I was heading out to meet a friend for coffee last Wednesday and spied on the counter my daughter’s lunch bag. Since she’d left 20 minutes ago, I gave it some careful thought. I could easily walk the 2 blocks to school and drop it off for her…it would get me some fresh air and after all, she had a test that day – not ideal on an empty stomach…and mid-thought I realized I was doing a bang up job of justifying what I knew I shouldn’t do. Prevent her from learning a lesson in responsibility, in a way that would stick.
Undecided on whether to listen to my brain or my heart, I headed out, knowing I’d still have plenty of time upon my return to drop off lunch before noon. As I sat down for coffee, my friend talked about how glad she was to have her daughter home from college, but worried about the internship she’d started a week earlier which was turning out quite badly.
A few weeks ago we had the softball season-ending barbecue for one of my daughter’s teams. She and her sister had entered the next division this year – where the players had considerably more skill than they did last year. Case in point, one of the opposing team’s star pitchers was clocked at 44 MPH. She’s 10.
It started out as a tough season for my daughter – a couple of strikeouts in multiple at bats resulted in fits of tears, the silent treatment and slammed doors when we got home. Her frustrating experience isn’t all that uncommon. But the approach her coaches took was. They cheered her on after every attempt and spent as much time as she wanted in the batting cage. Despite no particular natural talent, she was willing to work hard and they gave her as much time and attention as their very best player. At some point, something clicked. Half way through the season, she got her first hit. And then another. And then a few foul balls off the toughest pitcher in the league.
After her first couple of games with a hit, when it was arguably beginning to be a trend, her coaches took her aside and went beyond congratulating her. They helped her connect the dots. They talked about where she’d been, what she’d done about it, her response when she’d stumbled and the outcome. And they let her know that this was a great learning for handling challenges on AND off the field.
This experience was fresh in my memory when I was introduced to a friend of a friend who runs a summer camp. I was interested in her perspective on the support that young adults need and get in navigating job and career decisions. I knew she’d be a good resource as she employs a raft of college students to be camp counselors, some of whom have returned each college summer. She bemoaned her own frustration about well educated students coming out of school and working in hourly wage jobs because they couldn’t find the types of roles they sought. She’d heard the frustrations of friends who interviewed college grads but left these conversations underwhelmed by their qualifications. So she decided to take matters for her team into her own hands.
At the end of the summer she sits down with EACH of her nearly 100 counselors and she asks them about their summer responsibilities. Managing the campers’ variety show, dividing up and overseeing campers’ kitchen chores, serving as swimming instructors or a shoulder to cry on for the homesick campers, you name it. And then she asks which soft skills they used. She said that when she started having these discussions, she initially got blank stares from them. But as word got around, they began to understand what these are, and when they’re using them.
Variety show manager? She learned about teamwork and collaboration as well as dealing with conflict when multiple campers pursued the same part in the show. Campers’ kitchen chore coordinator? He learned about work ethic, seeing firsthand the impact of the campers who missed their shifts, and problem solving, when recipes had to be adapted when the needed ingredients didn’t show up. Moral support for the homesick camper? She learned critical thinking skills, thoughtfully weighing the severity of the situation to decide whether or not to get in touch with the camper’s parents.
What lucky counselors these folks are to have someone who spends her own time late into evening to help them connect the dots between what they’ve learned and its meaning in the work world. My daughter and her whole team were equally lucky for their great coaches. Emily Carpenter put this beautifully, in the words of a valued mentor: “You don’t learn from the experience, you learn from the meaning you make of the experience.” As leaders, managers and coaches, what a difference we can all make when we help our future leaders not just learn from the experience, but learn from the meaning they make of the experience.
PS – What if your manager isn’t Sarah, offering this up proactively? Put your thoughts together on which skills you’ve learned and tell your manager you want her/his input. Doing so also gives you the chance to practice two more soft skills – initiative and career management.
Last week I hosted a book club at our house – a group I look forward to seeing month after month at least in part because there’s no judgment when I’ve not yet started, or only half completed the book by the time we get together. I asked my husband to grill our dinner – and my daughters appeared to want a role too. So they proposed one: they would be in charge of name tags.
This is NOT a group that needs name tags. In total we’re roughly 25, and while who attends each month varies somewhat, not only do we know each others’ names, work situations and addresses, many of us know which colleges each others’ kids are applying to, their sports and extracurriculars and so on.
Reading the news today that our local pool is officially open made me realize that summer is coming soon….and with it summer internships. Before you (or the student in your life) agree to work for the company of your dreams – or turn down the one that’s not quite so popular – it’s worthwhile hearing what past interns wished they’d known before giving a thumbs up.
We asked a wide variety of interns last August what, after reflecting on their summer experience, they wished they’d known before making their decisions. The minority were first time interns with the majority having had 2, 3 or more internships previously.
Nearly 90% wished they’d had more insight into the day to day responsibilities of the role. Seems like that one should be straightforward, but since internships are sort of like food trucks – they pop up for a period of time and can go away just as quickly – even when asking the question directly of the hiring manager, they may tell you it’s not perfectly clear what the need will be once you arrive 3 months from now.
So what are your options? First, get clear on what your boss is responsible for since it’s a pretty good bet that your responsibilities will link closely to hers or his. And if how they’re describing their responsibilities sounds like Greek, you’re not alone. It’s easy for people to adopt the company lingo that makes little sense to an outsider. It’s OK to ask clarifying questions – to a point. If it’s lingo you think you should know based on the internship you’re interviewing for (bad idea to ask what the 4P’s are if you’re a marketing major), use the alumni network or LinkedIn to see who you’re connected to that does or did work there and ask them your questions.
You can also ask the hiring manager what past interns have worked on and what separated the great ones from the no-chance-you’re-getting-a-job-offer interns. This can give you a feel for the type of work that’s given to interns (and help you sniff out if it’s going to be a dry cleaning pickup oriented summer).
Most also wished they’d talked to past interns or employees before they started. Ditto to above. One additional point on this – sometimes it can take some time and effort to find and get connected to people who can give you the low down. But it’s well worth the effort to get the inside scoop that someone who’s wooing you might not tell you.
Lastly – past interns wished they’d had clarity on their personal goals for their internship before accepting it. This one takes a bit more work but can often make the difference between the internship that is right for you and the one that those around you think is the best one. It starts with getting clear on what you want to learn from the experience. For instance:
Most of us only get a few internship opportunities. Understanding the opportunity and understanding yourself is the best way to make the most of it.