How To Smash Any Interview

So you’ve submitted a killer resume, crafted a powerful cover letter, made it past the screening round and now you’ve been invited to an interview! At this point, you may be experiencing mixed emotions. You’re excited that you’ve gotten to this stage but you’re also a bit nervous about what lies ahead. I mean you’ve shared your work experience in your resume and expanded on why you’re interested in the role & company in your cover letter so can’t help but wonder what more do they want to know? More so, what more do you need to do?

The interview stage is typically the make-or-break part of any recruiting process. At this stage, the recruiter has likely shortlisted candidates they believe are suitable for the role and are now on a mission to identify the most suitable candidate. It’s no longer about being good enough to do the job, it’s about being the best for the role out of the candidate pool.

Daunting, I know. The good news, though, is that the fact that you’ve secured an interview means that the recruiting team sees potential in you and with the right preparation, you can secure the job!

I think of interviews in 3 stages, namely: before, during and after. I’ve broken down what I do in each stage to maximise my chances of success.

BEFORE

For me, this is usually the most time consuming stage because I go above and beyond to find all relevant information. As I said in my Google story, I studied for my Google interview more than I studied for my exam in that same month (needless to say, it paid off!).

There are 3 key areas that you need to prepare for (and one bonus area for those of you who want to be extra!). The good news is that you should have touched on all of them when preparing your cover letter and resume. Interview preparation, however, differs in that you need to understand each area such that you are able to discuss it comfortably from varying angles.

Since I elaborated on each of the below areas in my article on cover letters, I won’t repeat what I already said. Instead, I’ll focus on how these areas are nuanced when it comes to interviews.

1. Company

Most companies have characteristics which they consider unique to them, whether it be their culture, their problem-solving approach, the calibre of their people or their work schedule flexibility. Take the time to understand and practice articulating what attracts you to this company in particular.

2. Job Description

The interview is a great opportunity for the interviewer to test whether you really understand what the job entails. I won’t elaborate on this too much because it differs from role to role but ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of what the role requires. Also, be ready to answer technical, case or pitch questions (whichever is most relevant).

3. YOU

This is likely the part the interviewer will hone in on so it’s best to have thought it through thoroughly beforehand. A good way of doing this is by going through lists of ‘commonly asked interview questions’ and ensuring you have an answer for each one.

Naturally, we are diverse humans with a variety of experiences so it’s important to take the time to identify what the most relevant experiences are to share. Ask yourself which experiences best highlight your ability to succeed in this specific job.

I once had an interview where the interviewer just stared at my resume and asked me about each and every single point so be ready to do that too! What usually catches people off guard are the questions around strengths and weaknesses, “tell me about a time when…” and the plain old “tell me about yourself”. I usually have my answers to these questions pre-planned.

If there’s a particular interview question you are unsure how to answer, comment it below with the #moredetails hashtag!

*Bonus: The Interviewers

This may sound a bit strange but a trick I have found quite handy is to stalk research my interviewers beforehand. This includes reading up on their work history, checking out their LinkedIn and even going through their YouTube & Twitter pages! (I usually skip out of stalking their Instagram though). The idea is to get a good understanding of who will be interviewing you and to identify and possible commonalities.

Prior to one of my interviews, I had looked up the interviewer and found a video where they discussed a marketing framework they frequently use. I took note of the framework and during the interview, mentioned it when asked a marketing question. The interviewer was so impressed that I knew about it and that undoubtedly earned me some brownie points!

I also highly recommend you do a couple of mock interviews (even if just with your friends) beforehand and ask for honest feedback. Sometimes you sound one way in your head and a completely different way out loud!

DURING

Okay, so the moment is finally here! What do you say? How do you start?

A lot of interviewers like to begin with a conversational style. This means general greetings and small talk. Don’t let this fool you though, as soon as the interview says “tell me about yourself” (or a question along those lines), it’s officially game on!

If you’re someone who gets uncontrollable nerves, try to pay attention to your speaking pace and breathing. We often speak strangely fast and forget to breathe when we’re nervous. If you need some time to think about your answer, don’t be afraid to ask for it. What I often do is take three deep breaths right before the interview and even practice power poses!

