Embracing the #InternLife at a Startup

If you’re in college right now, you’re probably faced with the daunting task of finding the perfect internship that will offer the best mix of real workplace experience and prestige to polish up your resume for future employers.

A lot of students searching for intern work immediately throw their job applications at well-established, big-name companies, thinking that it will guarantee a solid job offer after graduation.

While that may be true, there’s also a lot to be said for bypassing the pull of prestigious corporate experience and exploring what it’s like to work in a startup setting.

There are a lot of differences, but the skill set and knowledge you gain in a startup environment can develop your workforce experience in a way that is unique and valuable in the eyes of employers.

As a student going into my senior year of college, I can understand if this all sounds a little precarious.

Why would I give up my opportunity to gain corporate experience for time at a startup that may or may not succeed?

It’s a valid question.

However, the answer lies not in where you want to put your time in as a future contributor to the workforce, but rather what skills you want to develop in order to be an asset to any company you’ll join throughout your career.

Startups are definitely different – they’ll make you embrace a unique mindset that those in a corporate environment maybe wouldn’t have. In other words, your internship experience at a small business can be a great advantage!

The truth is, your intern work for a new company can be an enriching experience that goes beyond fetching doughnuts and coffee. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned as an intern in the startup scene at Techstars for the past year.

Embrace your responsibilities.

One of the most important principles I’ve noticed while working around startups is that your work really counts, no matter how far down the ladder you think you are. Because newer companies often don’t have a lot of extra resources laying around, taking on any employee shows an immense amount of faith.

That expectation brings a lot of responsibility that can seem a bit intimidating to a college student with no real work experience, if I’m being completely honest!

As a marketing intern, I started off by simply posting social media messages on the company accounts. I was relied upon to find relevant articles and craft messages that best reflected our company voice. If you think about it, that is a tremendous amount of trust in an intern that didn’t know much about entrepreneurship and venture capital.

However, that trust developed into setting a high bar for myself, motivating me to push to learn new things and take on new projects.

It’s true that it may seem like an overwhelming amount of information you’re given at first, but you can remedy that by asking questions, doing your research, and listening to those around you. In gaining responsibility, you’ll acquire the tools you need to succeed – it’s just a matter of how you apply those tools to your work.

Creativity is key.

A special thing about interning at a startup is that your co-workers and employers are most likely learning alongside you in developing the best approach to building a business. Because they’re brainstorming and thinking through new ideas, it’s probable that they will be interested in hearing your ideas and suggestions on how to best contribute to the company vision.

This is something that is pretty cool about startups. Working with a small team to develop a unified plan for the company encourages creativity among everyone – even the interns!

This unique concept will allow you to grow in your understanding of business and expand your ability to make a difference in the company (See what I was talking about when I said it’s more than getting coffee and doughnuts?).

Like I mentioned earlier, startup life allows you to develop a unique mindset that will benefit you as you transition from a college student to a full-time employee.

Take advantage of this opportunity to embrace your creativity! Write down your ideas, push your limits, and think outside the box. You won’t regret it!

Learn, learn, learn.

Although this has already been stated previously, it’s imperative to always be learning as an intern at any company. You’ve been hired to help those around you to the best of your abilities, and it’s a good thing if you have a clear understanding of your role at the startup.

However, if you’re anything like me, you didn’t know a lot about entrepreneurship or startups. That’s not a bad thing; it’s truly a world of its own.

That’s why learning is paramount when working in your startup internship. Start off by asking questions. Read the all-hands emails, and talk to your manager or co-workers about what they mean for the company overall. How will it affect you? How will it affect your team? This is one of the ways that I began to get an understanding of how I can best contribute in my role as an intern.

Another way to learn is talking to your employer about working with other people in your team. As this is an internship, it will be your boss’ priority to get you involved in learning more about how the company works from different perspectives. In a small business setting like a startup, you can easily work with people in diverse positions and different paths of expertise to really expand your horizons.

I initially worked in social media marketing alone, however, my manager saw that it was imperative for me to start branching out to enhance my learning process as a student in the workplace. At a company like Techstars, which has a worldwide network, I found myself collaborating with regional program managers in Afghanistan, Thailand, France, China, Brazil, and more.

It really broadened my perspective to see how others within the company approach their work and contribute to the overall company vision. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn not only about your own role at the startup, but from those who are working around you.

Don’t give up on the process.

Unfortunately, not everything about working at a startup is going to be fun. You’re going to have to do “intern tasks,” like at any other internship. For my marketing work, this could include transcribing a video, organizing a spreadsheet, inputting event dates and locations to WordPress, or editing blog posts.

These tasks aren’t always enjoyable; sometimes they can seem pretty boring. However, those projects allow you to gain perspective as you begin to take on more responsibility.

If I hadn’t edited many blog posts, I might not know what to look for now when I’m helping construct a post with my team. If I hadn’t organized spreadsheets, I might not understand how to construct my own marketing strategy when managing social media content.

Learning the basics is what will allow you to gain trust, respect, and competence.

So, don’t give up on the process. It’ll take you far both in your internship and in gaining later employment experience.

Moving forward.

Hopefully by now you see that there are a lot of great benefits to working at a startup while still in college! Diving into the world of entrepreneurship can be intimidating, but doing well in your position can be fairly straightforward if you follow the right path.

Ask questions to gain a better understanding of how you can contribute. Utilize your creativity in a way that contributes best to the company vision. Get to know people as you work with them, so they’ll know how to help you grow. Take advantage of the unique opportunity you’re offered in being a part of a simple idea that’s becoming a business right before your eyes.

Work hard, help others, and keep learning. With these qualities, you’ll be set for an enriching internship experience that will benefit both you and those around you for years to come.

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