Specific skills you picked up at your internship? – The Border Collective

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.

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
Collecting Data
User & Consumer Interview
Constructing a Representative Sample for Whole Population
Database Management
Ethnographic Consumer Research
Observation-Based Consumer Research
In-depth Process Interviews

Presentation Skills
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
Insight Generation
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.

Project Management
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
Fire Fighting
Dealing with unhelpful stakeholders

Personal Traits
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.

I Sat Next to James Bruce, EVP at Unilever, for 1 Hour – Here’s What I Learned

I don’t graduate until December 2017, but back in February 2017, I signed with Unilever to become a Unilever Future Leader (UFL) once I finally finish school in January 2018. While my batchmates hunted for their first jobs and hit fresh grad milestones (like first paycheck, first overtime, and other symbolic rites of passage), I get to enjoy being a student a semester longer. Cracking open history textbooks, writing papers on the impact of the Catholic Church’s encyclicals, and debating on what Plato meant through his discourse on ‘existence’. Fun.

So, I was surprised when Unilever called the other week with an invite to have lunch with both my future department and the EVP of Enterprise & Technology Solutions (ETS), James Bruce. I never expected that the company would include me for something as important as a luncheon with one of the global management team. But that’s the culture of Unilever: inclusive to all on opportunities for growth and fun.

Unluckily, all my classes happened at the same time as lunch. But my personal philosophy is I don’t cut class for anything but once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. So, I didn’t mind missing school. That much.

My first hour at Unilever’s office was spent talking to the older UFL’s and managers of my department. I got a lot of great advice and insight on how to approach the job once I start in January, which I’ll someday write up and share since I think it’s great advice anyone starting a new job can apply.

The rest of my stay at Unilever was for the luncheon, and being the youngest, the group sacrificed me to sit right next to James Bruce himself. I’m glad they did that because I got to listen closely to the discussion, while still enjoying my roast chicken.

A bit on James Bruce from my perspective as a random college student at the luncheon.

He’s funny, gregarious, a fantastic story teller, and sharp as a whip. His insights on the future of tech, project management, and Unilever cemented that I made the right choice in choosing Unilever over everyone else. Working under the leadership of someone both compassionate and capable will be a fantastic growth experience, not only for me, but for all of us in ETS. I can’t wait to start work and see where we go as a division, from 1 hour of listening and engaging with him.

Here are some favorite key insights from my hour sitting next to James Bruce:


On the future of AI and its impact:

It’s coming whether we like it or not, and the ones who aren’t preparing for the change will be its first victims. The best way to future proof your jobs and usefulness is to constantly study, not just the new technology but also the new practices and processes in your field.

Stay sharp and keep refreshing your knowledge, even if what you’re studying doesn’t seem that useful today. Somehow some way, it will come in handy. Skills nowadays have a lifespan of 3 years, meaning we can’t rest on our stock knowledge if we intend to have a long career.

Life is constantly changing and those who don’t change with it are going to get left behind.


On the best trait to hone:

Be analytical. Don’t just prepare the data, run the numbers, and make the obvious conclusions. Take the analysis further by posing questions your stakeholders would have. Get into their mindset and practice, practice, practice. Never have we had so much data at our fingertips and each passing day, people are working hard to organize it for intuitive use.

We need to learn how to use all that data to make better choices, more comprehensive analysis. Yes, sometimes it’s best to trust your instincts, but it’s better to back up those instinctive choices with historical data analysis.

So, get comfortable with using data to make smarter, better decisions, especially in the wake of the coming AI revolution. And start analyzing.


On covering your weaknesses:

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, (and being completely realistic about them), are how you position yourself for a successful career. If you know your strength is in telling stories, in connecting raw data analysis to overall business impact, or in outlining for others how their work can change how the company is run, then you need to leverage that. Volunteer for work that lets other people see that this line of work is your strength. That you are the rising expert in it.

But don’t abandon your weaknesses. Work on them as well, but just enough to ensure that they’re not pain point beacons people can use against you. If you can, partner with people who can cover your weakness, and you theirs. Train with them; learning how to amend your weakness while teaching them how to copy your strengths.

Being open with your knowledge, share freely, and keep a realistic view on how much you can improve.


On feeling attached to your past work in a VUCA world:

James Bruce used to be the CFO for the UK & Ireland before transitioning to becoming EVP for ETS. Recently he spoke with the new members of his old team and he commented that it was like they were speaking in tongues. All the work and processes he enacted as CFO were gone; the team’s reaction to his inquiries were closer to “Oh, we used to do that?” rather than “Yeah, we phased that out last year.”

Someone a bit more self-centered might have felt hurt that their hard work was relegated as obsolete. But James Bruce was accepting about it, explaining to us that all this change is for the best.

Don’t get attached to the old ways. New processes are only introduced if they make the company better, and that’s the end goal for all our work. To make the company better.

Another great insight from this was, the organization is filled with young people, who are constantly bringing change and improvements with them. Embrace the young people and what they bring, because that’s how your company will survive.