Internship to C-Suite: turning your learning experience into a career dream come true

by Sable Badaki

Internship. This word creates images of free labor, coffee runs, copying and other menial tasks. Actually, there was a time, when  “intern” was synonymous with grunt work.  More and more organizations are recognizing the value of training young minds and building relationships for future mutual benefit.   Companies are recognizing, this as an opportunity to showcase themselves to the future job seeker. While the job seeker, views this as an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities to a potential employer.

Internships are structured career work experiences obtained by students prior to graduation from an academic program.

With the continuous talent war and the millennial work perspective, organizations cannot afford to waste this opportunity. Internships are similar to first dates; therefore everyone is on his or her best behavior.  Like first dates, if everything goes well a longer commitment is proposed.

So, if you have an opportunity to have an internship. Use it wisely.

During this time, examine suitability – do you enjoy working at a large or small firm? Do you fit into a structured or unstructured environment – Google vs. Citibank?

Consider the application of your education on this work, are your comfortable using your biology degree in a lab or do you prefer fieldwork? Research?

Be present. They are evaluating you not only for this assignment perhaps for a role after your graduation.  This could be the beginning of a successful career in this organization. Make the best of it. Here are some lessons learned from other women who took their internship seriously and move from the cubicle to the corner office.

Mary Barra made history as the first woman in the C-suite in the male-dominated automobile industry.   Mary didn’t start her career in the C-suite. She landed at GM more than 30 years ago on the factory floor as an intern. It is during this internship, she earned the GM Fellowship to attend Stanford for her MBA.

The beauty giant Avon crowned its first female CEO, Andrea Jung in 2001. She started her career in the fashion industry with a coveted Bloomingdale’s summer internship, while attending Princeton University. It was her internship credentials that help land her first job after graduation with retail giant I. Magnin & Company.  Andrea brought her retail depth to a struggling Avon giving the 100-year-old brand a facelift and became the face of Avon as she led them to profitability.

Ursula Burns maybe the leader of the world’s largest copier giant, Xerox. But, her career is filled with originality. Ursula started her career as a mechanical engineer intern.  Most engineers remain on the technical track and hope one day to assume a managerial role. Ursula took the unlikely route of being an executive assistant to a VP, which gained her the exposure she needed to demonstrate her unusual leadership skills to later become the CEO.

Andrea gives every intern words to live by “bloom wherever you are planted.” As you blossom, only time will tell where you may full bloom.


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