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My first corporate internship was as a summer analyst at Wells Fargo right before my senior year in college.
Confused about whether I was going to pursue the path of entrepreneurship or work for a company after graduation, I approached my internship with an open mind. I figured the experience might help me identify my strengths and, of course, test the waters before deciding my future career. Turns out, I was right. And the lessons I took away from my internship are some of the greatest assets I use as an entrepreneur today.
For those who have ambitions to run a startup or, maybe you already are, my advice is: Don't underestimate the power of a good internship. Here are the greatest takeaways I learned from my summer job as a banker:
Stick to deadlines. Tim Ferriss is a major advocate for the principal of Parkinson's Law -- which, simply put, posits that a task can become leagues more difficult the longer a deadline. By contrast, a tight deadline will prompt a tight turnaround with less stress over time.
During my internship, I was given strict deadlines for each project assigned to me. Whenever I took on a new project, I was always instructed to make sure I knew when each project was due by. Most of these deadlines were short, and to excel I always made sure I used my time as efficiently as possible -- knowing that a few hours of web surfing and I would be turning in my assignment late.
As an entrepreneur, you never have enough time in the day, making it crucial to treasure each hour of your time. When you're manager gives you your first deadline, you'll begin to realize how valuable time really is.
Don't rely on talent alone. Heading into my internship, I was extremely confident that my talent was going to be my greatest asset. In reality, this couldn't have been further from the truth. Each corporation has a set way of operating, key terms to know, and skills that you must master to really be a standout in your office. Only when I memorized the proper terms, studied the internship curriculum, and continued to learn did I start to stand out.
As an entrepreneur, I have applied this principle when I learn new skills that are needed to help grow our company. As an entrepreneur, talent is important. But the only way to improve, is to constantly focus on refining your skills.
Lead by example. During my internship, I took pride in always being one of the first people in the office and one of the last people to leave. As an intern, you have to prove to your fellow employees that you're willing to go the extra mile to get the job done.
As you begin to grow your own company, employees will look to you as a leader and a role model for your company. The best leaders are the ones who fight down in the trenches with the people that follow them. Learn to prove how far you will go for your team, and you'll build a passionate group of people to support you.
Seek out opportunity. There were times during my internship where it appeared that there was nothing left for me to do. Wanting to take on new challenges, I went around the office and asked what I could help with. To my amazement, I was able to take on new assignments and exciting tasks that would not have been offered to me unless I made the effort to request them.
The best entrepreneurs aren't flourishing because an opportunity fell in their laps. They achieved success by going out of their way to make something happen.
Know your customer. Always ask what your customer needs and how you can help. At Wells Fargo, we kept in touch with our customers, figured out what kinds of people they were and how we fit in.
This is a takeaway many entrepreneurs forget. Spending years creating a product that looks amazing but nobody wants isn't helpful. Instead, build something that makes your customers' lives easier, and always look for more ways to serve them.
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The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.