My First Big Break, as an Intern at IBM

July 17th, 2014 / Comments Off on My First Big Break, as an Intern at IBM

I owe much of what’s happened in my career to a professor, a flier and some stalker-like persistence, which led to my first big break. In school I majored in criminal justice, and I worked outdoors at a local nursery to pay the bills. That job wasn’t meeting my financial obligations and I asked one of my professors if he knew of anything in my field of security.

He handed me a flier for an internship at IBM in Boca Raton, Florida. I applied. And since I didn’t really understand how corporations worked—I had never worked at one— I called every day to make sure they got my application and to ask about next steps. I was so polite and endearing that instead of ignoring me, they helped me. Or, at least they successfully got me off their backs and onto the hiring people’s backs.

My persistence and good grades got me an interview, where the job was explained to me: “You will be more educated than the people you will take orders from. You will go around and collect all the confidential shredding from every warehouse, pick it up, load it into truck, padlock the truck, and then follow the truck in a security car to a shredding facility, where everything will be emptied. It’s grunt work. Are you okay with that?”

“That’s easy compared to the manual labor I do and the threat of being run over by a tractor,” I replied.

I got the security internship. I went to school full time and worked at IBM taking pictures of people for their badges, filing papers and learning how to be a security guard. It wasn’t a platinum internship, but it was a platinum opportunity for me. I loved working for IBM. I kept asking how I could get hired full time.

“That never happens,” my supervisor said.

And then, somehow, it did. My boss liked me and told me about an opening in Rochester, Minnesota. I didn’t want to move to Minnesota, but I wanted a job. This was my first full-time job after college. It led to an 11-year career at IBM and a lifetime career in computers and technology. I transitioned from security guard to computer security and then into a supervisor role.

I never would have gotten through the door without that internship. Long after my interning days, I still reap the benefits of internship programs. As a business executive, internships are still a pipeline to hiring the best people. You get access to graduates/students from good schools that possess high energy and want to work hard. And it’s a great way to see if people are a fit for the company. Today, I still encourage startup companies to create internship programs. Here are the top traits for both the intern and company to consider when seeking or establishing internships:

For interns, here are the top traits of the best internships:

-They offer a great opportunity for a college student to see how business works.

-They provide mentoring programs in addition to work assignments.

-They treat people well so that they want to continue working there post-internship.

-They have a track record of hiring rising stars.

For companies, here are the top traits of the best interns:

-They have a great attitude; they are willing to do grunt work. No job is beneath them.

-They come in to learn. They don’t have an attitude of entitlement; they possess an air of enthusiasm.

-They are willing to volunteer and show initiative for taking on new challenges.

-They treat the opportunity not like a summer job, but a three-month job interview.

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