By Rachel Tong
In June of 2020, I started what would be a six-month consulting internship with Onova. When I first received the role, I was just happy and relieved to have an opportunity to work during a summer where countless internships were cancelled by COVID-19. Little did I know, it would be a summer that I would truly come to cherish for the lessons I learned, the people I met, and the experiences I gained. Here are my top three takeaways from my internship:
1. Find managers who are willing to invest in your professional and personal growth
Before working at Onova, I did not understand the true meaning of finding mentorship in the workplace. In my previous internships, while we were given buddies or weekly check-ins with managers, they were mostly about the work that I was doing and my performance in the role. At Onova, right from the beginning, Helen and Victor stressed the importance of setting our own goals and also learning about what we wanted to achieve during our time with them. Afterwards, they took the feedback of all the interns and assigned roles and projects according to the very skills and responsibilities that we wanted to be given. This allowed us to do work that was interesting and acquire skills that we wanted to learn. Additionally, our weekly check-ins were rarely solely work- or performance-based and rather was a time where we received feedback on the particular skills that we wanted to work on or expressed any concerns that we had. In addition to receiving mentorship on how to grow my professional capabilities, I also had received advice and guidance from both Helen and Victor about things that were happening in my personal life. Their time and resource investment in both my professional and emotional growth made me extremely grateful to have had the experience working with them. Knowing what a healthy and productive mentorship relationship looks like, I will now be able to continue to seek these relationships in other roles I pursue in the future.
2. Seek your own opportunities
One of the main reasons why my internship with Onova was so fulfilling was because of the high level of responsibility and ownership I had on our projects. By the end of the six months, I had experience managing the technology partners and tools including Amazon, Google, Oracle and InVision for three client projects in addition to planning and running 15+ webinars. The eventual high level of involvement that I had on these projects began with volunteering for small tasks that needed to be done, taking initiative to show interest in specific work streams, and knowing what I wanted to learn. By sitting in on meetings and communicating afterwards to Helen or Victor what I was interested in and volunteering for tasks, I was slowly able to build my capability and gain their trust for bigger tasks. I picked tasks and workstreams that I felt would help me learn a new skill or improve upon a weakness that I had rather than ones that I already felt confident doing. This allowed me to round-out my skillset over the course of the internship, and gain skills that are invaluable for any role in the future.
3. Age is just a number in the workplace
It’s inevitable to feel imposter syndrome at the beginning of any new job. We are required to have new skills or perform new tasks that seem out of our depth. This feeling was especially amplified for me as I stepped into larger roles throughout the summer that required me to communicate with and manage technology partners that were both much older and much more experienced. The very first time I had to lead a meeting with our technology partners, I wrestled with the questions, “Will they even listen to what I have to say? Why should they?” When I entered the meeting with these doubts, my lack of confidence was evident and further impeded my credibility and authority. Knowing that I was struggling with this huge sense of imposter syndrome exacerbated by my age, Helen offered me one-on-one coaching where she offered her own experience dealing with the same thing and also gave me actionable advice to improve on for the next time. Slowly, I was able to build up my confidence in these meetings and communications to successfully complete my tasks. I realized that in their eyes, they didn’t see me as a 21-year-old student trying to manage people who were 10+ years older and more experienced. They saw me as an innovation consultant from Onova who was in charge of managing the workstream. I had discredited myself by letting age get in the way of me owning my responsibilities and role. Once I realized this, I was able to approach new work relationships and engagements with much more confidence that was even evident to the partners and clients.
My internship experience with Onova was an incredible learning experience that will help me jumpstart my professional career. It taught me what an ideal work and mentorship relationship should look like, shaped my personal philosophy in the workplace, and gave me the confidence to take on any role in the future.