As a professor, we often come in contact with students who go out of their way to help others. Johnny Mishu, currently a second-year student at the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), is one of these students. He has an undergrad degree in Economics from Princeton and played on their baseball team. At Darden, he recently received one of three Sheppard Awards for distinguished service.
It therefore did not surprise me when, a few weeks into his summer marketing internship at a technology firm, he sent an email indicating that he was loving his experience and was quite appreciative of the learning, commitment, and growth that the company and his boss were investing in him. He also shared what he called “lessons,” or “aha” moments that he was experiencing–lessons he kept track of throughout the internship. After reading through his reflections, I asked Johnny if he would mind sharing them with others, and he was happy to do so.
7 Lessons Learned During a Marketing Internship
Lesson #1: Sales Is Important—Much More Important than Previously Understood. “It really became apparent that “Sales Drives Business”. As marketers, we must understand the incentives of the sales team and get them to understand ours if we want to drive company growth. We work as partners to develop the growth strategies and execute them. Without a strong working relationship, there is an increased risk of a breakdown in company strategy and sales communication and implementation. I’m not sure I fully appreciated how important the two sides of marketing were.”
Lesson #2: Change How To Think about “Networking”. “Have you ever been told that the structure for how you should “network” with people at your company over the summer is something like the following: 1) reach out, 2) tell the other person a little bit about yourself, 3) ask her for advice and help on your summer project, 4) add a couple nuggets that show you’re a good fit for the company, and 5) then ask her about her career path and how she reached her position? I found out quickly that this sequence is a wonderful waste of everyone’s time.
Instead, I realized that to connect with people at the company or have them help me with my summer intern project, the first thing I needed to emphasize was how the interaction would help them. In marketing class, we learned that the essence of marketing is to create value for others, primarily consumers. But as Lesson #1 pointed out, you also have to create value for colleagues in the company. In this case, I quickly realized that one-on-one meetings with colleagues should start by understanding how I could help them (instead of how they could help me). When emailing senior leaders in various departments, I had significantly more success in generating a willingness-to-help when I opened with “I’ve learned that one of the big problems that you (or your team, etc.) are struggling with is…”. This contrasts with the me-centric version of “my summer project is about XYZ and I would love your advice and would love to hear more about your experiences”.
While almost every single person I tried to connect with at my company was incredibly nice and helpful, my response rate was significantly better when I opened with a “here’s how I can help you” as opposed to “here’s what’s in it for me”. I have a strong sense that this lesson is generalizable to almost any situation.”
Lesson #3: There Is No Tried and True Internship Timeline. “Before starting your internship, some second-year students may talk about the importance of understanding the “summer internship timeline”. For example, at time T in your internship you should have met with ~X people across multiple departments, analyzed ~Y% of your data, and prepared ~Z% of your final presentation. While this may be a good general guide, it can be detrimental and cause unneeded stress at an individual level considering the strong variance across departments and bosses. I heard a fellow intern worrying because he hadn’t even opened PowerPoint while his cubemate already had 8 beautiful slides ready to go.
Intern timelines are drastically different: each of us is working on a different project, likely on a different team, under a different manager. Some projects are data intensive; others hardly crunch a number. Some require talking on the phone to 6-8 people a day for 30 minutes each. Others require manipulating spreadsheets for hours each day. While there is value in having a general timeline (e.g. obviously I shouldn’t wait until one week before my final presentation to start putting together my PowerPoint), I’ve learned that the only timeline I needed to worry about is my deadline based on my project and my manager’s expectations. Trying to follow some prescribed intern timeline can cause more harm than good.”
Lesson #4: What Big Data is Not. “Our business school cases teach us the importance of aggregating and analyzing data for market sizing, statistical regression, etc. This data typically comes in the form of exhibits or tables. However, one of the surprises I had was how difficult it can be to find the data I needed to do the analysis. It’s often housed in different locations, across different departments. In talking with my classmates who interned at different companies, this was a common dilemma across industries and companies. On top of it, the data can come in many different, seemingly conflicting forms. The important skill is not in mastering each of the data sources, but in being able to find the right data and translate the stories that each data set suggests so that others can understand their respective and collective relevancies.”
Lesson #5: Remember the Goal. “When we start our summers, we’re told about our general action items for our projects, activities we should attend, and people we should talk to for the benefit of our summer internship, but over the course of the summer we often lose sight of and need to be sure that we remember what the ultimate goal is. The goal for the summer internship is to get an offer from your employer. If an action or idea over the summer doesn’t help lead to an offer, then it may not be worth your time. The company I worked for was gracious enough to host numerous intern events for us to get to know each other, and that’s great to do, but if it at all detracts from my ability to accomplish my goal, then I should prioritize accordingly. Each decision, meeting, or plan should keep the goal in mind.”
Lesson #6: Internship Project Does not Equal Full Time Role. “A general “aha” I had (and I’ve heard others have as well) is an understanding that the summer project is not necessarily representative of what the full-time role would be. The internship is a taste of the industry, work environment, teams, manager, and life, all within the confines of an unfamiliar company. I found it hard to separate my project from the potential full-time role, because all I know about the company is from the lens of my project. I realized though, after talking with former interns who are now employees at the firm, that the internship project doesn’t necessarily mirror the full-time job. Taking that step back in perspective allowed me to more clearly evaluate how I could see myself fitting in at the company.”
Lesson #7: Final Presentation Feedback is Good…to an Extent. “As we’re developing our final presentations, we’re told to run our ideas and drafts by as many people as possible (our managers, their direct reports, our fellow interns, etc.). While it is beneficial to receive feedback from different people, there is definitely a point of diminishing returns. I ended up changing a slide four times (and wound up going back to my original idea) because I asked too many people for feedback on the content of that slide. I think it’s best to seek feedback from people you’ve grown to trust and who are primary stakeholders in your presentation; the rest may not be beneficial.”
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