own choice. No one’s making us go there. So if you hear yourself complaining, it’s time to take stock.

I can hear the pushback already:

  • “I have a family to support, bills to pay, no other options, and can’t relocate. ” 

Fine! If the job deal you’ve already made is solving your daily living problems, stop complaining.

I can hear the justifications too:

  • “I love the work, but I can’t stomach the people I  work with, my boss is an idiot, and customers are a pain.”

Fine, again. If you get satisfaction from doing that work and you don’t want to give it up, stop complaining.

Hey, I’ve worked with my fair share of business “leaders” who, from my perspective, “didn’t get it.”   

The corporation I worked for was a regulated utility when I started and a competitive global energy supplier when I left. The focus of the leadership shifted from “it’s all about the customer” to “it’s all about the shareowner.” I realized one day that I no longer worked for the company that hired me. (By then, even the name had changed.) It had morphed into something that no longer fit me.

I admit it! I spent a lot of wasted energy griping about that. But here’s the reality: Any man or woman running a company has the right to run it his/her way. It’s their party.

Smart businesses want employees to be engaged and feel valued. That’s when we do our best work. In turn, we want to gain job experiences that give us knowledge and skills that we can leverage for a better job down the road. When the company grows, we can grow. When we grow, the company grows. That’s a sweet deal!

Every day, we need to decide whether or not we still want to work for the company that hired us. It’s our call!

Your life is your business. Make employment deals that work. 

It’s time to take a hard look at your job and the choices you’re making around it.  Are you staying because it’s the avenue of least resistance? Are you in charge of your career or are you waiting for someone else to step in?  Are you preparing for a future move or complaining instead of acting?

Becoming business fit is about empowering yourself to take charge of your work life and to make right choices for yourself. Do good work. Learn a lot.  Move on when the right deal comes along!

What are/have been your biggest career choice challenges? Do you have your own take on the “deal” we make when hired? Great to hear from you.