Five Things I Learned From Our Interns

Last week, Red Door Interactive welcomed its summer class of interns to the San Diego office. The place was buzzing with seven bright smiles, enthusiasm and energy as the new arrivals fluttered from meeting to meeting on their first day. They started the morning with a quick welcome and agenda for the day, and then sat down with me, the CEO, for an overview of the company. We talked about who we are, what we do, where we're going, etc.

The moment when one of the interns asked me, in effect, how to get my job, I realized I would learn some important lessons from this group.

I observed a perspective and attitude that I fondly remember from my days as an intern. It refreshed in me something that I hope to never lose again. I wasn't the only one who felt it, either. People were talking. As I sat in meetings and walked through the office, long-term, dedicated employees noted how fun it was having the interns in the office and acknowledged the energy that was coursing through our company.

Through the rest of the first week and well into this one, I have noticed these few key points that might explain what that energy is. And, in identifying it, I hope to bottle it and take a dose of the sweet medicine that fuels the smiles and excitement that remains ever-present in this group of amazing people.

Here are the ingredients as I see them:

Here to learn
The primary point of an internship is to learn and build experience in a field that these folks think is right for them. Every day, they are keen to keeping an eye out for things they can learn or people they can learn from. They are listening sharply, taking notes and keeping an open mind for whatever they can soak up. It is fun to be around people who are.

Eyes are wide open
They are looking at all the available opportunities, not just those in their immediate discipline. They are still trying to determine if this is the right career for them, if it's the right company for them or if this is the right way to apply their degree. That attitude exposes them to ideas and concepts that someone else might have shut the door on just because they have their head down working toward the next milestone outlined for them rather than by them.

Ask questions
They know that they don't know all the answers nor are expected to. So, they fearlessly ask the questions that pop into their head. That challenges the status quo for those around them. So, to answer the "why do we do that?" questions, the answer for a long-term employee could simply be "I don't know" and then hopefully followed by, "let's find out together and change it, if we don't have to do it."

Sell themselves (they're only here temporarily)
They know that, at the end of this summer, they're done. Some hope that they'll end up with a job here at Red Door and others plan to use this experience to get the next gig elsewhere. For all, however, we quickly become the gateway to whatever is next. Technically, everyone should probably feel that way about their experience. They want the teammates around them to recognize the good work they do so that they get their ongoing support whether it is here or somewhere else. They illustrate that they take pride in what they do, treat others with respect and make their intentions known. If you want help to get where you want to go, that is a formula for getting there. Few people achieve their personal success alone.

Do whatever it takes
The stereotypical joke is always about making the intern get you coffee. I firmly believe that if that were solely the case, we would underutilize the value of these great people, but also do them a great disservice. However, I will say that if we did limit their work to retrieving coffee, filing and making copies, they would do so with a smile with an eye to what opportunity it might yield if done well. Whatever the task, it is important that we each do whatever it takes to get the job done and take pride in even the menial stuff. It creates great habits for when the task at hand is mission-critical as well as tells those around you that they can trust that you'll put your best into everything you do.

I am so thankful that we took on this challenge of having interns join us this summer. It exposed me to an attitude and energy that greets me each morning and endures through each day. I hope that this feeling sticks with me, because I know it is the right way to approach my job.

If everyone were to reframe their current role with these same traits, it would invigorate any organization. It isn't necessarily about learning the next new process or tactical skill, but rather, about changing our approach. That energy may fade as we slide back into the tasks at hand, the quarterly initiatives, annual goals and daily priorities, but perhaps we can each refuel a bit when we welcome the next new class of interns who are grateful for the opportunity and, ultimately, want our job.

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