How to be a great intern
July 3, 2018 Chris Sandilands
It’s intern season and students from around the country have descended on consulting companies like Oxbow Partners to find out what the world of work is really like. (Interested in an internship advising senior management of leading insurers? See our careers page.)
It’s tricky being an intern in a consulting business. You’re clever – from a top-tier university if you’re at Oxbow Partners – but you probably don’t know much about the practicalities of business and less about the tools consultants use. So, how do you stand out as an intern? Here are three things to focus on.
1. Be hungry
An internship is in reality an extended job interview – you’re checking out the company and the company is checking you out. If there’s one thing that’s indispensable in a junior resource, it’s boundless enthusiasm and a ‘can-do’ attitude. Make sure you display real hunger to get involved, help and learn. Remember that people can only judge what they see, so be conscious of your body language and your facial expressions when you get asked to do something.
No job should be about face-time, but it’s also true that leaving first doesn’t make you look like a great team player. If you’re done before everyone else, ask if there are other things where you could help to get the job done.
2. Be reliable
Nobody is going to ask you to win a project during your internship, but people will ask you to do things which are essential to the sales process or client delivery. No matter how menial a task is that you’ve been asked to do, the chances are that it is an important component of a bigger objective.
It is essential that people can rely on you. If you’re asked to do something, ask when it’s needed by – and make sure you deliver by the deadline. If the task is harder than expected, speak to your manager as soon as you possibly can – there’s nothing at all wrong with asking, but everything is wrong with not delivering on time or asking so late that even an experienced resource can’t get the job done on time.
And there’s one other thing to remember here: if you were relying on someone else (internal or client) for something that is needed for you to complete your task, then you are in charge of making sure that person delivers. Whether you didn’t get your own stuff done, or Sally didn’t give you the data you needed in time, it’s all the same: you weren’t reliable. Tell Sally clearly and unequivocally when you need her data by. Continuously check in with her as the deadline approaches; if you’re getting nervous that she’s not delivered, or if she has missed her deadline, speak to your manager immediately.
3. Learning beats knowledge
You’ve not got the internship because of what you know – that’s what you look for in experienced hires. Instead, people will be looking for your ability to learn and use your knowledge in new environments. Make sure, therefore, that you’re presenting yourself as someone who wants to find out everything about the industry you’re working in and client you’re working for. Ask good questions, read around the subject.
Good questions come in two forms. They are questions that have arisen from what you know to further your knowledge. They are also hypotheses – “given what I’ve just learned, is it true that…?” These questions show that you’re internalising information, analysing it, and developing your knowledge. Bad questions are those that take less than a minute to answer on Google.
If you’re a top performer and are looking for an internship in your final summer university holiday, during your last year, or shortly after you graduate, please see our interns careers page to find out more.