June 25, 2018

Welcome to intern life! – Negotiate your experience

Welcome to intern life!

Whether you are experiencing your first internship, your second or third the encouragement is the same, stay on your toes, expect good things, be flexible and learn as much as you can. The formula is completely different from team to team WITHIN the company. You are going to have to learn that for yourself.

If this is your first time at a new company I am sure you are excited this summer. But heads up, almost no one knows how to host an intern exactly right. You may be at a big company like Google, Facebook or some other flashy brand. And you may be taking comfort in the fact that they have hosted thousands of interns before and they know what they are doing. But that is definitely NOT the case.

If your company has an established intern program, that program might serve you well as far as orientation and intern events. But the big news is there is nothing you can count on in your experience so prepare yourself, be proactive and ready for anything!

Some of the questions I suggest you ask your manager right away:

What are the goals of my project? WRITE this down and either share it with your mentor to make sure it reflects what they say or be sure to send it as an email to yourself.

What is confidential and what is not? If your company has ANY public facing websites or articles, you may be privileged to the backstory on it and not to mention your actual project. So be aware of the boundaries of YOUR NDA, you signed it after all.

Who else can I learn from? Your manager has peers and often they are open to having you learn from others as well. This gives you an excellent opportunity to learn about other areas of focus for your team or company.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself within the first few weeks of the start of your internship…

Do I feel like I have all the information I need? Onboarding is not an exact science and here’s a kicker, the required online training or orientation is only the BEGINNING of the process. If you don’t have access to crucial systems or you have a lack of understanding or context for the goals you have been given, ask about those gaps early.

Do I have a mentor? Is your manager/mentor that was assigned to you helping you grow? It is okay if they are not right away. Try asking them for more help — this can come in the form of one on one meetings in a conference room, gaining more access to materials, or meeting with their peers. Sometimes our mentors think we are doing fine or they want you to pick up the pace, but you won’t know unless you ask for clarification.

What do I want to accomplish this summer? This question might be a moving target. But whatever you decide on you should have at least three actionable items to help you succeed with this goal. Being specific is really key. You can try taking these items to a meeting with your manager to see if they agree and will make a point of helping you meet these goals.

Camille Eddy

Camille Eddy is a machine learning engineer at HP Labs in Palo Alto, helping to bring in the next generation of robotics.

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