This is a guest post by Stephanie Wiriahardja, Community Manager at social media management platform HootSuite.
Dirty bikes, wandering dogs, men with beards. Not exactly my dream workplace, but after a short chat with the Director of Marketing then, Dave Olson, I was sold. It was pretty easy to convince to me to be a full-time intern at HootSuite because I was already an avid user and have always admired the tool and what it enabled me to do. So when Dave gave me the opportunity to be a part of it as an unpaid intern for Indonesian Community Ambassador and Design, I accepted without doubting myself for a second.
My parents and my friends were not as pleased with the decision. They did not understand why I would work full time for free and it did not help that they had no clue what HootSuite was – it was a relatively small company then, with only 45 employees and barely 3 million users worldwide – but saw how determined I was and had no choice but to support my decision.
The next few months was a test for me. It’s not glamorous to work as an unpaid intern, and it was difficult to feel so ridiculed by others around me when there are many other things to sacrifice:
- The most obvious one is, of course, money. I had to adjust my lifestyle to fit this and I would not suggest an unpaid internship if money is a huge concern. Fortunately for me, my parents paid for my education and supported my daily living costs, and I still had some money from my previous jobs to get by. At that point anyways, I felt like I was still lacking a lot of experience and needed to earn my chops before I deserved payment.
- Time. In the back of my mind, I always knew working as an intern is not a waste of time. I learned so much every day and from things I was never exposed to as a student.
- Ego. My friends were all excited and congratulated me for the position, but when they found out that it was unpaid, they were stunned. It’s almost as if it’s taboo to take on an unpaid internship!
So are you here because you’re considering interning for a company you adore? Great. Read on.
People have different opinions about internships. Let them be. What is most important is what you hope to get out of it. For me, I often compare internships to school. I pay so much money to educational institutions throughout my life in the hopes of getting some knowledge. It’s pretty much the same thing as an internship, but the most wonderful thing is, you don’t have to pay! You pay with your time, but you do that with school too. To me, an internship is a free education: I get to learn things first hand and I get to practice in the real world. For me, that’s much more valuable than listening to theories in class. I’m not saying a degree is not important–it definitely is, but an internship should be thought of as a diploma. It gets you far with your experience and network, which helps you significantly down the road.
I had the chance to work with a few interns with various backgrounds and even from different continents. Some of them were here because they love the tool, but some were just looking for another experience to put under their belt. For me, both were true, so it was easy for me to stand out and show my passion.
That’s my number one tip if you want to be recognized and valued: be passionate, be genuine. I showed my interest in social media and design and clearly expressed my desire to jump into marketing. Your supervisor and co-workers will be more than happy to mentor you and give you tasks in things that you are more interested in. They know you are there to grow, and they will do whatever they can to make sure you grow in the area of your interest.
To be honest, during the first few months of my internship, I always had the same three questions in mind: Am I doing a good enough job? Will I get hired? Will they just let me go when the contract ends?
Let me tell you right now, get these questions out of your mind. Yes, they help to remind you to work harder, but to be a super intern you should already know that in the back of your head and you don’t need a reminder.
Consider yourself a full-time employee. Live and breathe the company as if you are a full-time employee and you will be (just in time). Step up to the plate whenever you can, assist your co-workers, receive and give critical feedback with a big heart and open mind, respect your co-workers, and show leadership attributes.
Do everything with a big smile on your face and show enthusiasm. You are there to learn and as boring as the task might be, it is up to you to make the best out of it. About a month ago, Dave broke his foot and had trouble walking around the office. He was in the middle of interviewing someone when he asked me to get him a cup of coffee. It was the first time he asked me to get him something in the six months I was there. I wasn’t offended by it at all; instead I was excited because I finally got to learn how to use the coffee machine. I don’t drink coffee so I had no idea how to operate the machine, but I do now!
Make allies. Your coworkers are remarkable human beings. Take the first step to introduce yourself to them and ask them to go for lunch with you. Find out what they do in the company and get to know them. Not only that it helps you around the company, but it is also great in a long term, no matter if you end up working at the company or not. If you don’t end up working for the company, at least you have insiders that will let you know if there are future opportunities, or most likely be happy to refer you to their networks.
This internship has been the most amazing work experience I have ever had. I have previously worked at SFU Career Services (my first paid job ever!), 2010 Winter Olympics Broadcasting Services, and Port Moody Arts Centre. They were all paid work, but I did not enjoy what I was doing. I was not passionate about the company nor the work. I was not satisfied and could not wait to leave the office, hoping the position would end soon. The opposite happened with HootSuite. I couldn’t wait to go to work when I woke up every morning.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and here I am still loving my work at HootSuite, now as a Community Manager, Higher Education. I never imagined I could be in a managerial position in such an early stage of my career, but I worked hard to gain this position. I trusted my gut feeling and let my passions drive me: you should, too.