Like most college seniors, halfway through my final year I was stressing about what I was going to do to make a living.
I was already working. In fact, I’d been working since I was 12 years old. My first job, as a paperboy, was one I’d coveted for a long time and one I loved, even though it wouldn’t be everyone’s ideal. I got up at 5 a.m. and biked to the gas station, where the papers were delivered. I waited, with a blanket covering me, until the papers arrived. I became a master at folding the papers in record speed and spent the route in a contest with myself to toss each paper, so that it landed perfectly on the porch. One time, the paper flew through the screen door! That was the end of that game: The cost to repair the door came from my earnings. At that time, the paperboy was also in charge of collections, and I soon learned the lengths people would go to in order to avoid a 12-year-old on payment day.
As much as I learned to hustle in those days, I also learned to be polite. Both of these skills helped me with later jobs, including working at Mister Donut, delivering mattresses, and working throughout college at Patrick’s Nursery. We sold plants wholesale, but I saw another opportunity to go into the retail business and talked them into letting me create my own little shop and share the profits. It was successful, and I loved working with those guys; they became like family. But, then, almost out in the real world, I needed a job when I graduated that provided more opportunity. I needed to secure something I could be in for the long haul.
I spoke about it with a professor who said, “I just got this flyer with this job at IBM. Would you like me to send a reference?”
“Heck yeah,” I said. I thanked him and also asked him to share the contact with me.
I had NO idea how big companies worked at this time. I called the contact number my professor shared with me. “Hi, I heard you’re looking to fill the position of part-time security guard. I’m a senior at Florida Atlantic University interested in the job. Please let me know if I can meet with you,” I left on a voicemail.
I didn’t hear back, so two hours later I called again. “Hi, I haven’t heard back, so I just wanted to see if you got my voicemail. I want you to know I’m still interested.”
I did this for three days in a row. Then, I was thrilled when my mother called and said IBM had called at home to schedule an interview.
When I went to meet with IBM, they asked me a series of questions about my willingness to take on the job. “This is probably beneath you, but would you collect confidential paper trash, take it to a padlocked truck, drive it to the incinerator, and make sure everything is disposed?” they asked. “Or, do you think that’s beneath you?
“No,” I replied. “I’m out in the nursery every day, working in the fields and on the trucks.”
“Are you willing to walk around and check that doors are closed and take pictures for identification badges? Would that bother you?” they asked.
“No,” I said.
“Well, you have to realize this is in no way a full-time job because we have a freeze on hiring. It will only be for six months.”
“Okay,” I said. It offered more than I was making at the nursery and none of the job requirements bothered me. All I could think was, “Put me in, Coach. I want to play.”
Once I got the job, I did the work required of me, and I also asked everyone I worked with what the key to success was. I learned from them and I continually volunteered for new tasks — especially the ones no one else wanted. Eventually, after a few months, I built a good reputation and my manager came to me and said, “We can’t hire you because of the freeze, but maybe IBM can hire you full-time somewhere else.”
I was offered a job in Rochester, Minnesota, and moved there to become a security guard. There were six to seven interns in the program that year and two of us got hired as employees. The other eventually went on to head security at Salesforce.com. During my tenure at IBM, I volunteered for other tasks, and as I did at Patrick’s Nursery, I offered suggestions for new opportunities. “We protect all this confidential information on paper, but how do we secure what’s on the computers?” With that, I transitioned from a blue-collar to a white-collar job at IBM, stayed 12 years, and went on, after a bunch of jobs in between, to become the COO of eBay. But that six-month internship at IBM is what got me in the door and on this path.
Reflecting back, I realize I learned a lot from my internship experience about what to look for in an intern, and I also gained the understanding that the right intern could become the right full-time team member. This has been an essential lesson, at this point in my career, as I look for the right talent to help my organizations grow.
A few years ago, we needed an intern at the Webb Investment Network and we took out an ad looking for someone to help us with investments for six months. One of the applicants, Jeremy Schneider, stood out head and shoulders above the rest. He had a great attitude and lot of hustle. He was setting out on his Bain externship and looking for a temporary post where he could work with entrepreneurs and learn about investing in them. He was smart, but humble and willing to work hard. He came to work every day with a great attitude and was open to coaching. He came to 1:1s with questions for me, and wanted to understand how I worked, what I did — and why. His work ethic reminded me of someone else I knew a long time ago.
We wanted to hire Jeremy full-time, and luckily he accepted our offer. Two years later, he became an investment director and is now an essential member of our team. And, although he’s been promoted, he’s stayed scrappy — committed to working hard and always taking on more. Internships are a great opportunity for everyone. It’s a way to get to know talent and see if you like them, and he or she can see if they like working with you.
What makes a great intern stand out?
- Do they do good work?
- Do they attack problems and assignments with gusto, creativity, love, and timeliness?
- Do they ask questions and want to learn?
- Are they easy to work with?
- Are they fun to be around?
- Do they complete their assignments and then volunteer to do other jobs?
- Are they just looking for something to look good on their resume or are they clearly committed? Do they want to get hired?