Several good books have been written on the topic of getting started in a new job. I’ve read (or read parts of) Right from the Start by Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins; The First 90 Days: Critical Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins; and You’re in Charge, Now What?: The 8 Point Plan by Thomas Neff and James Citrin. I recommend all three for different points of view and different strategies. The last one was co-authored by Spencer-Stuart Executive Search Consultant Jim Citrin, who came to speak at Darden by my invitation three years ago. The book is practical and based on interviews with executives with which Jim has worked over the years.
But an MBA student acquaintance from Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business just emailed me asking three questions along the same lines pertaining to her summer internship offer from a major fast food retail chain. I thought I’d copy my reply here and extrapolate my thoughts to all summer internships.
1. What is a biggest mistake people do when they start in a new, huge corporation that has rich history and probably a lot of politics behind the scene?
2. What is the best thing you can do before you start your new job?
3. What is the first thing you need to do on your first day at your new work place?
Before I answer the questions, I have to give a little context. Summer internships come in many shapes and sizes, with many different objectives for both students and companies. One of the primary objectives of many companies is to identify and begin the recruiting process of full-time candidates. Fortunately, this company expectation aligns with many students’ expectations who want to use the internship to identify and receive a full-time offer from a company of choice. However, when entering summer internships, students should evaluate what are their personal objectives, beyond just getting this offer. I believe that if getting an offer is one’s primary motivators then that person’s focus during the summer might be on the wrong things. Other personal objectives might be to enhance one’s skill set, demonstrate mastery of things learned, and/or build a network of contacts within an industry. But equally important, I think it’s important for students to remember what the reasons are that the company has hired him/her and what performance exceeding those expectations looks like.
So, assuming you want to really exceed expectations and receive a full-time offer, here are my thoughts to answering the questions:
What is a biggest mistake people do when they start in a new, huge corporation that has rich history and probably a lot of politics behind the scene?
In my opinion the biggest mistake people make is not networking enough within the company. Many interns believe that just superior performance will get them the “full-time offer.” There is a tendency to eat lunch alone every day at one’s desk while working, or with other interns, rather than dining every day with a different person in a different function, or with people within your function on other brands/assignments. When it comes to a full-time offer, everyone will have an opinion. An intern should seek to be known as an interested, and interesting, person. She should get to know everyone during her time there. Inquisitive interns ask them what they do, how they interact with other functions, what they do for fun, why they like the company, what they like best about their job, what they see as critical success factors for someone in the intern’s job. I would suggest not worrying too much about the politics. It is important that many different people know what the intern is doing.
What is the best thing you can do before you start your new job?
Successful interns research as much as they can about the company before they arrive. Successful interns “consume” their product before starting. In this students case, she should visit as many fast food stores as she can, taking notes. Ask questions of herself: what is common among the stores, what is different? I suggest visiting at different times of day. It is okay to talk to store managers at non-busy times and tell them that she is going to work at headquarters. Again, she should ask specific questions: how do you interact with HQ? What do you like that HQ does? What do you dislike? What could HQ do that would help you with your business? Have some networking calls with as many people as you can that work there before you arrive questions such as: what are the hot issues you are working on right now? Is there any reading you suggest I do before I arrive? Any suggestions on how I can succeed this summer? What are you working on? I suggest more than anything: talk to the consumer and be the consumer.
What is the first thing you need to do on your first day at your new work place?
This question was the most difficult for me. What can I say? Find the restroom! Speak nicely to the administrative folks. Make friends. Put out the pictures of your kids. Share with others. And don’t run with scissors.