This summer, I interned at a nonprofit called Engine in Downtown Minneapolis. It was one of my first real jobs working for someone else, and I learned so much in just a couple of short months. On my last day there, I wrote down the three biggest lessons I had learned over the course of my internship. Here they are:

In the “Real World,” Quality Matters Far More Than Speed

In high school and college, getting homework done quickly matters a lot because there’s so much of it. If you do a decent job at your homework, that’s even better.

In the “real” world, your work must be of very high quality, with lots of depth. The time taken to do your work does not matter too much, as long as you’re not wasting any time. (Obviously, in a bigger business with deadlines, time matters; but it’s still quality that’s emphasized over speed.) As my boss said, “Assignments should take days, not hours.”

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Learning Mostly Happens on the Job

I learned about an incredible amount of topics during my internship, including but not limited to:

  • Employee engagement
  • Leadership development
  • Nonprofits (how they work, what they need, how to start one)
  • Creating marketing plans
  • Lead generation
  • Military reintegration programs
  • Budgets
  • Business models
  • Project management software
  • Market and competitor research

I would have not learned about these important things and how they actually work in the “real” world if I had not been working at Engine; and that learning has been very valuable.

Your Reputation and Network Are Incredibly Important

I learned a lot from seeing how my boss interacted with people. He has a massive network, and is constantly maintaining and growing it, which is very important for his success.

Emailing people you want to meet with usually works — and if you have a mutual connection, they are even more likely to meet with you. Lunch meetings are perfect for catching up with friends and contacts.

Your personal brand is the foundation for your success. Make sure you’re known for the traits you want to be known for. As Will Rogers said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”

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Your network can give you priceless advice with the direction of your business — especially if they are invested in the outcome of it in any way. If you have a large enough network, you will always know someone who can do anything you need help with (legal help, website development, etc).

Don’t burn bridges. Word spreads quickly. My boss told me a story of a guy who got fired from his job and then talked badly about where he used to work. He was surprised when he somehow wasn’t able to find a job after that.

I’ve learned a lot more than the above during my internship, but I wanted to distill it into a few key themes. Hopefully this gives you some insight on how college is different from the “real” world! What are the other differences? Let me know in the comments below.


About the Author: Lars King is a college student in Boston with a passion for self-development. Subscribe to his blog at Holistic Improvement, and follow him on Twitter!


Image: Ken Colwell