At the end of May, I hopped on a plane with 3 suitcases, moved into an apartment in Manhattan with a new British roommate, and started gaining way more practical knowledge than I’ve ever gotten through my time at college. Here’s a short list of the most important things I’ve learned in my short months working at Ogilvy and Mather.
1.) Trust First Impressions.
On my first day at Ogilvy, all the interns (there were about 40 of us) had already been given their summer assignment and the name of their manager. In the late afternoon, our managers (or someone else from our team) were supposed to come pick us up and show us to our desk — kind of like being picked up from school by your mom. I was the last person in the room waiting for my manager to appear and … she never showed up. When I got to my desk, I didn’t have a chair and my laptop was missing. My entire team was in a meeting, and my manager apologized when we eventually found each other, so I tried to assume that it was just a busy day and I wasn’t showing up at the greatest time. Well, after a couple of weeks at work, I realized that my first day experience was not out of the ordinary. When I spoke to other interns, they told me about all the projects they had been given, whereas my manager rarely gave me work to do. I would constantly offer to help out with small tasks because I had to play catch-up in order to understand what was going on in all those meetings, but I was often denied. It was a long time before I was given/took enough responsibilities to fill up an 8 hour day, and for the first couple of weeks I was pretty bored between meetings unless I could find someone to shadow without bothering them. Basically, I learned that just because you’re new to a company, doesn’t mean people are going to make room for you or do a good job delegating tasks for you. If it seems that your boss isn’t really the type who welcomes people with open arms, shows them around, and gives them a list of tasks, start thinking of tasks you can complete yourself without being asked and start networking with other people. Sometimes, simply asking for something to help out with isn’t going to be enough.
2.) Learn The Office Culture — You Might Need Some Hacks to Fit In.
My office has a pretty strong drinking culture. With accounts like Jägermeister, desks decorated with wine bottles, and a bar across the street that is lovingly called an “extra conference room”, the first question people ask you is always, “Are you 21?” As a 20 year old, this can be a slight obstacle when you’re trying to make relationships and network. If you’re in a similar situation or you have some other thing that sets you apart from your co-workers, you have to work twice as hard to find common ground, but it’s definitely worth a try. You want to leave with as many new contacts as possible at the end of your internship, so if people want go somewhere you can’t go or do some activity you don’t enjoy, practice your listening skills to find other things you have in common with people and use them. They will be flattered that you’ve listened to them rather than disappointed if they ask to meet for drinks and you suggest going out for caramel macchiatos instead because you aren’t 21 but remember that it’s their favorite non-alcoholic beverage. Also learn which bars allow people who are under 21 to be inside.
3.) Be Ready to Deal with Some…Characters
When you imagine an internship at an office, you might think that everyone is going to be buttoned up and stuffy. Well, every workplace varies, but overall, offices and other workplaces are staffed by real live people, and just like in the cafeteria on the movie Mean Girls, there’s going to be all sorts of people and cliques. Just because a workplace has one general “culture” doesn’t mean everyone will be the same, so you want to seek out the type of people you mesh with as soon as you arrive – that means introduce yourself to literally everyone and talk about things other than work. Pay attention to the way people carry themselves, their sense of humor, and find out their interests. Don’t just hang around the people you sit next to in your cubicle. Chances are, you’re not going to love every single person you meet. If you realize you don’t mesh well with your manager or one of your peers, simply keep that relationship professional and find someone you do mesh with. Most importantly, resist the urge to talk badly about people at work and try to avoid people who gossip a lot. They are almost always trouble.
4.) Trust Your Gut
If someone tells you to do something and it seems really wrong, don’t do it. At one point, I was working on a project, and one of my bosses suggested that I blow it off and go to a party. My gut reaction was to say no to her and continue working because I didn’t want to let my teammates who were also working on the project down. In the end, I was extremely glad I stayed and worked rather than listening to my boss. Sometimes, it’s just better to trust your instinct. Just because someone is older than you, doesn’t mean you have to blindly do whatever they say.
5.) (Sometimes) Arguing is a Sign of Passion
Every year, interns at my company are given a project in which they are put into groups and tasked with creating an entire AD campaign from start to finish. My group spent an insane amount of time arguing, rehashing, re-doing, debating, staying late, and arguing again. On the day of our presentation, none of us had slept for more than 4 hours and some of our creative had been literally written at 1 am that morning. We won. When the judges told my group that our campaign and pitch was the best they had seen, we all realized that the reason we had had so much difficulty putting it all together was the level of passion we all had for getting it absolutely perfect. While other intern groups had given up at some point and decided something would just have to be “good enough”, we kept working and working and working until we couldn’t anymore. It was the level of drive for perfection that made our pitch the winner, and I’m sure of it.