How skipping the internship changed my career

Note: This is a longer version of a post I recently shared on LinkedIn

I’ve become familiar with internships. From having one myself last summer (it was a blast!) to managing and coaching interns, I’ve gained a good sense of the value and opportunity that internships provide. Thus, I highly recommend people use them to develop and grow in their career.

But when I think about my own internship experience, one of the most influential decisions that I ever made was choosing to turn down an internship.

Seven years ago, I was doing what every driven student in the Boston College Carroll School of Management was doing – polishing my resume, writing cover letters, and applying to as many internships as possible.

As a natural planner and go-getter, I had developed a plan for success – the premise was simple: getting good internship experiences means getting good jobs, and getting good jobs helps you start a good career.

But amidst the interviews and 20 revisions of my resume I saw another opportunity come across my plate – possibly becoming an orientation leader for first-year students at Boston College.

As an orientation leader, I would be working with fellow faculty, administrators, and leaders to welcome incoming first-year students. It felt like a combination of being a mentor, peer, friend, advisor, camp counselor, and personal coach.

Having had great coaches, mentors, and guides in my life I saw the value of these people. So I really strived to do the same for others, which made this an attractive opportunity.

The challenge would be that I would have to forego gaining relevant business experience, and do something entirely different than the majority of my classmates. Not to mention, go down a path that was actually pretty far from my own “plan.”

The more I applied to internships, the better the idea of being an orientation leader stuck in my mind. Up to that point, I had really enjoyed my experience at Boston College, and I had navigated it smoothly thanks to the guidance of my own orientation leader and countless other students.

As a passionate believer in the Jesuit mission of using your talents to benefit others, just thinking about the opportunity excited and energized me in ways unlike any of the internships for which I was applying. But I couldn’t see how this path fit in my plan, so I was hesitant to move forward.


When it comes to making decisions, I take into account both my head and my heart. Sometimes there’s alignment, and other times there’s discomfort, and this time it was the latter. With this one, I couldn’t ignore my heart, and decided to apply.

After applying and making it through a few rounds of interviews, I was given an offer to become an orientation leader.


At the time, my friends and family were supported but perplexed. They knew I loved business and was motivated and driven by my “plan,” so doing something that derailed from this seemed unlike me.

Furthermore, this was also in spring of 2008. I certainly admit I did not foresee the biggest recession coming since the Great Depression. But others around me warned about the potential limitations I was putting on myself for getting a full-time job after college. I respected their opinions, but mustered up the courage and confidence to stand by my decision.

Instead of learning the ins and outs of a business, networking with executives, and going to happy hour, I was advising students on what classes to take, how to adjust to life on your own (no parents!) and honing my dodge ball, acting, and icebreaker skills.

It was far from that internship I set out to discover, but I loved every second of it. Sure, sometimes I got envious of my classmates who were interning at investment banks, consulting firms and Fortune 500 companies, and getting “real world experience.” But what I gained was just as real world as working a “traditional internship.” (I am also certain they were not playing dodge ball at work!)

That summer, I had a sense of purpose. That was to help incoming students and parents feel comfortable and excited about their opportunity to pursue higher education.Having gone through the transition myself, I could speak openly and honestly about my own experience. Furthermore, getting to work alongside fellow students, faculty and administrators who were just as passionate about the Boston College experience and mission gave me energy and enthusiasm that I hadn’t felt in a long time.


Being an orientation leader did not feel like work – it felt like an extension of being the best version of myself. I could use my skills, talents, and leadership abilities to help other people. Furthermore, it taught me skills and lessons that transformed my life and are still relevant to me today.

First, it taught me to how to problem solve on the fly. With a team of 43 other members, 350+ students and 200+ parents, there was always something deviating from plan.

While we went through an exhaustive two-week training program, no manual could possibly prepare you for everything you’d encounter. There were countless times when I was put in positions where I had to find solutions on the fly – to make sure our end customers (students and/or parents) felt comfortable and got what they needed. As a consultant, I am in the business of problem solving, so learning how to come up with solutions instead of merely identifying problems was a valuable skill.

Secondly, the role taught me how to empathize with diverse groups of people. While going to college is an exciting opportunity, it also causes a lot of anxiety and concern. Furthermore, not everyone loves a mandatory orientation. At times, it was challenging and difficult to understand when people weren’t excited, or why they would fight you on things they had to do or not do, or why they wouldn’t follow instructions. But when you took the time to understand what was driving their motivations, their behaviors and words made sense.

