Wednesday, March 9

Internships, what do you look for?

Dear Son

I know you will be going for an internship soon. This is the 2 week work experience that your school has requested for all 15 year olds. The idea being that you get some idea of what work is before completing your basic schooling. This will allow you to choose if you want to keep on going for higher studies or decide to move into vocational training. You did look around to see if you can find a local internship but for a variety of reasons (including too many people, not enough firms locally, etc. etc.) it fell on me to see what we can do.

One of my friends offered you a 1 day session at his computer lab in Brighton last year which hopefully you found of some use but it wasn't enough, you really cannot pick up much, but what it did help was to get you to understand that you do not want to be a programmer. Which is good, many times, its good to know what not to do or what you don't want to do rather than what you want to do. So that was time well spent.

I never took up an internship, the concept simply did not exist. First job was stuffing envelopes for a bank’s marketing campaign. And then the next proper job was to be an assistant professor. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I did not do my career in a systematic basis. Basically drifted from a job to job, depending upon what opportunities are available or when I get bored. So bumbled through and at this moment, have a collection of experiences and careers. Well, it sort of turned out right, fairly ok with future career prospects, finances and and and, but that’s not really something that one can do. One should learn from one’s mistake and hence this letter to you son.

So I met with my friend who is offering you an internship at a human resource services firm in London. We had a long chat about what makes sense. In 2 weeks, you aren't going to learn how to be the CEO, but that led me to think about what would I expect from an intern who is 15 years of age, very good in Mathematics, Science, Logic, Languages, Economics and Finance, ICT, but not so good in the fluffier subjects like religion? You are good with people but I think you need to develop the bit of arrogance and brutality which is required. And yes, I use these words purposefully because a bit of bolshiness and aggressiveness is required in the business world.

Well, I would like the following things for you to learn

  • Learn about basic office operations. How to dress up, how to speak to people, how to attend meetings, how does a desk work, how do you check out stationery cupboards, how to make a cup of coffee.
  • Learn how office teams work, listen to people, how do groups form, how does work get done in teams, what kind of people are there in terms of personality types, what is a team leader and what is a team follower. The dynamics
  • Learn how work is allocated to various people. How does a manager learn how to give what to do to whom?
  • Learn how you are going to deal with office relationships, romantic, friendly, angry, tedious, patient, etc. etc.
  • Learn how to ask for help from others when you are faced with a task that you haven't done before, you do not know where to get the information, how to process that information and how to present the information. Nobody expects you to know everything but people WILL expect you to take the initiative, ask around for help and then get things done.
  • You need to learn about determination and dedication. Sometimes I feel that you give up too easily (perhaps all Dad’s think so..) but that is not what an office worker can afford to do, the expectation is that you will really try your best to sort things out
  • Perhaps most important is to know how to have fun. Son, you will be spending the best part of your waking time at work. If it isn't fun, you will be a miserable old git. Waking up in the morning and walking out of the door, you have to learn to have a spring in your step, learn to overcome the other miserable old git bad vibes and walk into the office with a smile and say, I am a happy character, I want to be with other happy people and I am going to conquer the world today. Have fun, son, have a smile on your face all the time. Its good exercise as well.
  • Learn how to help others, you need to pick up non verbal tips on how people might be struggling. So go over and offer some help. If nothing, offer to go make a cup of tea for them. People like that, they like helpful people.
  • Thanks to Namrata Kotwani who suggested that I do mention that you need to learn that work can be boring once in a while or quite frequently, just do it, buckle down and keep on it and gently try to move to the exciting bits. Dont moan, groan, whine and cry. Suck it up and do something about it. Nobody likes a whiner.

Not sure how much technical skills you will pick up and I don't have much expectations from you on that, but if you can learn how to identify opportunities, how the recruitment process works, how various jobs are pitched for fulfilment, how a business makes money, basic stuff. But if you do not or cannot, not a problem, in 2 weeks, you cannot do everything. In the immortal words of Surma Bhopali in Sholay, “do rupia me pura jangal kharidna hai?” You cannot buy the entire jungle with 2 rupees.

So if you can get this done, then the question is, what does your employer get out of it? Now that is crucial, never look at things only from your perspective, son. You are in a business relationship, both the parties need to get something out of it. If the firm is offering you an internship, what will they get out of you? This is where you need to be very smart. If you can get a reputation or expertise or experience of being in a win-win situation, then you are brilliantly placed. So think about what you will provide to them. Will you provide them with your technical skills? Or some good piece of analysis? Have you seen their website? Have you understood their industry? Do you know what questions you can answer for them? Will you be able to leave their firm in 2 weeks and leave behind a reputation saying, “bloody hell, that little pint sized pip squeak came in, and within 2 weeks, did this piece of analysis, learnt all this and left us wishing that he was older and we should grab him as an equity partner / valued employee as soon as he finishes school”. That’s the ideal, so be constantly on the lookout for how to make a difference to them.

I think I have banged on enough, son, and sorry for writing this in blog post. I found that other kind friends also write in with their suggestions and that gets reflected in our conversations with you. Anyway, right now you are a teenager and conversations with adults are usually one way. I think this is one way of communicating. Hope this helps, and best of luck with your internship. I might write some more later on. And anyway, blame your mum, she started writing letters to her baby! and you are also my baby even if you have started shaving.

See these links,

1. What a 15 year old told a venerable investment bank?

2. Some good advice on internships.

No comments: