Over winter break, my son Mike and I talked about looking for a job during his sophomore summer. Mike made it clear he wanted some real-world experience, maybe an office job. We talked about several things and I asked him to consider a few questions. What type of job does he want? What is he interested in? Is the summer job about experience or money?
Ultimately, he decided he would like to work for a start-up and gain experience in marketing. So off he went, updating his LinkedIn profile, sending cover letters and resumes, and doing phone interviews to put himself out there. Eventually, he landed a job with a start-up that was working out of the Harvard Innovation Lab.
Mike was so excited. He started his internship in late May and it is now coming to a close. I asked Mike if he was willing to guest blog and share his learnings with you. Sometimes, a completely fresh perspective can teach all of us so much. So for that, I’m glad he agreed to share. His reflections follow. (Pictured, from left to right: Al and Mike Chiaradonna.)
To put some context around what I did this summer, I worked as a marketing intern in a company with 5 employees. I was one of 2 marketing interns, then we had my CEO, our head developer and a developer intern. Our company, in short, is creating a social platform that facilitates friendly competition for guys who feel disconnected with existing social media and are looking for a competitive outlet. My work mostly consisted of conducting customer research through interviews, creating simulated games and activities, running surveys, etc. Towards the end of the summer, we took our insights and used them to help optimize our UI/UX by creating new features and revamping existing ones.
On a super-high level, these are the most important things my work experience taught me this summer:
- Before you do anything in business, you need to have a super clear understanding of WHY you are doing it. With an unclear why, research becomes futile and added UI/UX features can potentially become detrimental to your product. When there is a clear why behind your actions at work, your research tends to be significantly more insightful, and added features have a more desirable impact on your product.
- In a startup with so few people, time is definitely the most precious resource. Creating checklists and prioritizing them helps immensely in making the most efficient use of your time at work. For our company, prioritization was crucial. We did not have time to waste. We always needed to take into consideration a task's added value, relative to the time it would take to complete.
- Feelings are facts. As a marketer, it does not really matter what you think about your product. The only opinion that matters is that of the customer. As much as you would like to, you cannot really force your product to go in a certain direction. You have to talk to customers and listen to what they have to say. In the end, customers tell your product where to go, rather than you telling your customers.
- There's more value in criticism than praise. It's nice to hear about what your product does well, but that does not make it any better. Hearing what is wrong with the product is the best type of feedback because it tells you where to improve.
- It’s okay to ask for help. As a competitive person, I had a real drive to do everything on my own. At the beginning of the summer, I would not even think about asking for help because I thought it would make me look incompetent. It took me a month or so, but when I finally came around to asking for help, my work got better, more efficient, and I became happier at work. Asking for help brings the team together. It helps develop a sense of camaraderie and lets everybody in on what the others are doing.
- Communication is critical. It is important to reply quickly and genuinely to let people know you care.
- It’s important to remain positive and bring energy. Your attitude at work can set the tone for others around you. My boss was really good at this. I could never tell if he was having a bad day. He was the same all the time and did a really good job keeping people's spirits high.
I'm glad you asked me to do this. It was nice to put all of these thoughts into writing for the first time.
Sometimes you just have to ask. Thanks for sharing, Mike. You’ve reminded your old man (and I suspect a number of others) some of the most important principles of life and learning – no matter what phase of our career we are in. And also, you made me a pretty proud dad in the process. Now what are you going to do next summer? :)