How to crush your graduate program!

Congratulations on securing yourself an internship or a graduate position! These are highly competitive programs to get into so if you have been selected you should be extremely proud!

I’ve been lucky enough to have lived the experience of a graduate as well as watched many interns & graduates grow into inspiring product managers and leaders. I thought it would make sense to share some of my top tips with anyone thinking about applying for, or starting out in, 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 (hopefully!) have fun!

TIP 1: Bring your best possible attitude to work

Ok, thanks for stating the obvious Amy.

No, seriously, 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. This seems so obvious and yet time and again I have seen people consistently show up late and even give me push back on the work because it wasn’t ‘interesting’ enough.

We live and work in flexible environments so I definitely don’t want to send the wrong message here however you need to use common sense and observe what others in your team and around you do. If they all show up at 10am and you feel comfortable to follow suit then that’s great. But if your manager has scheduled meetings from 9am, get yourself to work BEFORE 9!

Tip 2: Accept that, at times, you will have nothing to do

You are more than likely going to find periods of time where 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. Having some strategies in place to deal with this will go a long way. Your manager is going to be busy so I cannot stress this enough: BE PROACTIVE.

  • Completed the work your manager already set you? Double check it – is it the best it can be? Have you missed anything? Rushing your work is not impressive, it is annoying!
  • Attending a lot of meetings? Take notes, format them and send to your manager
  • Do you have no idea what is going on? 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 WIP
  • Are there other people in your team that look busy? Ask if you can help. I did this and got to update the interest rate reporting for term deposits. (just make sure your manager is OK first)
  • Heard about an interesting project another team is doing? Ask them if you can buy them a coffee and have 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!)
  • Are there outreach or employee communities you can get involved in? With this one please be mindful that your work priorities come first. Always OK this with your manager.

Whilst there will be moments of quiet time, this definitely shouldn’t be a persistent thing so 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!

Tip 3: Be upfront with your manager about your role and goals

Whilst you are there to help your manager, this program is also about your development and career. You want to be able to walk away with a clear sense of what you’ve achieved.

STORY TIME: When I was a graduate, things were extremely busy in my team with a new product launch. I was lucky to be involved in this however I did not have any clearly defined role or goals. When they were piloting the products I was asked to compile all of the customer feedback and I had a ball tracking the feedback and creating a million graphs which actually helped me to latch onto other stakeholders in the tech and project teams. In the end, there just wasn’t enough work for me to do and we jointly agreed I would help with the closure of a prepaid travel card. I was BUSY and that is how I liked it. At the end of my program, I could proudly say I had learned about closing a product, something not many PMs 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 as I have seen some do. 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. You won’t be judged by how pretty your development plan document is, just saying…

Tip 4: Have fun and network

Even if you don’t end up continuing on in your company, the network you build now will be a powerful force as you progress through your career. You never know when you are going to bump into people again and the opportunities that may arise via the people you know so be nice.

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. In doing this, you will develop a good understanding of what you may and may not 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.

Whilst it might seem like a lot of pressure, my biggest piece of advice is to simply enjoy the process. If you have the right attitude and structure in place the work and social side of things are going to work out well for you.

Good luck!

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