The most common questions I get at events and after talks can be boiled down to “How can I get what I want as fast as possible?” How can I get an internship at Facebook in the next two weeks? I really want to do investment banking, is it possible to lock one down in the next week? Too many students get caught up playing the short game. If you fall into this group, you have it all wrong.
I am a huge advocate of playing the long game. Yes, it requires patience and a lot of preparation up front that will take time before you start reaping any reward. You must do the necessary research, take the appropriate classes, and read relevant trade news. You should identify and follow the thought leaders in your space. Consume their content and start to form your own views. It does take time and energy, but have you really ever accomplished anything meaningful that didn’t require time and energy? All that upfront work will make you more valuable to your eventual employer. In the end, the results can exceed even your loftiest expectations.
The students who play the long game should feel blessed just to have an opportunity to intern. Of course, everyone would rather be paid for their work. But the students who buy into the long term approach do not let this affect their attitudes as interns but instead use it to motivate themselves to do better and better until the employer decides to start paying them for their work. I found myself taking this approach: “I will add so much value to my superiors and the organization that they will want to pay me.” This mentality motivated me and pushed me to new levels.
Before you take this approach, you must understand that in the workplace things are driven on value. The internship world is not any different. The pay, experience, and career advancement that you gain will be very closely correlated to the value that you bring to the table. Most of that value is derived from the sets of skills or knowledge that you have acquired in your life up to that point.
The intern who is willing to work without pay understands the long game. I have seen this play out time and time again. It is shortsighted to worry about the $10.99 you forgo on an hourly basis. The students who are patient, play the long game, and do their homework ahead of time usually crush their first unpaid internship because of the foundational knowledge they obtained before starting. Then they leverage the skill set they developed during that unpaid internship to secure a paid internship or job, earning double or triple what the first internship might have offered. They do this despite that fact that many people advise them against taking an unpaid internship.
Megan Spinelli, a college graduate I recently interviewed on my podcast “Interns on Fire,” is a great example of taking this approach. She used the skill set she built interning in media for a few smaller production companies to land an amazing internship with ABC News in New York City. Play the long game like Megan.
Build the network, invest in your skill set, fill in the applications as needed, and be patient. Those who are willing to make the proper sacrifices upfront will be rewarded many times over in the long run. Play the long game and win. Leave the shortsighted view to those who can’t see the end game.