Lastly, make sure you are dressed appropriately (I suggest risking being overdressed rather than risking being underdressed). Make sure you are punctual and friendly (remember to smile). If the interview is in person, make sure you smell alright and pay extra attention to the details of your appearance. If the interview is via video call, make sure the lighting isn’t too shabby and the background noise is minimal.

AFTER

I cannot emphasise how important it is to be polite to all the people you engage with from the company throughout the recruiting process. While your formal interviews may only be an hour or so, all your interactions with the company serve as opportunities for them to assess your character.

At one company I worked with, a candidate was the preferred person until he sent a rude email to someone from HR. He was then disqualified completely! Moral of the story is to be polite and stay humble (even if the company has not responded for over a week or you lowkey believe you’re overqualified for the job and ‘deserve’ it).

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that interviewers are people too and the more you’re able to connect with them on a human level, the higher your chances of getting the job. At the heart of connection is authenticity and commonalities. The latter can include what attracts you to the company, how you deal with challenging situations or your career aspirations.

So as you prepare and study the company and interviewers and whatever else, remember to be yourself and simply focus on highlighting the aspects of you and your experiences that make you an ideal candidate for the position.

As usual, let me know if you have any further questions and use #moredetails if you’d like me to elaborate on something. 

Thanks for reading! 🙂


FAQs: Getting a (Google) Internship

I was fortunate enough to intern with Google at their EMEA Headquarters in Dublin this past summer. I enjoyed it more than I imagined possible and would do it all again if I could. I have since gotten a lot of questions about applying to Google and ‘standing out’ amiss the piles of applications. 

The Google Internship is considered one of the most prestigious internships in the world and thus, they get thousands of applications each cycle resulting in a low acceptance rate. Below, I am going to detail my answers to some of the questions I get asked most often. Notably, a lot of the answers are applicable to many other internships/job applications. 

If you have an additional question, submit it via my website & I’ll share an answer! 

Q: Did you know someone at Google or apply via referral? 

No. I applied via the website (careers.google.com). 

Q: How do I stand out when applying for a job? 

This is the question I have been asked the most! The answer is relatively simple to understand but difficult to implement… 

Standing out essentially means catching the recruiters attention as one of the best candidates for the position. The best way to do that is to actually be one of the best candidates for the role. This can be achieved in 3 steps:

1. Understand the type of candidate they are searching for

This goes beyond simply understanding the qualifications or linguistic abilities they’re looking for. This step includes understanding the person they want on a holistic level…What is their culture like? What type of people thrive in it? What key characteristics do they value? What type of experience is relevant to the job? What’s the job description? What are the non-negotiable skills? 

2. Understand yourself relative to their ideal candidate 

Once you’ve taken time to understand their ideal candidate, you have to be honest with yourself about your suitability for the role. Are you a suitable candidate? Do your experiences, skills, values and working style align with that of the organisation and of the role? 

This is an extremely important, often underrated step. Many a times, I get people messaging me saying “I want to work for Google too!” but are only drawn to the brand name with little to no understanding of the company culture (it’s more than free food) or even the role they would want. 

While Google’s brand is certainly appealing, that is not why I applied. My decision to apply to Google came after I undertook step 1 (understanding) thoroughly. After my first internship with Bain & Company, I realised that a crucial part of my experience was my alignment with the company’s culture. I became fascinated with the concept of company culture and it’s effect on an organisation’s success. This lead me to learn more about Google’s culture and what it’s like to work there.  

I spoke to a few Googlers & Xooglers (ex Googlers) with the intention to gain insights from their experiences, identify common misconceptions and objectively decide if it would be a good fit for me. Notably, I did not slide into anyone’s DMs asking for a referral. This is a trend I’ve noticed that can come across as entitled, naive and even ignorant. I find this request particularly annoying if I have barely ever spoken to the person, never worked with them or generally have no insight into their professional capabilities. Referring someone is putting your brand behind them and it’s borderline nonsensical to ask someone that barely knows you to do that for you. 

What I suggest instead is this: after rigorously researching the role and company on the internet, note down any additional questions you have. Then approach people with authentic curiosity and a desire to better understand. Your goal should be to understand if the company and role really is a good fit for you because in all honesty, being unhappy at a job with a prestigious company is as easy as being in a miserable relationship with a gorgeous supermodel (it’s incredibly simple). 

