From the end of April to mid-September, I was working as a Communications Intern in Toronto. The beauty of working in a city away from home is that as much as it provides you with opportunities to advance your career, it provides you with even more opportunities for personal growth. These experiences go further than teaching you how to write a press release; instead they show you the value of relationship building and the importance of broadening your perspective. Here are my top three pieces of advice to follow when doing an internship away from home that will benefit you both inside and outside the office, and in both your career and in your personal development.
1. Remember That Your “Foreigner” Status Can Be an Advantage.
Not only was the fact that I’m from Vancouver the ultimate ice-breaker, but it was also a vantage point that broadened my perspective of the communications industry.
From a soft-skills perspective, this was a definite conversation starter and the starting point of many of the personal relationships I formed. It definitely challenged me to learn more about Vancouver. People asked me questions about my city that I sometimes didn’t even know the answer to! By the same token, it taught me to be an active listener when learning about everyone else’s city and culture as well.
Aside from an ice-breaker, my status as an out-of-towner was a point of comparison between my hometown and its east coast counterpart. My advice is to learn as much as you can about the industry in your hometown versus the industry in the city where you’ll be working. It will make you more knowledgeable about your craft and create opportunities to expand your network to a national scale.
Research companies that interest you to see if they have offices in your location. If they do, connect with people who work there or may have insights. Find out the city’s demand for your desired profession, research its level of competitiveness, and just get to know the general nature of it, as even the same company can differ in culture from coast to coast.
2. Network Like Crazy
When you’re alone in a new city, you have no choice but to meet new people. Networking is crucial and I want to stress the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to this. You don’t have to meet a hundred people; you just have to connect with a few of the right ones.
I’ll admit: networking is an intimidating skill that can only improve with experience. To help me hone this skill, I’ve adopted two tactics that have made it that much easier.
First, conduct informational interviews with professionals whose jobs interest you. Research the person prior to interviewing them (work history, educational background, etc.) so that you can ask questions specific to their story. It’s more intimate than a networking event and it allows the opportunity for a conversation tailored to the information you’re looking for.
Second, talk to those in entry-level positions. Don’t think that perspectives from younger employees are any less credible. In a sense, they can be more valuable to you than perspectives from senior executives. The younger employees are the people who may very well know exactly what you’re going to go through because they were in your shoes not too long ago. With that instant connection, not only is talking to them less intimidating, but the wisdom they have to offer is generally up-to-date with the industry. Plus, they may have more contemporary career tips on the struggles and triumphs of post-grad life.
3. See the Other Interns as Friends, Not as Competition
I understand that when you move to a new city it’s easy to have tunnel vision along with a go-getter attitude. After all, you’re travelling all this way and sacrificing so much to get your foot in the door right? This makes it easy to see other interns as competition, but I urge you to stay away from that mentality. When you’re in a new city with a social circle this small to begin with, the easiest way to expand that circle is to become friends with the other interns. If you’re lucky, they’ll be just like your friends back home –smart, ambitious, and as equally as obsessed with Instagram and Buzzfeed quizzes as you are. These interns may be the people who you’ll see the majority of the week and they can potentially become connections for your future. Feed off their own drive and enthusiasm. Share your dreams with them and motivate each other. Forming these relationships will not only expand your network, but it will make your time in the office a lot more fun. You’ll also have people to hang out with on the weekends…and in the future when you come back to visit!
As a communication student, working in a different city gave me not only an edge on my resume, but the necessary life experience to master the skills needed in such a people-oriented field. If an opportunity to move away presents itself to you, embrace it with open arms and don’t think twice! I guarantee that you will be applauded for your courage and will reap its benefits in more ways than one.