Nearly a decade ago, when I was working out of my firm's Shanghai office, a college student from the US joined my team for the summer as an intern.
One evening, at an office-wide meeting held at an ancient waterfront village located a couple of hours outside of Shanghai, I was chatting with my intern (who I'll call "Chris" here) when the topic turned to his personal interests.
Chris told me he liked to rap. But instead of just reciting raps composed by famous rappers, he could turn any topic or even a single word into an instant rap. Curious to see if indeed his claim was true, I asked him to take the word "China" and turn it into a rap.
True to his word, after just a few moments to gather his thoughts and harness his creative powers, Chris launched into a fluent and funny rap about China. While I can't remember the lyrics that he composed literally on the spot, I do remember being both amused and in awe of his poetic prowess.
I thought I'd share this amusing story now that the summer internship season is getting underway. I've always enjoyed working with summer interns on my team. I've observed how they navigate their experience. And I always take pride in seeing the interns I've worked with move on to pursue successful careers or get accepted into top graduate school programs.
Here are a few things I've observed about the interns I've worked with who have "crushed it" with their summer jobs. If you're just starting your summer internship, or you know someone who is about to start one, I hope you (or they) find this helpful:
1. Be a sponge for new knowledge and experiences.
Sure, you're doing an internship to build your resume. As someone who was in your shoes a long time ago, I get that, and I support that as well.
But remember this: You're most important goal for the summer should be to learn as much as you can. Learn all you can about the company. Learn about the department you're working in. Learn about the content of the particular job you've been assigned. Learn the skills you need to complete your job.
If your company has formal training programs or materials, take advantage of those. But I would bet most companies don't have formal training opportunities for interns. And that's okay, because you'll learn far more by just doing than by reading books or watching online tutorials.
2. Reach out and meet as many people as you can.
Remember how nerve-wracking it was to write that first cold call email to your employer? Or to ask the father of your friend for an introduction to the HR person who then setup an interview with the senior manager who eventually hired you? It was tough, right?
Now that you're on the inside, take advantage of the access you have to reach out and meet as many people as you can. Sure, not everyone will have time for you. They've got managers to report to and deadlines to meet. But most people will probably be willing to spend a few moments to talk to you and get to know you, answer your questions, and even help you with whatever you're working on.
And you'll collect more names you can use as references after you leave (or, at the very least, expand your LinkedIn network).
3. Show your pride.
While a summer internship doesn't necessarily give you all of the privileges and benefits of full-time employees at your company, you should nonetheless see yourself as one of them (if only for a brief time).
Demonstrate your interest and pride in your firm by attending and actively getting involved in office-wide events, sharing (or at the very least, "liking") positive company news announcements on your favorite social media platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook, and updating your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new role.
4. Start early, leave late.
In my very first job right out of college I had to punch a card in a machine every morning when I arrived, and at the end of the day. The card tracked when I showed up at work, and when I left. It was, obviously, used by my company's management to keep track of me and other employees, and to calculate overtime hours. It felt demeaning, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Today, in most companies, punch clocks like these are rare. But the concept of showing up for work on time, and only leaving at, or especially after, the official working day has ended, has not become obsolete.
So be aware of this, and make sure you put in the hours that are expected of you (and which are likely to be spelled out very explicitly in the company policy, or the offer letter that you receive).
Of course, some companies may not care about the number of hours you clock at the office, and will instead care a lot more about what you can contribute. I support this mindset and approach to managing employee time. But I'm just telling you what the reality is like out there in most companies.
No, employers are not going to expect you to instantly turn any topic into a clever rap like my summer intern Chris did many years ago in Shanghai. But that's okay, because you've got your own unique talents and skills that nobody else possesses (and, frankly, we had no immediate use for his rapping ability).
Use your summer internship as a platform to prove what you've got to offer your company (and to build your resume and LinkedIn profile). Work hard, make new friends, and focus on acquiring valuable knowledge and skills that you can take with you for the rest of your career.
This article also appeared on LinkedIn.