I learned to respond in ways that demonstrated empathy and understanding, but also drove towards solutions that benefited everyone. In my career, I’ve had to build relationships with people, from the administrative staff up to the C-Suite. Learning how to see things through their perspective has helped me refine my approach to building relationships when working with clients.


Last but not least, I learned a lot about motivating and influencing others. As a 20-year-old, I was responsible for 10-15 students each week. While I was older and experienced, I didn’t necessarily have management control over these students. So learning how to motivate and guide people to accomplish what you’ve been tasked with doing was not always easy.

In my experience, I’ve often had to figure out how to get things done without having formal influence, titles, or power. I have learned along the way that sometimes the most effective people in an organization are not always the ones with the title, but the ones who know how to motivate and influence others regardless of their title.

As someone who has worked in roles where I’ve been tasked with “getting shit done,” these lessons were invaluable to helping me drive execution of projects and initiatives, without necessarily having formal power or control.

Since I passed on that internship, I’ve worked for one of the largest consulting firms, Fortune’s most innovative company, and graduated from business school. So while not having an internship deviated a bit from my life plan at 20, I feel fortunate and privileged to be where I am seven years later.


On a personal level, working on a high-performing team with 43 other motivated, intelligent, and qualified individuals helped me build incredible relationships with countless people. Some of my closest friends today came from that summer – I’ve traveled the world, been in weddings, and navigated the highs (successes) and lows (failures, deaths) with these friends. I’ve always been blessed with good people in my life, and many of them came from that phenomenal experience.

Sometimes, opportunities come up that don’t seem to fit our plan, and it’s easy to write them off. From what I’ve learned from my #interning experience, having a plan is great, but going off the plan can open your aperture to opportunities and experiences that you never thought were possible.

Furthermore, it’s important to listen and balance the head (logic, reasoning) and the heart (feeling, emotion.) Both are needed to help you guide your life choices and decisions.

That summer, my decision to not take that internship changed my life, and I’m forever grateful for that experience. And the next time I take a job that includes playing dodge ball, I know I’ll be prepared



3 ways young professionals can crush it at work

Starting off your career as a young professional can be a challenging experience. Despite your intelligence, college degree and work ethic, getting a handle of your role and making contributions to your team is not as cut and dried as taking a test or reading a textbook. It rarely happens right away. In fact, it takes most people a few months (or up to a year) to really contribute at their peak capacity.

For those that are college graduates and joining the workplace for the first time it can take even longer. While many of us are hired for our intelligence and experience, there are some lessons that cannot be taught.

I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside incredibly talented professionals who are making incredible contributions to their teams despite their lack of experience. Through my conversations with these high-performing individuals along with my own observations, the following things are things you can do to begin to do to stand out amongst your team.

Tackle the tough projects

When I worked at Deloitte, one of my managers used to tell me, “clients don’t pay us to solve their easy problems, they pay us to solve their hard ones.” Similarly, if you raise your hand to tackle the tough assignments, perhaps the ones nobody else wants to do, you’ll gain the respect and awareness from your manager and your colleagues.

Taking on a tough project can be a daunting task. Oftentimes, we may feel unqualified or unsure of how to proceed. However, raising your hand to tackle a tough project signals initiative, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and problem solving skills. Furthermore, it opens doors for you, as others begin to take notice. If you’re able to deliver on these projects, you’ll often find that others will come back to you with future opportunities.

Tip: Next time there is an open project up for grabs, sign up for it even if you aren’t sure if you are qualified to tackle it. Then, reach out to some others who you trust to set up time to talk with them about how you can best approach this project.

Share knowledge

In our information-based economy, knowledge is power. The expertise we develop and the experiences we gain are valuable assets, not only to our work but also for others. This is why sharing your knowledge is something that can make you stand out from your peers.

When you share knowledge that is useful and helpful, people will see you as a trusted source of expertise on a particular topic. This helps you build credibility, trust, and respect from your peers, and again, opens you up to countless future opportunities.

Tip: Think about something that you’ve worked on lately and create a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. Consider sharing it with others on your team who might be working on a similar topic.

Solve unidentified problems

Solving a problem that your boss or manager has come to you with is always a good thing. However, the forward-thinking employees tend to spot problems that others don’t see and find ways to solve them before they become bigger issues. Your manager has a million things on their plate, which is why they’ve come to you with a particular problem. They can’t spot every issue or concern, so when you can find one and solve it before they notice they tend to appreciate your diligence.

