Spring is one of the loveliest, most nostalgic times of the academic year. You are finishing the rest of your two challenging semester journey with hard-won grades, assignments, and an established university presence to show for. You deserve a pat on the back at the very least for the countless hours you spent in your collegiate environment, yet they are about to wind down as you take the next steps towards planning your summer.
As you plan this journey, I would like to share four tips to leave you prepared, confident, and ready to plant the seed for success.
Establish your unique brand
If a picture is worth a thousand words, can you just imagine how important that beginning day on an internship is when forming a first impression? Branding is important not only for consumer goods, but for people as well. TV personalities and those in the spotlight are keenly aware of how delicate and valuable their brand is. You don’t need to be (one of my female role models) Ivanka Trump, with a family legacy in business to establish yourself professionally.
A brand is not just identified from a watermark on a stationary or a glossy business card. A brand is the symbolism of YOU in the flesh and what YOU represent to others. If you take away your name, character, and appearance, that brand no longer exists. In the same way, if you take away the name “Trump” from any one of the luxury hotels that frame the skyline, there would be no unique association and connection for the consumer.
These brands, and the unique individuals who make them, work long and hard to have their name acknowledged and to maintain them. As such, it only makes sense that females looking to become leaders in their own field start understanding their unique brand and how they can project and sustain that effectively and purposefully.
In her book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, Trump emphasizes that each person has been dealt “a winning hand,” and it is up to each of us to play it right and smart. You are the only one who can understand this winning hand fully. Knowing this, its important your best traits come across in your branding.
So how does “branding” translate to an office setting? If you define your priorities from the start of a new position as well as voice your concerns, contributions, and care in the subject matter, your brand will develop along with you. Your projects, work ethic, and approach all indicate the kind of person you are. If you desire certain key traits, such as “responsible, diligent, or creative,” its important to demonstrate them – not quietly, but with appropriate emphasis.
Form a Routine
As mundane and lackluster as the word “routine” might seem, it is actually the key to success in any field.
In college, we are used to the bombardment of assignments, events, and responsibilities that come our way. Efficiency is sought only through the tackling of each item one by one. Even the smallest routine such as setting out work clothes for the following day, reading your materials the night before, or even planning periods of rest before a long week can invigorate, strengthen, and empower you during the hustle and bustle of the some 20-40 hour work week.
The less small things you have to worry about, the more you can focus on the big picture items in front of you. You will also feel more control and stability. Even better, your consistency will be inevitably visible to your colleagues. Continuing with the idea of branding, since very few of us have a photographic memory, it is important to consistently project the image and behavior we wish to be known for day in and day out to establish our brand.
Build Trust-Based Relationships
At the start of any new role in a foreign environment, it might be hard to break the ice in that first week. One has to remember that the internship environment can be intimidating, demanding, and mentally / physically draining.
When you are first introduced to this new territory, it can feel a lot like stepping into a beehive. There is a lot of buzz from your co-workers, much work to be done, and yet you are trying to figure out how to get noticed amongst your worker bees. Its important in this initial stage, to reach out to at least one mentor you can trust.
While navigating unchartered waters, you want an experienced captain, and that is exactly the kind of mentor you should aim to befriend. This mentor might be pessimistic and cautious of associating themselves with you at first, given past experiences with interns or the many responsibilities they already carry, thus do not be discouraged if this is the case, however do not expect too much of that person. They will also be examining you, to see if you can meet their expectations. Professional friendships are time consuming and slow to develop, but worth every ounce of energy as these individuals may root for you and guide you along as well.
If you look at Sheryl Sandberg, you will notice that her career path was not a set of random events. In fact, there is a consistency and trust-based relationships are a common theme in her work experiences. Sandberg’s Harvard professor, Larry Summers, was her mentor and thesis advisor during her undergraduate years. Summers recruited Sandberg for research at the World Bank, and after graduation when her professor became United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, she was recruited to be his Chief of Staff.
In instances like these, there is no real value you can place on professional relationships, especially considering they can have life-changing influences as in the case of Ms. Sandberg.
To reiterate on the first two pieces of advice, professional relationships are usually based on a “give and take” philosophy. Your colleagues need to first understand in general terms who you are, and what you offer, before trusting you with vital information or projects. Interns do not need to wear their resume on their sleeve, but they should be known for certain valuable traits and skills.
Establish a Record of Experience
Writing after a long day at work is not a very appealing notion on the surface. However, to pinpoint the areas in which you can and have grown, its important to have a diary. It allows you to examine the skills you have gained and the obstacles overcome.
Particularly notable leaders in history have kept a diary, such as Presidents Harry Truman and George Washington. The public has studied these to gain access to the complex psyche of these movers and shakers. Yet for all practical purposes, whether or not you are planning on writing an autobiography later in life like so many leaders and modern day celebrities, its important to have a grip of the pace and influence of your progression as a female in a competitive workplace.
This diary does not need to be time-consuming; only a 10-15 minute journaling bi-weekly would make a difference.
Whatever organization you work for, each has a set of principles and a mission they aim to meet. If you find yourself the project leader for a nonprofit or private sector game-changer, think about how you want your work to contribute to the lives of others. This contribution may very well be indirect as a novice in a field, but will have immediate and future benefits.
I would like to end this conversation with words of advice from alum of my university, and one of history’s most elegant and multi-talented personages: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Her opinion regarding female expression is invigorating and telltale of how she was able to infuse grace, intelligence, and beauty in her role of First Lady:
“Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it and how you would like to change it. All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”
Our First Lady enchanted us with all the four criteria in the equation for success we discussed: an undeniable charming brand, a dynamic routine to execute her public service agenda, trust-based relationships within her circle, and a record of her days in Camelot with that of 35th President, John F. Kennedy, shared in biographies and poetry for all of America to view. It was these four elements which made way and provided an intellectual and social space for her work and enduring legacy.
I pray that in taking on your summer internship and working towards that C-suite position, you are able to utilize the four elements in the equation we discussed to attain success: branding, routine, trust-based relationships, and recording your experiences. Ultimately, this is all in order to enable your unique voice to shine through and be recognized, respected, and remembered.
Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.