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12 Years Later, My Lessons from Being an Intern at a Big Corp

As my journey through consulting, post-grad education, entrepreneurship, and startup leadership continues, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for my co-op experiences at a big corp more than 12 years ago.

Especially now as I’m recruiting, oftentimes, less experienced candidates than in my past, I’m realizing the value of spending more time at a big corporation.

At Georgia Tech, I was a co-op for four semesters at a major 3rd-party logistics provider in Atlanta. I remember falling asleep at my desk more than a few times that first semester. It wasn’t the most exciting as I was the spreadsheet analyst at first. Over the semesters, my projects became more complex, and I earned my stripes with my own special projects.

It was some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and laid the foundation for things to come. Here are some lessons now looking back at what I’ve learned.
  • Politics – Implementing changes at a big company is like steering a massive ship – it takes time, and a lot of effort. There’s a lot of personalities involved. There will be proponents and champions as well as blockers and gatekeepers. Knowing how to speak with executives while tactfully navigating the cluster of people is imperative. Politics and risks are huge facts of life that cannot be glossed over.
  • Structure – Big companies come with big structures. As much as you may jump and grimace at “structure”, structure gives us balance and the ability to prioritize. As a co-op, I learned the value of structure through workflows, time management, and simply, how to build an analysis.
  • Professionalism – I’m hiring in a startup. Yeah, you can wear a t-shirt, if you want. We’ll throw a stress ball around and crack jokes, but you can bet we will be professional with each other and with everyone we encounter externally. Too often candidates think professionalism is just “thank you” and “yes, sir”. Professionalism is about communication – both explicit and implicit. It can be silent communication through your body language. Professionalism is how you receive feedback, speak on the phone, and write an email. Too often candidates rely on what they think is good to him/ herself but fail to recognize what’s good for others.
  • Connections – Humans are social creatures, so relationships are vital to us. In the business world, relationships enable sales, recruiting, etc. I didn’t do a great job of connecting and forming good relationships with the full-timers. I did, however, form very good relationships with my fellow co-ops that later led to all sorts of opportunities. This is where I strive to better everyday in daily interfaces.
  • Reality – This sounds simple, but it’s not. Reading the best practices in books and learning about case studies is one thing, but reality sets in in the real world that toss much of what we hope and dream for out the window. That’s not to say things can’t be better, but there are details that make businesses so much more complex. Striving for better is always the goal, but failing to realize the holistic picture of yesterday, today, and tomorrow’s business can lead to disaster.

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