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The Internship Experience: Week 8

This post is part of our weekly series, The Internship Experience. This series details the experiences of Thomas, Amy, and Sean as interns at The Principal Financial Group. For a full recap, check out the series preview.

So far I’m already 8 weeks into my 13 week internship, and I feel like I just started! I’ve definitely learned a lot during my time here thus far, but there is still a lot to learn and discover. I’ve finally conquered learning my way around the Principal Financial Group campus which only adds to my confidence in my experience here as a whole. While I still need to use maps, the familiarity is becoming very nice.

With that, I’d like to share some advice that I want to pass along as takeaways from my internship experience so far:

  • Own up to your own mistakes (or don’t accuse others even if you believe it wasn’t your fault) – This lesson comes from a few weeks ago when I had a meeting scheduled with a mentor of mine from a leadership program at Iowa State that I was involved in who is a member of the senior management team at The Principal. Needless to say, I was already nervous to be meeting with this person even though we had met and talked on more than one occasion before. I arrived early to the meeting spot where a lady was suppose to come get me to take me up to the office where this meeting was to be held. After waiting around for half an hour after the time that the meeting was suppose to start (which by then was the time that the meeting was suppose to have ended), I decided to head back up to my desk to see if an e-mail had been sent saying he needed to reschedule. Long story short, I was not told  or aware that I was suppose to tell the security guard to call the lady down who would be escorting me up to the office and therefore, since she did not receive a call, she had not come down to get me. The meeting ended up being rescheduled for the next week and it went well, but I initially felt really bad since it probably seemed like I was not showing up or had forgotten about the first meeting. While this was not exactly one person’s fault over the other, I still apologized and claimed it to be my bad for not having her called down the first time and thus missing the meeting.
  • Remain positive and focused – While this may seem like an obvious tip when thinking about interning or working a full time job, it can be really challenging at times. I touched on this in my last post, but it’s so important to remain flexible when something is not going right or you’re not understanding a process. If you’re struggling to find the good in something, ask yourself, “What am I learning from this?” and “How will knowing this information now benefit me in the future?” Even if it’s know what not to do the next time something of the like happens again, look at it as a lesson learned and move on. Remaining focused on your work and the reason you’re there everyday and can help get your through the day. It may take breaking up the day into 2 or 4 hour chunks of time in your mind to help you get through a rough or tiring day. It’s good to get up and walk around for a minute to stretch and/or get your mind off of something so that when you go back you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle what’s next.
  • Proofread and take your time with e-mails, etc. – It took me a couple tries of sending a report out with missing information (not doing enough proofreading even though I had looked it over multiple times before I sent it out!) before I finally starting to not leave anything out. Whether it’s a subject line in an e-mail, making sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors, verifying correct dollar amounts or numbers of any kind, or double checking that you wrote the correct name of the person you’re sending the e-mail to (and that it’s spelled correctly and going to the right person – with a company as large as Principal Financial Group, there are multiple people with the same first and last name – I ran into this once, but luckily I double checked!) it’s worth the extra few seconds/minutes to look it over than to risk the embarrassment of resending an e-mail with the correct information (or to the correct person while also sending an apology e-mail to the other confused e-mail recipient who wasn’t suppose to receive that information).
  • Think things through yourself before just asking to get the answer (although it’s okay and good to ask questions if you really don’t know) While simply asking for an answer may seem like the easy way to get a problem solved to complete an assignment or task, I’ve found that it’s much more rewarding if you fully think through your own question and try to come up with the answer yourself. This may mean going back to look at a previous report or e-mail or looking through a training manual to find the answer you need. It may even mean taking a few minutes to try different approaches to see if you can get something to work out on your own. Usually it seems that I ended up being able to answer my own question if I try to find the answer myself. If you go straight to your leader or mentor (or friend, parent, teacher… whatever situation you may be in) to get an answer, it may not stick with you as much and you may find yourself needing to ask that same question later down the road. But, if you had researched it and came to a conclusion yourself, it’s much more likely to stick with you and be beneficial later. Also, if you ask a question right off of the bat without thinking about it, you may feel pretty stupid if the answer was obvious or had been right in front of you the whole time. However, once again, if you’ve tried to come up with an answer and just don’t know what to do next, it’s GOOD to ask questions at that point.
  • Be yourself, but give off a good image no matter where you are (you never know who is around or who knows who) I definitely don’t think you should try to be anyone but yourself, but trying to become a better person and bettering yourself is always a good thing. It’s important to be who you are while retaining a good image of yourself. Just because you had a few too many drinks and things happened that you remember (or were told the next day) doesn’t mean that you need to share that information with a co-worker or boss if they ask you what you did over the weekend. Don’t lie, but if it’s not something that you would want other people to know about, you don’t need to mention it. Also, while walking around the office (or the whole Principal Financial Group campus in general in my case), be sure to be aware of your surroundings while talking with a friend or co-worker. You may seem relaxed while walking and talking with a fellow intern, but that doesn’t mean that your environment is different. Cussing, taking bad about other people, complaining about your work or workload, or talking about how you can’t wait to get trashed tonight could probably be saved for a different time and place. You never know who may be around the corner (or cubicle) or who may have just walked by and caught part of your rant who you wouldn’t have wanted to hear what you were saying. That doesn’t mean that you have to talk only business all the time in the office. Be yourself and enjoy your job, but know your surroundings and act/speak accordingly.
  • Branch out of your comfort zone – It’s probably going to be really difficult to move ahead in life if you do not take some risks and chances and step out of your comfort zone when the time calls for it. That doesn’t mean that you need to never be comfortable or always on edge, but if an opportunity arises that you’re even a little bit interested in: TAKE IT! You only get one life, and it’s YOURS to live. You control it, so do what interests you, meet new people, and take a chance and go to a seminar or outing even if you don’t know anyone else who is going (it could end up being a great networking experience)! What do you have to lose?

To quote a card that I received from a friend for graduation that I believe goes well with this post:

  • What is success?
    • Setting goals but not in concrete
    • Staying focused but turning aside to help someone
    • Following a plan but remaining flexible
    • Moving ahead but not too fast to smell the flowers
    • Taking a bow but applauding those who had a part in your success