Having worked for a few ‘big’ brands, I can tell you for free that the excitement of being associated with the brand is not sufficient to overshadow not enjoying your day to day work. So do yourself and the company a favour and try to find a role where you can excel, add value, grow and be happy. 

If you find that the role reflects who you would want to be and perhaps not who you are just yet, I would say apply! Sometimes we underestimate ourselves and our abilities and at the end of the day, we don’t know who else is applying. You may be the best suited applicant or the recruiter may see something in you that you’re not able to see in yourself. 

That said, you should also work on building relevant experience. This is a continuous process that I strongly recommend regardless of whether or not you get the role. Personally, I am constantly looking at what roles I want to take up in the future and then working on gaining relevant skills and experience now. 

Also, interviewers aren’t stupid. They can see right through candidates who are more drawn to the brand/opportunity location/perks than the actual role or company mission. Don’t be that guy. It won’t get you far. 

3. Invest time and effort into figuring out the best way to present yourself 

If you do not do steps one and two properly, you’re at high risk on wasting your time by completing step three. Simply because if you’re not at least half suited for the role then you’re wasting your time and the company’s time by applying. You are better off carefully selecting 10 opportunities and applying to them then blindly and hurriedly applying to 40 opportunities. Of course you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. But by applying to too many opportunities, you risk not investing the necessary time into the opportunities that you are most well suited for. 

As you know, securing job opportunities is increasingly difficult so every detail counts. I customise my resume and cover letter for each and every opportunity I apply for. This has worked extremely well for me. I almost never put all my work experience on my resume simply because it’s not all relevant (and I don’t have space as I usually opt for a one pager). Notably, a lot of companies ask for all your work history at some point or at least the link to your LinkedIn so don’t worry too much about trying to include everything. 

When it comes to putting together a resume, I detailed my key tips in my last article. I use Novo Resume as I appreciate the visual appeal. 

Q: How do I prepare for the interviews?

At the risk of making this article 10 pages long, I am going to try to keep each answer short but if you would like me to elaborate, use the hashtag #MoreDetails & the relevant topic in the comments. For this particular question, I may even elaborate with a video! 

When it comes to preparing for an interview, there are 3 key areas I focus on (yes, I like threes a lot!).

1. Interviewer: understanding who they are, what the role in the company is and what past experience they have. 

2. Commonly asked interview questions: making sure I am comfortable answering all the commonly asked interview questions. From “Tell me about yourself” to “what are your strengths and weaknesses”. 

3. Role-based & company knowledge: understanding the company’s business model, key activities, competitors and latest projects. This also includes familiarising myself with the latest news about them, their vision and expansion plans. On the other hand, role-based knowledge is about understanding key elements of the role and any products or technical skills associated with it. 

For example, the role I interviewed for with Google was sales & (digital) marketing centred so I spent some time learning about the digital marketing industry, notable statistics as to why digital marketing can be more effective than traditional marketing and the advantages of Google marketing solutions over their competitor’s products. 

Q: Should I write a cover letter? 

My take- if you can then yes. If you’ve taken my above advice then you should have a relatively concise list of opportunities you’re applying for which you believe you stand a chance at. Thus, it makes sense to do everything in your power to position yourself as the ideal candidate. 

Notably, I usually use cover letters to explain my thinking/reasoning behind certain decisions which I couldn’t elaborate on in my resume. For example, why I dropped out of ‘Africa’s number 1 university’, University of Cape Town, to start again at the African Leadership University.  I also use cover letters to elaborate on the most relevant projects I have worked on which showcase a skillset likely to be useful in the role I am applying for. 

Overall, a cover letter should concisely describe why you are interested in that particular company and that particular role and what experiences and skills position you uniquely to succeed in that role.

Q: Can you refer me or share my resume with HR/a hiring manager? 

Refer to answer 2 🙂 

There you have it! Answers to the questions I am asked most frequently about applying for an internship at Google. I hope you found the answers useful! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via the “Ask a Career Question” feature on my website 🙂 

My Story: Getting an Internship at Google

“How did you get an internship at Google?”

I have been asked this question more times than I can count and admittedly, I struggle to comprehensively answer it each time.

