Here’s everything you need to know to crush your new graduate program. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived the experience of a graduate. I’ve also watched many interns & graduates grow into inspiring product managers and leaders.
First off though, congratulations on securing yourself an internship or a graduate position! These are highly competitive programs to get into and you should be extremely proud!
I wanted to share some of my top tips with anyone thinking about applying for or completing one of these programs. You are going to be challenged, but I can guarantee you are going to learn so much about yourself, meet incredible people and have fun! Many interns and graduates go on to accept full time positions. There’s a great article from the balance careers on this topic.
#1: Bring your best possible attitude to work
Ok, thanks for stating the obvious Amy.
You’d be surprised how many people underestimate the importance of a solid work ethic and a positive mindset. The formula is simple: show up to work, display enthusiasm for any type of project or task given to you, be proactive & maintain integrity. I have seen people consistently show up late and complain about the work because it wasn’t ‘interesting’ enough. Don’t forget, your goal is to crush any task your manager assigns you, no matter how big or small!
We live and work in flexible environments. My tip for this is to observe what others in your team are doing. You want to fit into the team culture as best you can. Make sure you get yourself to work on time every single day.
#2: Accept that there will be downtime
There will be times when you don’t have much work to do. In fact, I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single grad who hasn’t been in this position. Before your start it’s a good idea to have some strategies in place to deal with this.
Be proactive and impress your manager:
- Double check all of your work. Is it the best it can be? Have you missed anything? If you want to impress your manager don’t rush your work.
- Take notes in every meeting. Format them and send to your manager.
- Get up to speed. Start researching your industry, competitive landscape, and the company intranet.
- Ask your manager for some reading. Are there any strategy docs or roadmaps they can share? Read through and prepare a list of questions to ask in your next discussion.
- Ask other people in your team if they need help. I did this and got to update the interest rate reporting for term deposits. Be sure to run this by your manager first.
- Ask another team about their projects. Reach out and ask them if you can buy them a coffee for 30 mins of their time to discuss their projects and priorities (hint: most people will love telling you about their job and this is a great way to network!)
- Get involved in outreach or employee networks. This is a great way to build your network. Be mindful that your work priorities come first so it’s best to OK this with your manager first.
Whilst there will be moments of quiet time, this definitely shouldn’t be a persistent thing. If you find this is becoming a problem my advice would be to sit down with your manager to express your capacity and your desire to kick some goals!
#3: Understand your role and goals
Ultimately, this program is about your development and career. You want to be able to walk away on a high, proud of what you’ve achieved.
When I was a graduate, things were extremely busy in my team with a new product launch. I didn’t have any clearly defined role or goals which made it difficult to get involved. During the pilot launch I had the opportunity to compile the customer feedback. I decided to work hard to make this the best piece of analysis possible. People in the technology and project teams saw it and began to rely on my analysis.
After this, I was given the opportunity to close a prepaid travel card. I was suddenly busy with a clear list of activities to complete. At the end of my program, I could proudly say I had learned about closing a product, something not many product managers actually get to do.
In any corporate environment you will need to complete development plans and goal setting but please don’t fall into the trap of obsessing over them. You are likely only in your team for 6 months so you are going to be graded and rated differently to more established employees – that is only fair! Refer to tip 1 and you will be fine.
#4: Speak to as many people as your can
The network you build now will be a powerful force as you progress through your career even if you don’t stay at that company. You never know when you are going to bump into people again and the opportunities that may arise from your network.
If you are in the kitchen and see someone, say hello and strike up a conversation. If you hear about an interesting product or project reach out to that team. Use this time selfishly to meet as many people as possible and learn about as many parts of the business as you can. You’ll develop a good understanding of what find interesting which is important when you apply for future roles. No one is going to think you are weird because you talk to them, it is quite the opposite actually. People will be impressed with your enthusiasm and maturity.
Finally, my biggest piece of advice is to simply enjoy the process. If you have the right attitude and structure in place you are going to love your graduate program!