An interview with internship expert Emily White
Emily White is a respected leader in both the music and sports industries. She launched her first company Whitesmith Entertainment in 2009 and has overseen the careers of various musicians and comedians who went on to create Grammy-nominated albums and Emmy Award-Winning writing. White also works with some of the best athletes in the world through her tech startup, Dreamfuel.
White is a strong proponent of internships and attributes much of her current success to her internship experiences. White’s new book Interning 101 is a concise but thorough guide to being an intern and a college student. With a combination of personal anecdotes and practical key takeaways, Interning 101 is a useful tool for anyone trying to find success in an internship.
White recently talked to the FBomb about how young people — and young women in particular — can leverage their internship experiences for success.
When did you first get the idea to write Interning 101?
I wrote what I dubbed “The Intern Manifesto” for my first company, Whitesmith Entertainment, as a handbook for our interns. I felt as though I’d been teaching our interns a lot of modern business basics semester after semester and figured it would be helpful (and save time) for them to reference a guide for quick questions. Of course learning modern business basics is what an internship is all about. But I had noticed such a disconnect from the classroom to the workforce with regard to email and phone skills, office and networking etiquette, as well as things like copy and pasting email addresses and phone numbers. So I figured if they could learn some basics via the handbook, we could have them learn and help with higher level projects, which is generally what interns want out of their experience. But it’s hard to do if they haven’t been trained to write a concise email or ever made a database entry before.
Why are internships important?
Internships are so important as they give you a taste of the workforce. There’s only so much school can prep you for. In reality, you can miss a class here or there and even not do assignment(s) and still pass or get a decent grade. We’re of course fine with interns making mistakes once on a task, but if that mistake is not learned from and continues to happen, we’re probably going to start giving those tasks to other interns, [and probably won’t] hire that person.
Beyond that, internships are such an amazing way to not only figure out what you want to do, but also sort out what you don’t want to do. Maybe your dream field or job isn’t what you expected. It’s way better to figure that out as soon as possible, for example while in school, instead of when you’re fully in the job market and stuck in a field that you thought would be one thing, but in reality is another. At the same time, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore what you want to do. I dreamed of working in the music industry, but didn’t know what specifically in the industry I wanted to do. Thus, I did a variety of internships in the music industry, that in hindsight prepared me to be a world-class artist manager. I can literally empathize with what it’s like for my colleagues on the other end of the phone when I’m dealing with them [regarding] our clients, as I’ve often interned within their part of the industry. That empathy has only strengthened my relationship with colleagues, not to mention all of the folks I met while I was an intern, who are now peers and colleagues of mine themselves.
What do you think is the most important thing an intern should do to be successful?
Make yourself indispensable. The main advice [students are now] getting is to “be pro-active,” which is really not good advice to give to students who have never been in the workforce [as it] results in students often overlook the tasks in front of them to try and bring something to the table that their supervisor hasn’t thought of. 95% of the time we have thought of what the intern proposes because we have that much more experience within the field. It’s more effective for interns to do everything that is asked of them to the absolute best of their ability.
At the same time, observe what is going on around you. Soak up company culture, listen to your bosses on phone calls (without being creepy) to pick up industry terms and names, and read all emails / messages from the bottom up. That way you’ll start to learn the ins and outs of your field as well as who’s who. This is information that is readily available at internships, but you’ll have to take it upon yourself to learn it as most of the time, no one is going to point this out to you.
If you’re absolutely dying to be pro-active, if you see a messy bookshelf, ask if you can organize it. Overflowing recycling? Take it out. Is this what you went to school for? Nope. Will it be greatly appreciatedby the team? Absolutely. And again, to go back to making oneself indispensable. If you do all tasks and do them well, you’ll already put yourself far ahead of most interns. This will help you stand out when you are looking for job. Beyond that? Say yes to all work events you are invited to. You’ll expand your network and impress the team with your passion for the company and field.
What do you think are the most common misconceptions about internships?
Most folks often feel that an internship is a direct pipeline to a job at the company one is interning at and/or if an employer sees internship experience on a resume, the candidate will be hired. In reality, even the companies with the most profits in the world can not take on every single intern that comes through their door. An internship is your gateway into a field.
Also, if you didn’t learn much at your internships, this is going to become apparent really quickly. I had one intern who had a slew of awesome internships on his resume and I figured we could have him help on higher level projects. Unfortunately it became clear that this student sat at a desk at his previous internships and didn’t pick up much. He was out-shined by another intern who was in one day when there was a stressful situation happening with a client. The second intern was super calm and I asked why. She said “I used to work at a restaurant, so I’m used to stressful situations.” From that moment on, I ask all about hospitality and other jobs when I see them on resumes. Fancy internships? That takes no more than a quick call to my colleagues at your previous internships to find out if you made yourself indispensable or if you stared at the wall, [just so] an internship [would be] listed on your resume.
Is there any specific advice that you would give to female interns? Or advice that you would like to emphasize from your book for female interns?
I have interviewed countless young people over the years. The women tend to be organized, polite, and prepared. I have run into too many guys who talk over me in interviews, are dressed sloppy, and are all about skipping their tasks to work on what they think they should be working on instead of what is assigned. Of course I’ve had wonderful male and female interns, but the above experiences are real and is something to think about.
That said, I had a male boss try to kiss me after a week at an internship and also had my butt grabbed in college by a male boss at a paid job in my field. I don’t know too many guys who have had that experience. It’s important to surround yourself with mentors and folks you can talk to — be it your parents, faculty from your school, friends, and/or those older in the field. We’re here for you no matter what arises; just ask.
I want [young] women to be even more cognizant about salary negotiations as well as what happens when they’re over 30. I was offered $25k at my first job out of college. That was not a livable wage in NYC. I asked for $40k and got it. However, at my last job before I started my first company, I was making $55k. Over drinks it came out that a male colleague, who was my age, and who I had significantly more experience than was making $100k. This was at age 25.
In my 30’s (which is where I am now), the [workplace] sexism is often more subtle than physical. For example, last night I was at a really high level networking event. I was mid-conversation with some folks about my work when we were interrupted. When the conversation picked back up, the next thing said to me was “So you were saying you work with female athletes.” My response? "I didn’t say that. Our startup works with athletes of all genders." Later, the head of a huge company said to me and a recent female college grad while talking about the beautiful spring weather, “When it gets nice like this, girls just strip. Men still have to wear our suits.” The words “girls” and “strip” were said so many times, it was hard for me to keep focused on what I was there to do: network.
If there’s anything I can share with the next generation, it’s that if you’re on an equal footing at your internships - AWESOME. But know that that can change quickly as you age, even at age 25! We’re working hard to make it easier for you, but I also point all of this out because we all need to be the change we want to see.
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