The video below details my story and key​ tips. Feel free to ask any further questions! 🙂

This video was originally shared on my LinkedIn in April 2018.

Why I chose Spain over another Internship

“When you’re young, you should take risks and if you feel like you’ll learn the most by sailing a ship for a few months then do that.”

A Director at Google once gave me the above piece of advice which highlights the reasoning behind my decision. Though I had already made the decision when he shared this nugget of wisdom, his articulation abilities and wealth of experience gave me a boost of confidence not only to pursue my desired alternative route but also to keep daring and encouraging others to do the same.

It all started with a logistically challenging situation.

Due to imperfect logistics, I found myself with a two-month gap between the end of my internship with Google and the beginning of my return internship at Bain & Company. This left me with a crucial decision I had to make: “How do I best utilise this “free” time?” My first instinct was to find another internship; perhaps one in a field I was yet to explore. (I actually found some great options, if you’d like tips on job/internship hunting then comment “#moredetails job hunting” and I’ll write an article about it.)

I was mildly excited to find an interesting opportunity, perhaps even in a new country. But I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t feel immensely challenged by the thought of it all and I did not believe that this was the best way for me to maximise my growth during this time; I wanted more. I wanted to throw myself into a mind-stretching situation where I could not imagine my current self existing, let alone thriving. I wanted an opportunity which would force me to grow into a stronger, more capable Melissa.

As I delved deeper to the root of this feeling, I also paid attention to what authentically excites me which is being challenged. Instead of thinking: what industry or job role have I not yet explored? I asked myself: what have I always wanted to learn more about but have not yet had the chance to?

That’s when I recalled a disappointing moment in my early high school days. High school, for me, was the point at which I could start learning international languages. Having lived in Argentina briefly, I had a fond love of Espanol. I was dying to roll Spanish words off my tongue. But to my disappointment, due to a lack of demand, I was only allowed to study French at my school.

All these years later, my love for the Spanish language still lingers as does my curiosity to learn more about the Spanish culture. The strange thing was that I could not envision myself fluently speaking Spanish. The idea of it was (and still is) completely out of reach to me. This contrasted to how I could envision myself securing and succeeding at another internship.

And that’s when I knew I had to do something different. I enrolled in a Spanish Language School in the South of Spain where I’ll spend a month learning my beloved Espanol.

My greater goal, over and above learning a new language, is to challenge myself to overcome the mental limits of my perceived capabilities.

Article 3 Quote

Although, I can’t help but ask myself: “Will learning Spanish help me progress my career? Will being able to speak the language be useful to my life in general? Is it linked to and will it progress my larger vision of driving change in Africa?”

Honestly, I don’t know. My focus right now is on growing myself in the best way I know how. The dots aren’t perfectly connecting as I look forward but I really do hope Steve Jobs was right and that they’ll connect when I look back many years from today!

What daring risks have you taken lately and how do you justify them?

 

3 Steps to a Killer Resume

It’s been approximately 2.5 years since I actively started my journey as a young professional. Thus far, I have been lucky enough to do internships with a variety of companies; from tech giants like Google and cutthroat consulting firms like Bain to cryptocurrency startups and NGOs. I’ve worked in companies across Africa, Europe and Asia in both part-time and full-time roles.

While my experience exploring the working world has certainly been fulfilling, it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies. If I were to estimate, I would say I have been rejected by about 65% of the opportunities that I have applied to. More so, I have witnessed candidates who I could have sworn I would surpass grab opportunities from right under my feet! I have felt hopeless and inadequate but I have persevered.

A key skill I have developed along the way, which I want to share with you today, is that of positioning experiences in your resume to help you sell yourself to your dream company. I honed this skill throughout my time as a Career Development intern, editing over 50 resumes, and during my journey as a young professional completing 8 internships (2 more since my last article!).

Here’s what I believe are the 3 keys to an outstanding resume:

1. Storytelling  

While most may think of resumes as a collection of professional experiences, I like to think of them as a tool which we can use to tell recruiters the story of what makes us most ideal for a role.

In order to do this effectively, you need to understand your audience (the company) and what appeals to them (the description of the type of candidate they’re looking for). Once you’ve ensured you have a comprehensive understanding, you can now carefully select which experiences you share, which skills you highlight and even what interests and accomplishments you include. The goal is to make a recruiter feel like you were designed for the job!

