I really didn't know what to expect from an internship, having heard tales from friends on grad schemes of rigid induction schedules, endless reams of printing and walking a marathon in coffee runs. Thankfully I can report that my first week at Gradconsult could not have been more different (well maybe except the number of coffee runs, but I promise they were all entirely for my own benefit).
The week started as expected: receiving an induction pack with a "what you will be doing this week" training schedule, a tour of the office and getting to know the team over brunch. But (happily) that's where my week deviated from the pre-set schedule. After receiving fantastic training sessions on CV/application screening, video interviewing and event planning, which included a trip to a wine warehouse (it's a hard life!) much of the pencilled-in activities were dropped for delving straight into my role in the business. It can be a daunting prospect - ditching the basic learning and information sessions in order to take the lead on tasks like organising interviews, searching for potential candidates with LinkedIn Recruiter and accepting the challenge of doubling our current Twitter following (https://twitter.com/gradconsult, hint hint) - but I found that it was the most effective way to learn the ins and outs of the business and increase my confidence.
Alongside development activities and jumping in to my role, I've also been given 4 of my own projects to manage. Some of the projects are designed to build on my current knowledge and expertise but others intend to push me out of my comfort-zone and will require I take all the skills I learnt from University (researching, writing proposals, juggling a range of deadlines at once, etc.) and use them to contribute to the growth of the business.
I never expected to have responsibility of my own projects so early but I think it's one of the wonderful things about being an intern or on a graduate scheme in an SME rather than in a large corporation. Instead of being just one person in a pipeline of graduates on a large corporate grad scheme, in an SME you may be the only new graduate in the company, or only one of a few, so you contribute a much greater proportion to the business. This often means more individual responsibility, greater freedom and a steeper learning curve. Plus, the size of an SME can mean that you develop a relationship, or even share a desk with senior leaders in the organisation, people who you may never even meet in a larger company.
Whilst I've learnt a great deal in my first week, here are three things I feel may be useful to other new interns or graduate employees:
1. It's all about mindset: You're unlikely to have done everything you're asked to do in your internship before and that's OK. Have a go at it and try to solve any problems yourself first - you learn far quicker by attempting a task and making mistakes than trying to remember what someone else has shown you (health and safety note: does not apply to situations involving heavy machinery!). You may find that you are far more capable than you could have ever imagined... ...But if you find that you're still stuck on something then don't be afraid to ask! You won't be expected to know everything and asking for help shows that you're willing to learn and develop.
2. Go with the flow and ditch the schedule: if you're meant to be independently researching the business or learning how to use a new computer program but something else interesting comes up that you think you'd like to have a go at then ask if you can be involved. Your team will be impressed that you've shown an interest in another area of the business and it can help you establish what you're interested in. This doesn't mean that you should ignore all scheduled learning and research sessions but if a good opportunity comes up then it's worth seeing if you can do them another time. Juggling new opportunities alongside tasks that need completing definitely puts that "great at time-management" on your LinkedIn profile to the test!
3. You really can make a difference: never forget that you really will make a positive impact to the business, particularly in an SME. You have fresh eyes and ideas, try and identify ways things can be done more efficiently, better marketing methods or even to scope out new potential areas for business.
And lastly... the intern definitely doesn't just make the coffee!