This summer I am planning to spend my time interning once more for-and I say this with only moderate bias-the best startup in the entire world: Flow Media (link: http://flowmedia.com/). I started with them as a recent high school grad last summer, and am returning as a seasoned college vet with TWO whole semesters of freshman level business courses under my belt. Impressive, I know.
But my relationship with Flow did not begin because I applied for an internship and was super qualified and impressive. It started with a genuine conversation, a bit of initiative, and a healthy dose of self assurance.
When I first heard about Flow, all I really knew was that their business had something to do with marketing and something to do with storytelling. Because I loved both of those things I contacted the CEO, Gabe Erickson, and asked if I could meet with him sometime to learn more about his business.
After that initial conversation with Gabe, I found myself interested in Flow not just because I liked startups, or stories, or marketing, but because I was genuinely passionate about their mission and believed in the work they were doing.
And that's basically how I ended up with the greatest internship I've ever had. That one conversation led to more and I ended up building a really positive professional relationship which eventually became an internship.
Of course there were several other factors that led to that point, and simply asking a random CEO to chat isn't a sure fire way to secure an internship, but from my experience getting to know Flow I learned that genuine conversation, initiative, and self assurance never hurt:
It pays to be genuine: Be honest and sincere in your professional pursuits. Don't ask someone to get coffee because you want the job. Ask someone to get coffee because you actually want to get coffee with them (and maybe also want the job too). There will always be a little bit of both. When you look at potential jobs or internships, pursue relationships (actual relationships) with companies that you could really be invested in instead of just resume builders. People recognize and appreciate genuine people, and a high level of sincerity will take you so far. Even if you don’t end up getting the job right away, they’ll remember you and likely think highly of your character, which leaves the door wide open for opportunities in the future. Just put people first and be real. It can lead to something awesome you hadn't even considered.
Take some initiative: Create your own opportunities! Some of the best experiences are the ones you never applied for. Approach people you think you'd enjoy working with. Approach companies you are interested in learning more about. Start doing your own thing. I know there are barriers here. It seems a little scary to cold call a company or a person, and the risk of failing is a lot higher when you do your own thing. But if you are genuine and transparent most people would be happy to talk to you or give advice (it’s not creepy I promise). And the risk is there but so are you, and you have a lot of power to make things happen. Don't be afraid to take the first step towards something you might truly love.
Assure yourself: It was hard for me to believe that I could get an internship with a company like Flow at my age. I felt young and inexperienced and unsure about what role I would play in a startup. In my time there though, I've realized that you can always add value with what you have, and there is always room to grow. My absolute favorite quote and possibly the most true sentence ever spoken is by entrepreneur Malcom Forbes: “Too many people overvalue what they are not, and undervalue what they are”. We all have things we’re working towards that we see a lot of value in (for example, mine is a college degree). It’s okay to value those things, but you also have to see the value in who you are. Don't discourage yourself from pursuing any opportunity. Chances are you're actually pretty great.
The process of getting hired can be really stressful. You don't always get the interview, or the internship, or the job, but in the midst of the uncertainty I think it is helpful to remember the things we can control. You can always be kind and sincere. You can always create your own opportunities. You can always remind yourself of your skills when you’re feeling unsure. The “road” to Flow was not particularly epic or lengthy, but it did lead me to these important insights about that will always stick with me.