So now you’ve identified which of your experiences you’ll share, how do you now express them? How do you flesh out the key components of your story (your past experiences)?  That’s where the second key to a killer resume comes in…

2. Brevity with a focus on impact

Recruiters do not have a lot of time and they usually skim read resumes so as beautiful as your story may be, you have to keep it short. If you’re still in university then I recommend you focus on 3 key past experiences, each with 3 bullet points. Each bullet should answer two questions:

  • What did you do? Use action verbs, detail tools used and where relevant include the number of people you worked with (teamwork is a valuable skill)
  • What impact did it have? Include a brief description of how the work you did made a difference and if possible, include numbers!

The key is to move beyond explaining what you were responsible for or what your job description said to illustrate the impact you had and how that’s made you a more qualified professional.

For example, one of my internships included a lot of data analysis. One may be tempted to explain that in a bullet on a resume like this:

Responsible for analysing data used to inform strategy

But applying the concept above, I instead phrased it like this:

Utilized Alteryx, Excel and Tableau to manipulate and draw insights from big data which guided strategy recommendations that influenced 5000+ workers

The second version gives the recruiter a clearer idea of the scope of the work I did, the tools I used to do it, the skills I acquired through the experience and the impact that my work had. While the first two points combined with relevant experience will ensure your resume is good, if you want to make it outstanding (read: killer!) then point 3 is crucial…

3. Attention to detail

This is probably the most straightforward yet underestimated aspect of crafting a winning resume. You need to pay attention to detail. From ensuring no typos to ensuring a consistent font (and font size), alignment and accurate contact details. I won’t elaborate on this further because it simply comes down to going the extra mile to double check all the elements of your resume.

In Summary…

  • The first step to crafting a killer resume is understanding the company and role you’re applying for then selecting relevant experiences, skills and interests to share.
  • The second step is to detail each experience briefly with a stark focus on illustrating the impact you had and the skills you acquired.
  • The final step is to ensure your resume is well formatted and error-free by paying attention to the tiniest details.

Originally posted on the 14th of August 2018 on my LinkedIn

How I got 6 Internships in 2 Years

Two years ago, I relocated to a tiny island in Africa, called Mauritius, to attend the African Leadership University (ALU). I was ready to unleash my potential coupled with my entrepreneurial ambitions and drive change in our beloved continent! But I knew that, eventually, I would need a job.

The problem? I had zero working experience. So, I opted to explore getting an internship.

As an aspiring young professional, a great way for you to launch a career is by getting an internship in a field of your interest. Internships are a great way to explore an industry and grow your professional network, all while learning new skills! What’s not always so great is the process of getting an internship. To make your journey a little easier, I have detailed below the three keys to my internship-hunting success.

1. Branding

Branding is about being aware of and actively shaping how people perceive you. While we are multifaceted beings, people tend to remember and associate a few key things with us. So we have to ask ourselves some questions in order to understand what we’d ideally want people to think of when our name is mentioned in a professional context. Questions such as: What type of work do I enjoy doing? What do I have experience in? What skills do I have or can I get which uniquely position me to do my ideal job? Once you’ve established that, you can actively build your professional brand.

In my case, I knew I enjoyed strategy, creative problem solving, collaborative work and all things artistic. I also suspected I would enjoy graphic design, sales and advertising. My experience, however, was in finance and accounting but also in building and leading teams, fundraising and pitching. I leveraged the skills I was learning at ALU and the startup nature of the environment to gain more experience. Initially, I wasn’t particularly picky about the type of experience I got. If it was something I genuinely enjoyed and it presented an opportunity for me to learn and grow, I would jump in.

From co-founding the art department, Arts@ALU, to holding the university’s first fashion show and leading the decor for ALU’s Awards event, I was having the time of my life working with different people and growing as an aspiring professional. What I noticed later was that I also positioned myself as an enthusiastic, go-getter who gets things done. This ‘branding’ led to my first internship which I was invited to without the need to apply (surprise, surprise!) and it enabled me to earn another internship at ALU (which I had to apply for). Not to mention, I was also invited to work on a number of other high-stake projects.

