I like today’s question because it’s so specific. Not many people bother asking about the skills picked up during an internship, they’re more concerned with the skills you need to get one. Smart question, anonymous asker, smart question.
Focusing on tangible results & setting expectations for yourself pre-internship is a great way to structure your experience, an idea I had very late in life. Having an idea of what you should know by the end of your internship helps you structure a simple learning plan to follow at work, plus preps your transferrable skills for your next venture.
Everyone should have a concrete idea of what they want to know//not be a complete novice on before the midpoint of their internship, so that you can set aside time for both self-assessment and for performance reviews with your manager, boss, and//or coworkers.
BONUS: A simple, concrete way to get quick, and (more importantly) actionable feedback is to ask, “How am I doing on [this certain skill that I know I suck at] and what’s 1 thing I can do right now to get better at it?”
Asking a general “How am I doing?” will get you a generic “Doing great!” + thumbs up reaction, which is useless since you’re an intern. You’re not supposed to be doing great. You’re supposed to be learning and growing and slightly failing but always pulling through at the end. If you were doing great, you should be getting paid the equivalence of those people.
Remember that no matter where you go or what you do, people love giving you their opinion on how you can do better//be more like them as long as they feel like you’re seriously asking them for it. Use that to your advantage in your quest for self-improvement.
To help you get an idea of what kind of skills you can and should be picking up at your internships, I broke down some of the skills I have that I attribute to interning into the table below.
It’s too difficult to break down everything per internship since I can’t pinpoint the exact moment a task started becoming easier to do. So instead, I divided the skills into 2 broad categories, Technical & Soft. From there, I broke it down into narrower subsets based on the kind of tasks I did.
DISCLAIMER BEFORE YOU READ:
This isn’t even close to everything I learned, it’s just what comes to mind.
In other words, this is the trauma that haunts me if I let myself randomly reminisce.
Don’t compare your internship learnings to mine because a) everyone’s learning journey is different. And b) this is just a quick skills recap out of the many, varied internships I’ve had. This is by no means an exhaustive list nor a “things to pick up at your first and last internship” list.
But to help provide you better context, I chose work that was usually full time, for 8 weeks, in high-pressure environments where I was well taken care of by HR. I had a clear line of command, and a coworker near my age to guide me. There was a project with parameters, and a senior executive who wanted my project to push through and succeed.
Translation: I volunteered to be thrown into environments where I was expected to pick up everything thrown at me within 36 hours, and succeed.
But I didn’t succeed; more often than not, I didn’t even come close.
There were a lot of lectures, on talking too much or not talking enough, on not delivering on time or not delivering what they wanted to see, on being too simple with my solutions or on thinking of too complex a system. The moment I thought it was getting easier was the moment before I’d get another lecture.
Truthfully, now that I’m in full on reminiscing mode, I realized I spent too many lunch breaks either
going for a solitary walk around the nearest mall, with my earphones playing really aggressive music or
crying in a bathroom cubicle or
sitting at my desk, staring at the screen and typing sporadically while screaming in my head.
But the benefit of hindsight shown me that I’ve never hated my internships for causing so much unwarranted stress in my life; I chose to do this after all. What it does mean is that a good internship can and will kill you, in its quest to make you into a stronger person who can deliver actual results in a real work environment.
Just be open to the struggle.
And please, don’t compare yourself to other people. There’s so much better things to worry about. Like how climate change will kill us all, so how should we change human habits to mitigate that incoming disaster.
Before you go off into that worry spiral though, here are the specific skills I have that either made me tear my hair out or made me tear up in the process of gaining them.
Survey & Questionnaire Design
User & Consumer Interview
Constructing a Representative Sample for Whole Population
Ethnographic Consumer Research
Observation-Based Consumer Research
In-depth Process Interviews
How to present a 15 slide PPT in 5 mins
How to present a 15 slide PPT in 30 mins
How to build a 43-slide deck in 10 mins because my boss suddenly said we should have a ‘catch up’ meeting aka he wants me to do a full presentation on what I’ve been doing the last 3 weeks but all I’ve been doing is mucking around
How to edit a deck in 5 mins because you asked what should be in the PPT and they said 4 sections you didn’t add in and 2 sections you haven’t even started on yet
Simple Statistical Analysis
Multiple Hypothesis Testing
Pivot Table Analysis
Comprehensive Quantitative Analysis of Qualitative Traits
Data Visualization & Presentation
Conclusions Proof Using Consumer Stories
Talking to higher ups, especially when they’re not my direct boss
Writing short, to-the-point emails
Writing long, professional emails in a formal voice
Not using exclamation points in emails because I think I’m being too serious in this email and I need to lighten the mood
Cutting out my bad habit of nervous laughing, talking too fast, and not talking at all because people are weirded out by me.
Setting & following your own deadlines
Breaking down your deliverables into smaller, more manageable tasks
Placing those deliverables into Gantt Charts (then explaining why you didn’t follow it)
Updating teams and stakeholders involved frequently
Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Dealing with unhelpful stakeholders
Punctuality, especially to meetings, but usually for work because traffic.
Initiative in asking questions about expected output, about what not to do, & about possible hypotheses because you don’t want to build the wrong thing. For the 3rd time.
Creativity in volunteering new solutions, adapting them to the project, and pilot testing them yourself so that they like you better.
Detail-oriented, especially with documentation for transitioning the project because you don’t want them to call randomly during a school week because they don’t know how to implement your recommendations
Fun fact about my punctuality skill. Because I hate how bad traffic and commute lines at the MRT are, I was usually in the office before 7am everyday. The boss of my boss saw me sitting in the pantry one time, and was so surprised that a 19 year old awake that early, that he invited me to have breakfast with him everyday.
We started having morning chats where he usually asked me about what it’s like to be a teenager, and how he as a parent can help. Roughly, how should he prepare for the incoming angst and anger from his teenagers. And I asked him about the things that scared me about my future and the future of work. What it’s like to just upend your life to go abroad, to constantly have to learn new things long after you left school, and to spend your entire working life in 1 company. A mutually beneficial partnership.
I wouldn’t have had this once-in-a-lifetime experience if I hadn’t been such a cheapskate about commuting. How many times do you get to sit and chat for prolonged periods of time with an executive director, old enough to be your father’s older brother? For me, I doubt it’ll ever happen again. And I’m ok with that. Once is enough.
So, again, be open to the terrible realities of your working life because for sure there’s some silver lining in between everything we have to endure from working in Manila.
Other things I learned that aren’t really a transferrable skill but are still pretty relevant life skills:
How and where to find cheap food in Makati and BGC (whole meal < Php75),
Always wear comfortable work shoes (because I walked once from Forbes to my office in Paseo, thanks to airport traffic, and I don’t think I could have done that in flats or worse, heels),
The words needed to operate an Italian coffee machine (and that I really don’t like coffee),
How to survive working in Makati and BGC using only Php1000 a week
Also, I got to sit in during a lot of job interviews and conduct quite a few myself, so I know what we look like from the other side of the table. We look terrible, we make nonexistent eye contact, and whether we realize it or not, we fidget a lot. Something to work on pre-interview.