Make the Most and set Goals for Your Supply Chain Internship or Co-op
Yes, your employer will tell you who you will be working with and what you need to do, but there are so many ways that you can make your supply chain internship work better for you and your employer. This opportunity to grow both your hard and soft skills needs to be managed carefully as a project whose outcome makes you a stronger supply chain professional and more attractive to either the internship employer or other employers if you or the internship employer decide this company is not the best fit for your future. Your supply chain internship or co-op is one of the strongest resume builders on the way to getting your first or next full-time position as part of your supply chain career. Use the following to be a better manager of your internship experience. It is a mix of guidelines and tips that will help you grow into a far more valuable supply chain professional.
Be curious, hard-working, and timely. We consistently hear employers say that they want interns and co-ops to be curious listeners and askers of great questions. Consistently show curiosity and a desire to learn. After all, you are there to develop and learn as well as do work for the employer. Volunteer for assignments and to be on teams. Get out of your comfort zone. Do the work you are asked to do and step up to do more. Assignments need to be completed on time. It is never good to surprise a supervisor with a delay. Keep them informed every step of the way, making sure you provide clarity regarding your confidence in the time remaining being realistic. If resources are needed to complete a task, then ask! Just be prepared to justify the request. Your ability to assess project status and needs will be reviewed carefully.
Deal with change and uncertainty. You should occasionally be given assignments that might stretch your comfort zone. This could be done just to provide you with a challenging learning assignment, or it could be done to see how you think on your feet and adjust to new types of work. There are occasions when you may be given something to do and when you are near completion, it may be changed or canceled. Don’t get upset. You’ve been compensated for your work and had a learning experience. We all want to take things to conclusion, but learn how to flex to industry change. Your employers highly value seeing that kind of capability.
About you more than the output. Never lose sight that employers are working you out as if you are in a training facility. Sure, they want you to do good work for them as they give you assignments, but they want to see how you think as much as they want you to produce a product. They want to see how you work with others. Be professional in the way you dress and act. How do you communicate, both in person and in email and other messages? How do you structure reports? Make your points and recommendations? How do you handle conflict? Do you ask in an effective way? Do you follow-up on assignments? Do you thank others and give credit where it is due, plus take responsibility for issues? There are so many ways that you are evaluated beyond just your work output. Don’t let it make you paranoid or nervous, it is just a valuable part of human nature, so be professional and confident in your approach and be ready to clearly say what you are going to do, do it, and follow-up.
Have an adjustable plan with goals, tactics, and metrics. Again, this isn’t just about the goals your manager lays out for the work they want you to pursue. We are talking about the kinds of plans, tactics, and metrics that are focused on making your internship productive for your growth, not just the company requirements of your work. Ask your supervisor for clear guidance regarding end results by the end of the internship or co-op, but also frequently revisit and discuss them to make sure you are on track and adjust as necessary. Sometimes you have new ideas that can redirect your work as long as you can make the right kind of proposal to your supervisor and get it approved. Again, make sure you also have your own set of goals, tactics, and measures for how you will grow. What people do you want to meet? What tools would you like to learn and explore? What can you see and experience in facilities? Ask to be introduced to your supervisor’s supervisor and be prepared for an in-depth conversation about how your department contributes to the overall objectives of the company. These are the kinds of things that won’t be on your job description. You have to develop a parallel plan for making the internship a true growth experience.
Communicate and get feedback. Before and during the internships or co-op, ask what needs to be done, seek frequent feedback and direction. Communicate status regularly so there are no surprises. If there are other interns or co-ops on your team, realize they are likely evaluating your ability to work within, enable, and lead teams. Make sure the team is good at communicating both internally and externally. These are soft skills that are closely evaluated, whether they tell you or not.
Meet and seriously talk with as many people as possible. One of the greatest features of a supply chain internship or co-op is the opportunity to get the many perspectives available from so many professionals. Ask your manager for the opportunity to meet people throughout your department, plus the people that your team touches. That can also include suppliers, customers, partners, and outside contractors. Have a plan for the conversation by doing your homework to learn more. Take notes. Be curious. Ask not just about what they do, but about what they enjoy, how they prepared themselves for their position, and what they do to get better at doing it. You may even find a future supply chain mentor inside or outside the company. People talk, so you also build a reputation, good or bad, depending on how you conduct the conversations. Be friendly and professional as you have the conversations.
Increase End-to-End supply chain knowledge. You may be playing a small role overall for the company, but make sure you ask about your upstream and downstream connections in the supply chain. What resources are used as inputs to make your department and teamwork better? Who are your internal and external customers? Then ask the same questions about their upstream and downstream connections, helping to understand what makes them successful and growing your understanding of the end-to-end aspects of supply chains.
Be a strong culture observer and learner. Don’t just listen to what is said. Be a careful observer of how things are said. Watch the dynamics of meetings that you attend. How are the agendas constructed? How are the messages communicated about the need and timing and conduct of the meetings? How are negotiations conducted around points that are discussed and how does it appear that compromises are made and responsibilities and timing assigned? What did you like or not like? Keep notes. Evaluate. Learn. Bring it back with you to school and discuss with others. It is an easily overlooked set of skills you are developing.
Exercise and develop your project management skills. Keep very careful track of what you have been asked to do (with clear priorities), what resources are needed to do it, and when it needs to be done. Every good project manager has these skills and they are highly valued by supervisors. Review it at the start of each day and at the end of each day. It makes you feel more in control of your work life and more confident. You will be prepared for the inevitable questions such as, “Hey, intern, what are you working on?” They don’t really want all the detail, but you should always be able to tell yourself and others what you are working on in a short, tweet-sized response. Organizational skills and time management will also be observed carefully by most good supervisors. Make it a non-issue.
Not over when it’s over. When an assignment is complete, don’t just walk out the door and put it on your resume. Be thankful to your employer and each of the people that helped you along the way. Don’t just send a short note to your supervisor. Make sure you communicate with all the team you worked with, plus easily overlooked people like those in human resources or non-supply chain support functions. You never know how well connected or influential people are throughout the organization. Then make sure you gather all your notes together and reflect on the experience, what you have learned, what you would like to do differently the next time, aspects of people’s behavior that impressed you or frustrated you. These can be great tips to your future self and easily lost if you just walk out the door and get back to the classroom. Share your experiences with friends, family, faculty, and career services professionals to talk through the issues and what they might have done differently. When you talk it over with other students and faculty, ask about practices that they would suggest that might help in the type of work you were doing. It helps to review your notes carefully and come up with a top ten experiences list about what you got out of the supply chain internship or co-op. Review it and develop a short summary that you can quickly use when telling people about your experiences, particularly when you talk to interviewers.
Putting the experience on your supply chain resume. Don’t just describe the dates and responsibilities of your position. Also, don’t list every little thing you did. Concentrate first on what was accomplished by the teams you were on and your contributions to the teams and objectives. Note what you learned at a high level and how it enabled you to do something new. If you learned something about how supply chains work that supported classroom learning, then provide a very brief way of showing what was done and what you learned. It’s a valuable practice to take forward into your first or next full-time position as well.
If you are interested in looking for possible supply chain jobs and internships go to our job board!