August 26, 2015 11:59 am

Advice for the empowered intern

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Through my role as product marketing manager for Surface, I strive to help students identify technology that is the right fit for their busy lives. My own career path from pre-med to Microsoft finance intern to today allows me to offer a unique perspective on how technology can not only help you succeed, but sometimes open unexpected doors for your future.

Ke Chen

One such unexpected opportunity arose when we partnered with Marie Claire this summer and asked some of their interns to test out our Surface 3s. As part of our work together, I participated in Marie Claire’s @Work Event where I shared four pieces of advice for interns going into the work place with summer interns from various Hearst magazines. My guidance pulls from experiences here at Microsoft and parallels that of building a product.

As summer internships wind down and school or new jobs are on the horizon I left the interns with this:

Don’t limit yourself to existing categories. Be open-minded. 

You start building a successful product by not limiting yourself to existing categories. Don’t go in with preconceived notions of what success looks like. If Microsoft Surface had, we would’ve built either a tablet or a laptop. Instead we built a device that has the best of a laptop and the best of a tablet. Having a successful internship is the same. Don’t go in thinking you know exactly what you want, exactly how to get it, and exactly what success looks like – be open-minded, brainstorm ideas and learn new functions. You’ll likely end up with a better opportunity in the end, than if you had come in narrow-minded.

Once you know what you want to do, test it out. Put yourself out there in the world. 

After we think we have an idea of what to build, we tirelessly test – and put it out in the world. Often what you think is the best, may not necessarily be. Consider, Microsoft’s first Surface, it had a one-angle kickstand. In testing we realized multi-position kickstands make more sense for different scenarios, so for future product versions we adjusted to include a continuous kickstand. Similarly, once you think you have an idea of what you want to do with your life, test it out. Don’t sit back and hypothetically think “well maybe this job would be cool.” Leverage your network to get out and speak with the person who does the job you want today. Try it for yourself by job shadowing. Test it out.

Learn how to take feedback.  

During the testing process, you have to also be okay with feedback. You have to learn how to accept it. I remember the first time someone said “the keyboard is great – but I wish it came in purple” and I wanted to breakdown and quit. We’d already built black keyboards and felt black was the right fit for everyone. I struggled with that feedback. But, feedback is how you get better. Be open to it, welcome it, and really internalize it. That’s not to say every piece of feedback is warranted – but kind of like a bad joke, there is some truth to most feedback. You have to take the time to consider feedback and handle it with grace.

Capitalize on your strengths, don’t fix weakness you have. 

The last bit of advice I have is to capitalize on your strengths and don’t try to fix every little weakness you have. An internship is an opportunity to build your individual strengths into a personal brand, something you’re known for. At Microsoft for example, instead of trying to mimic competitors, we identify what we’re really good at – making people productive. So we spend our energy there; enabling people to make it happen is our superpower. We built our entire Surface brand around that notion – the most productive devices on the planet. Remember, everyone will have shortcomings – even you – so depart your internship with a superpower and an imprint of that one thing you do better than anyone else. That’s when you know you have truly made your mark.