A Guide for Summer Interns: Your Personal Matrix
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
As the midpoint of summer fast approaches, it’s time to take stock of your summer internship and make sure you’re moving in the right direction. Unlike the reliable guidance you may have received from coaches and professors over the course of your college career, by now you may have found that mentoring in the workplace is a different story entirely. The reality, especially for summer interns, is that: a) there is no roadmap to tell you what your goals are for the summer and how to achieve them; and b) you are required to be your most ardent advocate — no one else will do it for you.
“No one cares more about managing your career than you do,” a senior partner at Goldman Sachs once said to me. So now that you’re in the driver’s seat, how do you manage your all-important internship? More specifically, how do you make the experience worthwhile both from a learning perspective and from a strategic perspective — i.e. scoring a full-time offer, securing a great letter of reference or simply making a positive impression on your colleagues to leverage going forward?
Here’s an instructive way to think about where you are now, where you’re going, and how to get there — it’s called Your Personal Matrix and it includes a snapshot of your Current Situation along with your Wish List of where you hope to go/be:
The midpoint of your internship is a great time to take stock of where you’ve been. What have you learned and/or contributed thus far and who have you worked with or connected with? Go ahead and draw up your list — projects you’ve worked on, teams you’ve led, assignments you’ve asked for and experience you’ve gleaned — then be able to communicate those achievements to others.
What are you particularly proud of? What do you find yourself speaking about with colleagues or at social events? This isn’t your resume; it’s your dashboard of exciting projects or proud moments, notable wins or important milestones. At its most mundane, it might simply be a collection of tasks that now warrant your designation as someone experienced in a particular area or an acknowledgement of certain people within your organization with whom you’ve built meaningful relationships. In effect, these are your talking points about your summer internship to date.
Your Wish List is hopefully more fun to dream up and represents your strategic direction or goal post. Where do you want to be by summer’s end? What types of projects do you want to work on that are reasonable and realistic — aspirational perhaps, but not completely out of left field? What do you need to learn or master? What do you want or need exposure to?
Next, who are the people that can help make those goals happen? Who are the decision makers, power brokers or wheelers and dealers in your organization who you can and should establish and build relationships with? Who are the rock stars that you can learn from? Who are the people slightly senior to you that might serve as mentors? Who are the executives who might serve as champions? Have you reached out to anyone on your list? Have you begun to build friends and allies within your organization?
Once you’ve got your matrix, you have your starting point (Point A) and your end goal (Point Z). Filling in the blanks of how to get from here to there just got a whole lot easier. Not easy, mind you, but easier.
Start plotting points that will get you from A to Z with tangible, manageable steps. You can sit down with your manager for an informal conversation or at your midpoint review and ask to work with certain people or projects on your Wish List. Volunteer for new initiatives, ask for a specific project or assignment or just highlight your desire to work with Ben, Steve or the product development team in the coming weeks.
Whether or not you actually share your matrix with your manager or mentor, use it to guide your discussions around career development and next steps. If you’re so bold as to whip out the sheet of paper and show you’re boss that you’re thinking critically and strategically about what you want to accomplish or learn and who want to work with, you’re likely to impress. Even if you simply use the information to start a dialogue around your career development, you’re still in great shape. Essentially, you’re doing your manager’s work for her by giving her an outline of how to best put your talents to use over the next several weeks or months. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?
Lastly, keep your Personal Matrix tucked away for that next job or career change — and update it as needed. It’s a tool that will come in handy not only during your summer internship but over time in lieu of those college professors and advisors guiding you along the way.