Kicking A** & Taking Names – An Intern’s Guide to Being a Startup Superhero

OK, SO - you got your diploma/degree; you’ve done the easy part. Now it’s time for some real fun!

Your internship!

Now, you’ve stumbled your way onto this article, so it’s safe to say you are already thinking about your internship as more of an opportunity than just something that’s required for you to graduate, which is perfect – you’re on the right track. Your internship is definitely not just another project or report you have to hand in. This is your first real opportunity to show the world what you got!

When I was graduating from Oulton College and hunting for the perfect place to shine, the number one thing I was looking for was a place for me to continue to learn and to feel comfortable doing so.

In the following guide, I hope to teach you why I feel the startup space is the absolute prime spot for any graduate to transition from student life to real life and how you can kick some butt and take some names!

First thing’s first: a quick little back story that may answer your question: “Why is he so hot and bothered about startups?” I’m going to tell you:

Enter local startup “ABC”: my first interaction with a startup was while I was still in college and really starting to think about where I wanted to end up after I graduated. Their founder and I had spoken a number of times on campus so it only made sense that I reach out to a company I was familiar with. When I arrived at their office they introduced me to their stellar team and gave me a quick tour of their (at the time) new digs. Now, this is where things got really interesting.

After the meet and greet and tour of their main floor, my interviewer advised me that if I were to be offered the internship that my working space would actually be located upstairs. I thought to myself, “Like my own office? That’s pretty rad!” and naturally gestured for her to lead the way to the top floor. She opened the door to reveal that the space was very much still under construction. I’m talking concrete walls and floors, no window panes, and a yellow taped section in the center of the room. Hilarious right? I’m not even done! The second she opened the door, a pigeon flew across the room! (For real, an actual pigeon).

I think it’s safe to say that any normal candidate would be running for the hills, right? I, however, smelled opportunity. I told the interviewer that the fact that they were still discovering who they were as a business and I was still figuring out where I wanted to end up was the coolest and most synergistic thing that had ever happened to me. I knew that this was the industry I wanted to plant myself in and grow from. I had never been so inspired!

Don’t worry, they didn’t hide all the interns away up in the attic. The entire thing turned out to be a prank they were playing on the candidates, and I fell for it big time.

BUT, that doesn’t mean what I said earlier about the whole synergy thing isn’t true! And now that you know why I think it’s such a brilliant partnership, let’s get the good stuff.

S0 you’ve decided you want to work in the wonderful world of entrepreneurship and you’ve landed your super cool and fun internship. Now, what?

Numero Uno - That Dirty, Dirty Desire.

The first tip that I’m going to give you is to want it. I know, I know, you did all the work? Why else would you be here? I mean you have to REALLY want it because you need to be ready, willing and able to work tirelessly and sometimes, fruitlessly. Things change at the drop of a dime in this space. So that strategy you were killing it on a minute ago might be scrapped the next. This isn’t because you’re doing it wrong or that your work is bad, it’s just because perhaps the focus has changed, or the target demographic is being reworked. It could be any number of things but the most important thing to note is that if you can handle these constant changes then you’re on the right on track to becoming a startup superhero!

Deuces - Be More Like Oprah, Ask for Things!

OK, bear with me for a minute. I read this quote when I was in my first semester of college and it just stuck with me: "You only get in life what you have the courage to ask for."

But isn’t that so true? If you want something you have to ask for it (within reason of course). It’s simple and it truly works. When I met with Renée Warren, CEO of Onboardly, for the first time, she asked me “What is the one thing that you want to get from this internship?” And like I mentioned earlier, I knew the one thing I wanted was for this opportunity to be an extension of my education. I wanted to be comfortable to ask a million and five questions and really take advantage of the time we were going to be working together because no one likes feeling like they’re annoying.

Three! - Be a Human Sponge

One thing I wanted to make sure I had in the internship experience was a comfortable learning environment, which if you’re looking in the right places shouldn’t be that big of an ask. But this leads me into my next tip. Learn, learn, learn and learn some more. You’re going to spend the next couple of weeks (months, if you’re really lucky) surrounded by incredibly talented folks with tons of experience and they will most likely be willing to share it with you. Be open to taking on tasks that you’re not all that familiar or confident in. You might surprise yourself! Embrace the learning curve and take your time. One of the most damaging things you can do to yourself is to misrepresent your level of competence on a project. If you’re drowning, shout for help! Think of it this way, your employer-preneur we’ll call them, would certainly rather you ask your million and five questions now than later when you’re presenting your ideas to the team or a client. Makes sense right?

Keys to Becoming a Human Sponge.

  • Take in all the information you possibly can and take notes.
  • Bookmark articles for future reference.
  • Attend webinars! (a lot of times they will even send you free ebooks with additional related content).
  • Research related industry content, read all you can and SHARE what you learn with your leaders and team. Your interest and initiative will absolutely be impressive.

Quatro - Be a Chameleon.

Let’s be clear, no one's expecting unicorns and rainbows on your first gig, however, if you allow yourself to wear a couple different hats it will definitely not go unnoticed. One of the problems I’ve heard a lot of my fellow graduate's mention when it comes to finding that first internship or even a job is their lack of experience. Yes, you have your diploma/degree but what can you really offer a business without tons of experience behind you? I’m going to tell you a little secret…

It’s not necessarily always about that.

Your employer-preneur has hired you because they see something in you. You have the general knowledge needed to understand the job, and if they’re taking on interns in the first place then they’re ready and willing to teach you a thing or 10. You need to remind yourself of this at all times because it can be easy to want to work independently and impress. So swim around, see what other projects your coworkers are sinking their teeth into and offer to take a bite yourself! This will show that you’re invested in learning about the product and/or industry and have the ability to adapt to different environments. Remember? The change is evergreen, so you’ll have more than one opportunity to bite the bullet and tackle the task.

And just like that, you’re not just a superhero, you’re a startup chameleon too!

Cinq - Be Yourself, Honey.

This is probably the most important tip, and I know what you’re thinking: you were taught this in kindergarten so why do I even need to bring this up? Girl, I get it. Here’s the thing, you’re now at one of the most important milestones of your life to date. You’re graduating, you’re joining the workforce, and maybe even for the first time, and it’s nothing to be played with - the startup-verse is demanding. It will be very easy for you to try and mold into something that you may think other people want from you. Remember that you were hired for you. Your employer-preneur has things they want to teach and they chose you as someone to pass these teachings on to and to contribute to their business, and that’s definitely something to be proud of!

6 - Know Your Limits!

Alrighty, so you’re ready for the evergreen change that is inevitable, you’re absorbing all the information you can, from your leaders, team or related publications, and you’re blending into various departments and wearing a few different hats. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Yes, this is the life of a startup, but I promise you it has almost become like second nature to me now.

My internship was only supposed to be four weeks long, which turned into six weeks, which lead to a full-time employment opportunity here as Onboardly’s Community Manager. Although I have much more to learn, I do know this - if you apply these six simple steps during your internship at a startup you will emerge as the most kick butt startup superhero, chameleon, rainbow-making unicorn this planet has ever seen! You will feel more confident, be more productive and your work will most definitely be valued. The everyday anxiety that EVERY student goes through of “am I even doing this right?” will be no more! You will be a whole new adult! A more adultier adult.

Have you interned at a startup? Tell us your story in a comment below! Or hit me up on Twitter @HeyItsMeJaredG if you're looking for my advice or have some tips and tricks of your own!