The internship series

What’d You Learn This Summer? 6 Students Share Their Lessons

Read advice and life lessons from this summer’s virtual interns, digital fellows, and remote learners.

The summer of 2020 was one that none of us could have predicted. For college students, things got extra confusing: final exams happened at home, graduations were put on pause, and back-to-school plans became riddled with uncertainty. If internships, summer jobs, and professional development programs weren’t canceled outright, most were moved into a virtual format, ushering in a whole new set of interesting challenges to adapt to. 

While it’s easy to focus on the many challenges 2020 hath wrought, these unexpected circumstances have ultimately taught the world about the resilience of today’s incoming job-seekers. From childhood bedrooms, shared apartments, and sometimes even parking lots across the globe, college students showcased their adaptability while navigating their first professional experiences from behind a screen — many never actually meeting their managers, new mentors, or peers in person.   

When we caught up with students about their summers, it’s clear that they didn’t just “survive” their virtual professional opportunities… they thrived. Among the many lessons and pieces of advice they shared, one thing is crystal clear: if you’ve got an open mind, a hunger for learning, and an enthusiasm for new challenges, nothing can put a damper on your summer!

Ahead, read key takeaways from this summer’s interns, fellows, and remote learners. 

Be intentional about connecting with colleagues

“Stay connected! It’s really easy in an office to stop by someone’s desk. Try to emulate that experience by setting up calls every day to check in with whoever you’re reporting to… Be proactive. Set up those meetings, ask those questions, and ask for feedback. Everybody’s willing to help out, you just need to put yourself out there!” 

Tanya Kapur, Business Consulting Intern for a
multinational professional services network

Be proactive about reaching out and talking to people. I think that sometimes it’s really easy when you’re virtual and everything is done through a screen to kind of shrink into the work that you’re doing and just do your own thing. But I‘ve found that it’s been so nice to reach out. Asking for 15 minutes of someone’s time — if they’ve got a cool project that they’ve talked about, or you’re interested in learning more about them and the work they do — I’ve found that it’s such a great way to make connections and get to know people.”

Tiffany Liu, Civic Digital Fellow for a tech nonprofit

“During these times, for remote internships where you don’t have as many natural interactions in the workplace, it’s especially important to reach out to people and talk to them. As long as you’re genuinely respectful and have good intentions, you’ll be surprised at how receptive people are to your questions.”

Alex Wang, Quantitative Research Intern
for a hedge fund management firm

Don’t underestimate the value of teamwork

“One of the most important lessons I learned through the Virtual Exposure Program this past summer with Cushman & Wakefield was to take pride in the things you accomplish, and none of those accomplishments can be achieved alone. The overall program gave me a great outlook on how the company is very team-oriented and no projects are truly completed alone.”

— Michael Apostolopoulos, remote learning series participant
with a global commercial real estate firm

Take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow

Get involved past whatever work you’re given. For example I got to participate in three of EY’s corporate responsibility programs, and it gave me a better sense for what the company stands for, for its clients and for the community.” 

— Tanya Kapur

“Your internship is really what you make of it. If you want to learn as much as possible, it’s really up to you to talk to as many people as you can and set up those calls.”

— Cat DinhInside Sales Intern for a tech company

“Quite simply, you get out what you put in… Since COVID-19 did not allow for hands-on experience this summer, the best tip I could give would be to make it a point to be a sponge and absorb all the information you are taught by these professionals, because it is truly invaluable.”

— Michael Apostolopoulos

Don’t forget to network, even while virtual!

“Perhaps the most important lesson I learned this summer is that making connections with people is vital to success. The willingness of Cushman & Wakefield employees to guide and connect with us is an indispensable tool I will treasure for a very long time. In my case, I sometimes found it nerve-wracking to reach out to an older professional because I was scared to take their time and frankly, scared of rejection. However, after this [professional development] series, the saying ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ has never rung truer and the speakers of the series emphasized that constantly. It’s so important to network with professionals in your industry and although that can seem scary, oftentimes you’ll find that professionals would more than likely love to help you and see you succeed.” 

—  Sofia Bruno, remote learning series participant
with a global commercial real estate firm

“You really want to get to know the company and its culture. For that reason, I would say: stay networking! See if this is a place you really want to work in the future.” 

— Tanya Kapur

While working virtually, it’s extra important to stay organized

“Keep a work agenda

  • Blocked: items you need help on
  • Backlog: items on the horizon
  • Done: finished tasks 
  • Doing: three items in progress
  • Skipped: moved to backburner”

— Tiffany Liu

“I would say just like anything in life, it is easy to get distracted [in virtual programs], so you need to prioritize what you want and stay organized.” 

— Michael Apostolopoulos

Focus on the wins, not the losses

“As a senior in college, it’s easy to feel discouraged by the work environment that our class will be graduating into. After losing multiple internships this summer, I was sure that all the plans I had for after college were ruined and I found myself losing hope. When I was given the opportunity to participate in C&W’s virtual series, I had no idea how big of a win that would be for me. Suddenly, the pressure that I had put on myself started to feel a lot less heavy. It showed me that while I felt isolated in my losses, I most definitely was not… despite how daunting and discouraging the world seems now, if you work hard there is always something to celebrate and this is all just a small part of my journey.”

— Sofia Bruno

Your major doesn’t define your career

It is the people that drive a company’s success, not their backgrounds. No matter what your first job is or what you majored in during college, everyone can excel in commercial real estate if they work hard and are willing to put in the time to learn.”

— Michael Apostolopoulos

Let your personality shine at work

“Another lesson I learned from this series is how important it is to bring your own personality to the table. After speaking to such a diverse panel of professionals, I learned that there is always a need for a different perspective, a different experience, or a different personality. In a climate where diversity is imperative to a successful workspace, I have found that being a woman from Mexico is one of my greatest qualities and that by embracing these differences I have gained more confidence.”

— Sofia Bruno