The opportunity to develop the skills necessary to secure a job or build a business is not evenly distributed to all. In fact, for vulnerable and marginalized people around the world, it’s often out of reach.
I learned that lesson early on.
Growing up as an inner-city youth from the Bronx in New York City, I was once in a similar position. I needed to take extra steps to obtain information that was not easily accessible to me.
Growing up and giving back
Thanks to those in my “village” who helped raise me, I learned about various opportunities, and I was even awarded a full scholarship to Drexel University. I later earned two additional college degrees while working, which were also funded by organizations.
These life experiences are why I’m so passionate about the work I do with Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Intern Program, which creates a bridge between our nonprofit partners and opportunities for employment at Accenture, while upskilling America’s future workforce. The program expands our pool of qualified candidates and even extends this opportunity to high school upperclassmen, providing earlier exposure than traditional internship programs. It is part of our Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship initiative, which aims to equip more than 3 million people by 2020 with the skills to get a job or build a business.
Skills to Succeed interns work on everything from technical projects, such as developing mobile apps to assisting on our help desk, serving in a client-facing role or even working on our corporate citizenship team. Since taking over this role in June, I managed more than 30 interns in Washington, D.C., and nearly 140 interns in more than 20 cities across the U.S. this summer. This amazing experience introduces our interns to what it’s like to work in a corporate setting. And they obtain skills that last a lifetime.
Making the transition from intern to employee
I’ve worked with hundreds of interns, and I’ve seen the impact the experience can have—not only on careers, but on lives. There are a few simple ways interns can rise above the crowd and kickstart their career.
One shining example is from our current program. From showing up super early for orientation to his dapper attire and the professional way he verbally presents himself, Michael puts his best foot forward every day. Not only has he captured the “golden nuggets” from signature programs, he also asks clarifying questions on topics he wants to further explore. I know Michael is going to be a star in future pursuits—and in life overall.
Michael Prather and Taria Smith
Five sure-fire ways to stand out:
Communicate. While it sounds simple, some people lose this skill, or forget to focus on it. You’ll mostly be working in a team environment, where people bring varying skills to the table—which means good communication is vital to blending those skills into something impactful for the client or customer.
A key component to communication is listening—and not just sitting there while others talk. I’m talking about active listening. Take the time to process what the person is saying, and don’t rush to say something next.
Be presentable. You may think this is referring to what you wear, but it expands beyond that. Yes, you want to adhere to dress codes—and I’d even say dress for the position you want, not necessarily for the one you have—but I also mean be presentable through your body language and what you say.
At an internship or new job, you are going to meet plenty of new people, which means a lot of communicating. Practice your “elevator speech,” and ask your friends and family to be your audience—you can even practice in the mirror by yourself. I’ve had plenty of conversations with myself while practicing my public speaking skills. Focus on your words and your body language as you watch and listen to yourself speak.
Go above and beyond. In life, there are always going to be challenges you’ll need to resolve. So yes, show up by performing the role you’re assigned, but also take it a step further and ask questions to increase your understanding. When you learn of a team member or client’s challenges, extend your role by digging deeper and really helping to solve it. By going above and beyond, you’re not only checking off all the expected boxes; you’re also taking the extra step to do more to help the company or your client.
Keep your eyes and ears open. I’m not saying you should spend all day trying to get information. I am saying be mindful of policies, processes and deadlines, so you need to listen and learn, and make sure you’re following them. Some companies have guidelines they follow for what’s called conversion eligibility—that is, transitioning from being an intern to an employee. It’s vital to learn what that entails and who is part of the process.
Be open-minded. During your internship, expand your horizon beyond the usual group of people you would normally interact with. You never know when you might meet someone who could be a coworker or supervisor in the future, if you accept a position with the company.
And regarding the work you do, focus not just on the task at hand, but also on the things going around you. You can learn a lot from your internship, even if the work you’re doing isn’t directly aligned with what you’re studying or what you think you’ll be doing in your future career.
An internship is about experiences, and every experience has a lesson associated with it. Be present and flexible enough to learn the lesson, and then take that knowledge with you as you transition from intern to employee.
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