November 12, 2013

Top 10 Most Important Lessons I Learned Interning At Google, The White House, And Microsoft

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What is the issue?

1. DON’T BOTHER LOOKING AT ACCEPTANCE RATES. FOCUS ON YOUR STORY.

Not applying for something because you don’t think you can get in is poisonous. It’s easy to get caught up in assessing your chances of getting into your dream school or company, but it never leads anywhere. Ever. Rather, invest your time and energy into figuring out how to tell your story. What makes you unique? Your goal should be to tell your story in a way that makes you absolutely positive that the gatekeeper has never come across anything like it. Explaining your journey, experiences, and future goals allows the reviewer to see your potential. That’s how you get the big doors to open.

Lesson: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. What’s stopping YOU from applying?

2. MONEY IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THINK– BUILDING SKILLS IS.

Trust me. Working at the White House and at Google/Microsoft probably encompass the  two extremes of what you can financially make during an internship. Here’s something surprising: The money had no effect on my overall happiness and satisfaction from the experience. And I say this coming from a very modest background—I had to convince my mom to cosign a loan for me to intern in DC, and all of my Microsoft paychecks went to pay it off. And guess what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In my experiences it’s the work that you do and the people you are surrounded by that have the greatest effects on your overall experience. Your experience will provide more value to your life than the money you earn.

* Some people do need the money. In that case, priorities are different and that’s very understandable.

Lessons: Don’t make decisions based purely on pay. Think of how your experience can benefit the long term. What internship would you take if money was not a factor?

3. THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: THE SNOWBALL EFFECT

I’ll be completely honest and admit that I had no four year plan as a freshman (besides wanting to study abroad). The Snowball Effect is essentially a visual image of how your undergrad experience is going to progress. Picture a snowball rolling down a hill and getting bigger and bigger–picking up momentum. The earlier you start your “snowball” the bigger it will be four years later. I was too unqualified to work anywhere freshman year, but instead of returning home I went to China and taught English. When I applied to Google as a sophomore, I spoke of my experiences using technology to improve the educational experience of my students. BAM. I was headed to Silicon Valley that summer. That was the tipping point. Everything became easier when Google was on my resume. The more you do, the bigger the snowball gets.

Lesson: Start your snowball early.What is that experience that will put you over your tipping point?

4. GO TO DC AND WORK IN GOVERNMENT.

There are very few places in the world that have more “intern energy” than D.C. The place is full of bright-eyed interns and it’s amazing. Regardless of what you study, that field is impacted by government. Understanding (and seeing firsthand) how the federal government works will enrich every other experience you have. Also, some of the most inspirational friends I made came from D.C. There’s a certain spark in DC interns that is unexplainable. Be one of them.

Lesson: Take it from someone who had remote interest in politics–an internship in DC could be the most transformative experience.It was for me.

5. A SUMMER IN SILICON VALLEY WILL TEACH YOU MORE THAN ANY BUSINESS CLASSROOM CAN.

There is no place in the world that breeds more innovation than that strip from San Francisco to San Jose. While working at Google I lived with a couple of interns in a house in Palo Alto (meant for 3, but we squeezed in 6) and it was everything you dream of. You don’t gossip about people or events, but rather spend your nights discussing ideas. Big Ideas. Silicon Valley will force the entrepreneur inside you to always be consciously analyzing the status quo and asking what can be improved. A summer there made me more conscious and analytical in the way I see opportunities. It’s a trait that, perhaps some day, could have a huge pay off.

Challenge: Moving to California is where many started their dreams. Yours too, might start out West.

6. IF YOU EVER RUN INTO THE BIG BOSS…

For some reason, it seems like we’re led to believe that if you ever run into the big boss you should be ready to impress them. Don’t fall into this myopic thinking. The best story I have to illustrate this lesson is when the interns got to meet First Lady Michelle Obama. You knew it was “meet FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) day” because every girl in the room looked like she was going to prom (that’s a good thing). When I met FLOTUS, I didn’t have some well-prepared question that would show her my intelligence (or lack thereof), but rather I talked Chicago baseball with her. She ended up affirming her love for the Cubs (my favorite baseball team) and how she gave POTUS a hard time for being a White Sox fan. She gave me a hug and a high five and that was a moment I’ll never forget. And yes, she is as charming as you think she’d be.

Lesson: The most powerful people….are still people. Be Genuine. If you were the President of a company, what would make you remember an intern?

7. KARL’S RULE:

This I learned from a great mentor at Microsoft, Karl. He said you should divide your internship into three components. The first third should be focused on meeting as many people as possible. Get to know who they are, what they do, and build a connection with the people you will be working with. The second third of the internship should be when you are working hardest at your project. Get a good chunk of it done then. The last third of your internship should be focused on networking with people outside of your team and exploring the different facets of the company. Figure out what other areas of the company you enjoy.

Lesson: Divide your internship into three components to have the most impact.

8. YOUR ATTITUDE: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING PEOPLE WILL REMEMBER.

One of my best mentors from Illinois is famously known for advocating three qualities: energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. Sure, your internship could be full of unexpected downsides or people that are hard to work with. That you can’t control. What you can, however, is how you respond to it. Your attitude is so important to your performance–and it will be a huge factor in how people remember you.

Lesson: Your inner world creates your outer world.

9. CAST A WIDE NET BUT HAVE YOUR SHIPMATES.

From a relationship perspective, you should have two goals entering an internship: Get to know as many people as you can, but also develop a close group of really meaningful friends. If I were to rank the three internships on an overall satisfaction, the quality of friends I made would be the single most important factor. These are the people that, if you were arrive to their city at 3 in the morning, they would be at the airport waiting for you. There is no better treasure than making those friends at these programs.

Lesson: To conquer the seas, you need a good crew.

10.  WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO REMEMBER 15 YEARS FROM NOW?

Make those memories that you’ll one day tell your kids about.

Drinking Beer at my first TGIF at Google; Marching down the Pride Parade in SF with Google Float and supporting LGBT rights; Going to the Goodwill with my roommates and buying clothes for the Google 80’s theme Boat Cruise; Waiting in line at 5am and attending the Presidential Inauguration; Delivering the President’s Lunch Order; Volunteering to be the Easter Bunny at the White House Easter Egg Roll;Going out in Adams Morgan;Forgetting that you went out in Adams Morgan;Staying up with my best friend in DC and recreating the Wedding Crashers scene at the Lincoln Memorial; With Wine;Attending my first concert; Finding out that Macklemore and Deadmau5 were performing.

Lesson: Get Shit Done and Live it Up.

Rock on—let me know how I can be a resource to you.

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