This is the power of branding. The risk of not actively branding yourself is finding yourself associated with skills and areas you do not enjoy. The key is to make sure that your social media persona (especially on LinkedIn), your resume, your experiences and even your professional interactions are all geared towards telling one cohesive story – the story being the embodiment of your ideal professional brand.

2. Networking

If you’re thinking I’m going to tell you to print a stack of business cards and start regularly attending conferences, you’re wrong.

Networking is the art of strategically forming professional connections. There are 3 key things to remember when it comes to networking: select, connect and follow up.

Select: It’s important to be selective of the people you choose to network with. Prioritise people who work in fields of your interest and/or have achievements you aspire to. That way you’re more likely to come across opportunities where you can learn from someone while contributing intellectually to the dialogue and even teach them something they did not know.

Connect: At the heart of networking is forming authentic connections. In order to do this, we have to reject the notions of being professional robots and having Q&A style conversations. Instead, we should show our personalities, speak freely (but respectfully) and not be afraid of speaking about non-work related topics. Once a connection has been formed, it ought to be maintained via following up.

Follow up: This can take many forms but my personal facourites are a LinkedIn invite and/or a follow-up email expressing gratitude for the interaction. From then on, if you come across a resource you think may be of use or interest to them, you can share it. Later on, you could also update them on what you’re up to professionally.

At my university, we regularly have distinguished guests visiting our campus. One day, I attended a lunch with a guest speaker who recently graduated from a business school I was considering (notice the careful selection? 😉 ). Prior to the lunch, I thoroughly read up on him and identified areas of shared interest which I then delved into at the lunch. The knowledge I had of his background enabled me to ask informed questions resulting in a flowing conversation. I followed up with a LinkedIn invite and an email. After some back and forth conversing, I scheduled a phone call to gain his input on a project I was working on. A few months later, he invited me to intern on a project he was working on. Months after that, I interned with his startup. Just like that, I got two internships from one connection.

It’s important to remember that networking is not about what you can get from others. It’s about forming genuine professional connections with people, often based on shared passions and interests, where you care about one another’s professional and personal growth. Notably, how you brand yourself guides how people in your network interact with you.

3. Proactivity

Proactivity is the art of making active efforts to impact a situation rather than simply responding to it. What I have done in the first two points is essentially outline how you can be proactive in your personal branding and in your networking experiences.

While memorable branding and seamless networking may lead to some opportunities, you’ll likely have to take a further step in order to ensure an ideal career opportunity. You’ll need to actively seek opportunities through a variety of methods and platforms. My personal are: using LinkedIn Careers (set up an alert for new opportunities related to your search), creating an opportunity dashboard (populate it with all interesting opportunities and track your progress) and of course, the Careers section on the websites of your dream companies.

During my first year of ALU, I was lucky enough to be pitched for an internship with a leading bulge-bracket consulting firm. My proactivity in thoroughly preparing for the case interviews and acquainting myself with the company culture earned me an offer for the internship role I had applied for. I took it a step further by actively branding myself during my internship (read more about that here) while constantly maintaining a high standard of excellence in my work which earned me a return offer at the firm.

In my second year, I aspired to intern on a different continent and I proactively sought out and maximised opportunities to realise that goal (read more about how I landed an internship in Japan here).

In Summary…

Branding, Networking & Proactivity are essential in crafting that career you aspire to. Branding allows you to strategically position yourself in the professional world. Networking allows you to meet the right people who can share knowledge and skills with you and link you to opportunities. Lastly, proactivity allows you to identify and seal growth and career opportunities. These are the 3 high-level skills I leveraged to go from having no work experience to completing 6 internships in 2 years. Funny enough, each one of the three skills bore 2 internship opportunities, however, they are most powerful when used together.

Originally posted on the 17th of April 2018 on my LinkedIn

How I Landed an Internship in Tokyo

One of the unique selling points of ALU is how work experience is built into our degree programmes via our annual four-month internship period. After a successful first year at ALU spent garnering various leadership, project management, data analysis and soft skills, I opted to do my first internship at a top-tier management consulting firm. This cut-throat industry provided an ideal environment to develop an aspiring entrepreneur and business student such as myself.

To my delight, I earned an offer to intern at the consulting firm again in my third year. However, this left the unavoidable question of where I want to do my second-year internship.

