Top 5 Tips for Interning at a Startup

By Chelsea Atkins C’16

Compiled from post-startup reflections written by Intern Fellows at Wharton Entrepreneurship, these tips are sure to give you a leg up on the competition!

blog pic 3 600
Top, middle, bottom; left to right: Luke Chernosky (WG’14), Nashwa Elangbawy (W’15), Edward Wexler-Beron (WG’14), Ray Lei (ENG’16), Deepa Mahajan (WG’14), Esther Jang (WG’14), David Pankiewicz (W’14), Glory Nguyen (WG’14), Steven Johnston, Lennie Zhu (W’14)

1) Network early

Luke Chernosky (WG’14) found his internship through networking, and you can too! Today, networking can be as simple as connecting with someone over LinkedIn or, in David Pankiewicz’s (W’14) case, striking up a conversation in a coffee shop. Opportunities can present themselves at any time and in any place, so stay attentive. The earlier you make valuable connections the easier it will be to break into the start-up of your dreams. And because start-ups are frequently a close-knit group of colleagues, the right conversation with one can lead to an even better conversation with another!

2) Shop around

Finding your ideal start-up requires research. Do not be afraid to research as many start-ups as you can find in as many industries as you can think of. Small, young start-ups are hidden gems, allowing you the opportunity to diversify your skill set. Larger, more seasoned start-ups, on the other hand, allow you to fine tune skills you already have. Also, consider prioritizing your results according to location. Spending your summer at a start-up in a great location increases your odds of thoroughly enjoying your internship, like Nicholas Liu (W’15/ENG’15) who interned in Asia and was able to explore “Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Cambodia” in his time off!

Finally, do not be afraid to reach out to more than a few start-ups. Steven Johnston (WG’14) suggests reaching out to a start-up “if its product or purpose inspires you.” Glory Ngyuen (WG’14), on the other hand, says do not be afraid to eliminate some from your list. “Most of them I eliminated because I didn’t believe strongly enough in the product. Some of them I fell in love with but they weren’t willing to take a risk on me. Some of them just didn’t feel like the right fit.”  Your perfect fit might not be theirs and it’s great to have options!

3) Have an open mind

Coming in with a set idea of how your time at a start-up should be will be more of a hindrance than a help. By virtue of their nature, start-ups are constantly growing and evolving. Soak up everything around you and be open to new ideas. Just like Jiong Liu’s (WG’14) experience at Voxle, your time spent there can change the company’s course just as your time there can change your own. The first step, however, is to fully immerse yourself and be flexible, as Ray Lei (ENG’16) pointed out.

4) Be prepared to work

When Esther Jang (WG’14) started her internship she immediately “hit the ground running.” Start-ups are high octane, and as Nashwa Elangbawy (W’15) put it, the beauty of working there is that “you get to take on many roles at the same time.”  Fledgling businesses require versatile employees who do not mind taking the initiative or burning the midnight oil. Come in with a few ideas because “if you don’t know what you bring to the table, odds are neither will the entrepreneur looking to hire you,” according to Deepa Mahajan (WG’14). Edward Wexler-Beron (WG’14) describes the perfect start-up intern as someone who is “self-motivated, willing to roll his/her sleeves up to get a little dirty, and comfortable with the ambiguity that constantly exists.” Common passion and belief in the company will allow you and the other employees to motivate each other through the lows and celebrate whole-heartedly glimpses of success.

5) Have fun

Above all, have fun! Glory’s biggest piece of advice was “don’t freak out so much!” Working at a start-up can be a life changing experience (as Lennie Zhu (W’14) and Ray can attest to), filled with unique experiences and fascinating people. Find a mentor within the start-up like Nashwa did, or “pursue a passion, explore a new territory, or develop specific skills” like Deepa. Either way, make it a point to enjoy every minute!

ChelseaBio: Chelsea Atkins, former strategic partner manager at a multinational IT outsourcing company, has returned to Penn to pursue her BA in International Relations. Her desire is to reconcile the tension between national security and refugee assimilation, all while continuing to advocate for mental wellness and sexual assault prevention on college campuses.