Tip: This is a little bit harder to teach since it relies a bit on instinct and experience. Start by evaluating a project or initiative your team just completed and identifying ways it could have been done better or any weaknesses or pain points it caused to employees or customers.

5 Reflections on my MBA experience

Now that I’ve graduated and moved away from North Carolina I’ve had some time to think about my MBA experience. To articulate the experience as best as I can I’ve come up with a series of questions and answers which paints a picture of what the experience meant to me.

Q: What’s an experience you’ll never forget?

Working on the MBA Student Association (MBASA) as the VP of Diversity is something I’ll never forget. While I’ve done student government for many years in high school and college, what stood out about this experience was the ability to work on such a highly motivated, talented team and with just plain fun group of people. Our Leadership team of 10 of our best leaders worked well together but more importantly, challenged, supported, and empowered each other to achieve goals, tackle difficult challenges, and most importantly, serve the needs of our fellow classmates. While there were long nights, stressful moments, and plenty of challenges, I felt compelled and energized to work through those moments of challenge because I respected and enjoyed my teammates.



Q: What are you most proud of?

UNC Kenan-Flagler prides itself on selecting people who have demonstrated leadership skills but who also show an aptitude for developing further as a leader. From the beginning, I was surrounded by people who had already demonstrated excellent leadership skills. While I felt like I had developed a strong leadership skillset, I felt I had much to learn. I found this to be true, but on numerous occasions my fellow classmates, administrators, and faculty members would ask me for advice on how to lead, or how to think through leadership challenges. This was both exciting and humbling in that it gave me an opportunity to help others, but humbling because so in many ways it meant others respected how I thought and how I led. One of my proudest moments came when I was nominated and selected for the Core Value Leadership Award in front of my family and fellow classmates during Graduation. Yet again, it showed me that not only was I confident in my leadership abilities, but my peers were too.



Q: If you could do your MBA over again what would you do differently?

Early on in my MBA experience, I put a big emphasis on wanting to prove myself to my classmates. I was younger than most of them and also initially waitlisted and wanted to demonstrate that I did belong and that I could “cut it” here. In an environment of high-performing people, it was easy to feel insecure about your weaknesses or development areas. If I could do it again, I would have focused less on proving myself to my classmates and more on being honest about my weaknesses and development areas. Business school and Kenan-Flagler is a safe environment where people are supportive of who you are, regardless of your skill level. As soon as I realized this, I began to find opportunities to work on things I wanted to improve, and my growth shot up exponentially. If I could do it over, I would have tried to be honest about this earlier, that way, my growth could have started even further.


Q: What changes have you noticed in yourself from when you began your MBA?

Since I began business school, I’ve gained an even clearer sense of self – an even better understanding of what motivates and drives me. This has helped me understand past decisions I’ve made but also formed my process for future decisions. For instance, when I previously worked for Deloitte, I really enjoyed doing activities such as campus recruiting, and training and mentoring junior analysts, formally and informally. I realized that I’m both gifted and passionate about helping people understand their talents and showing them how they can use them in the best possible way. As a result of this, I’ll focus on career opportunities in the future where I can manage teams, especially of junior staff.


On a more tangible level, I’ve become a better communicator. I’ve always felt comfortable with my public speaking and group communication skills but one area that I felt needed work was my written communication skills. I took a handful of classmates in business writing and also made a commitment to writing more frequently. I started a blog, and posting regularly on LinkedIn. Over time, I’ve become much better at organizing my thoughts and communicating them in a way that encapsulates the message I’m trying to convey.



Q: What makes Kenan-Flagler students unique?

There are many great MBA programs and many great MBA students and graduates from these great programs. What sets Kenan-Flagler students apart is that that when it comes to business they care equally about the how and the why and they care even more about the who. First, they care how business gets done. They make sure that the process of doing things is done in the best possible way, a way marked by collaboration, emphasis on inclusion, and free of bias in order to achieve results. But, they also care about why things are done the way they are done. They use logic, analytical horsepower, and when necessary, intuition to make sure that they are following the right path. Lastly, they put an emphasis on the who. Kenan-Flagler graduates care most about the people. They actively develop relationships, look out for their teammates, and care about both the collective success of the team as well as the individual contributions and development of the people within it. Above all, when you are working with a Kenan-Flagler graduate, you can count on the fact that they have your back.