My moonshot aspiration for my second-year internship was to work on a different continent so as to broaden my experiences and challenge myself to deliver high-quality work in a completely different environment. Global relations is a crucial skill for world leaders and this is a skill I wanted to begin developing while still in college.

Early in the year, I created a list of international opportunities based on the list of partner companies the ALU Career Development Team shared with students as well as my own research (and the help of LinkedIn’s job search feature!).

I narrowed down the list to ensure it only included options which could equip me with skills relevant to my broader life ambitions in addition to providing an international experience. Given that I have a burning passion for social impact, particularly women empowerment; fashion and a keen interest in business strategy, there were a variety of opportunities for me to explore.

Expectedly, there were also a variety of challenges. The largest being that our internship season is during the fall which is an off-peak season (most international internships take place in summer). The global economic downturn also caused a number of companies to cease hiring interns temporarily, while many international opportunities require a prior work permit in that country.

Despite these challenges, I landed an international internship using three key tools/strategies:

  1. Proactivity

The ALU Career Development Team is in the process of developing a transparent system which matches students to internships. While I leveraged the system by completing all the necessary assessments to ensure I qualified to be matched to top-tier partner companies, I did not rely on it fully.

I was pitched by ALU  to a variety of companies, however, there was one organisation which was among the top options on my list of international opportunities which I was not pitched to. Upon inquiry, I was informed that ALU would not be able to pitch me. To make matters worse, the international companies I was pitched to opted not to take interns due to various internal and economic challenges, while my self-sourcing efforts were impeded by the aforementioned issues.

Nonetheless, I decided to apply one of my favourite tools which we had explored in our first year Entrepreneurial Leadership class: proactivity. In the spirit of fearlessly and unrelentingly pursuing my ambitions, I reached out to the said organisation independently, targetting all four of their regional offices with a well thought-out email and a carefully constructed resume.

Notably, I was aware of the fact that not being part of the group of students ALU had pitched to them could negatively affect my application, if not invalidate it completely.

Despite this, I maintained a proactive spirit, following up with the two offices who were open to hiring interns during the fall while enduring seemingly delayed responses and overlooked emails.

The more I learned about the opportunity, which is centred on business strategy in Africa, the more I wanted it.

After several weeks of communication with the organisation, I secured an interview. Only two days after my interview, I received an offer to a fully-funded internship in Tokyo, Japan!

  1. Melissa-Njeri-KariukiPersistence

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity required relenting persistence in addition to proactivity.

I began my quest for an international internship in May and secured my internship five months later in September. During that period, I felt as though I was on a rollercoaster… I fiercely pursued and invested my energy into opportunities which slipped through in the last moments, I got rejected and I felt disappointed time and time again.

But what I refused to do was give up.

  1. Positive Energy (consisting of confidence & rechannelled negative energy)

A crucial aspect of my persistence was the spirit in which I conducted it. I consciously decided to remain positive.

When I was informed that ALU would not be able to pitch me to this organisation despite my keen interest, I was extremely disappointed. But I did not allow that disappointment to deter me, instead, I rechanneled that negative energy into motivation to succeed.

Importantly, I did not perceive this setback as a reflection of my abilities and/or worth and thus maintained a healthy amount of self-confidence.

Underlying all my efforts was the belief that I deserved an opportunity of this nature and I would put in the necessary work to achieve it. I was also familiar with the reality that it would not be easy but I did not doubt that it would be worth it.

Additionally, in all my internship-centred interactions, from those with the Career Development team to those with local companies, and even with my peers, I maintained a positive aura. I believe this was a crucial aspect of my journey as when companies consider who to employ, over and above skills and experience, they also consider culture-fit which is essentially a professional way of describing the vibe a person would add to the office environment. On a personal level, my positive energy feeds my sanity and pushes me to avoid complaining and remain solution-orientated.

It was my conscious positivity that allowed me to be proactive and persist in good faith and land an internship in Tokyo. I encountered uncountable challenges, I faced the temptation to indulge in negativity and finger-pointing. However, I fought to realise my ambitions and succeeded by applying proactivity, persistence, and positivity!

I originally posted this article on the 5th of October 2017 on the African Leadership University’s website.