Ah, internships. Don’t we just love them? All interns dream of becoming the CEO one day. It’s the easiest, most sure-fire way to get onto the top of the corporate ladder!

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve injected the two previous sentences with a good dose of sarcasm.

If you’ve ever done an internship in your life you’d know that they don’t always work out for the best. They expect you to put in a lot of work and effort (This is important) but there’s no solid promise for your future or even matching compensation in the present (This sucks).

Simply doing your best might not be enough. I know, there goes hope, right? Right? Wrong.

Doing your best alone isn’t a great strategy in most cases- not just in the case of internships. It’s a great strategy to end up in the “patting yourself in the back department” but it’s not enough to actually make a change and receive a positive outcome. Sure, you’re doing your best, but so is everyone else. So what makes you special? What makes you stand out? Why should your workplace seniors notice you, out of all the other interns?

If you want to climb the corporate ladder, challenge yourself, not anyone else. These CEOs were former interns who unlocked that strategy in their game and unleashed an extraordinary side of themselves. Towards the end of today’s post I’ll let you in on a few secrets, but first let’s find out how these people went from intern to CEO!

#1 Ursula Burns confronted an executive VP in a meeting!

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Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company

An intern at Xerox in 1989, Ursula Burns confronted an executive VP, Wayland Hicks, in a meeting when he answered an employee’s question with a lack of enthusiasm. This led to an unfriendly debate between the two. Burns revealed that she even expected to be fired because of it. But the executive VP continued his discussions with her, over a period of time and eventually offered her an executive assistant role.

This opportunity inspired her to follow her mother’s encouraging words: where you are, is not who you are, and climb the corporate ladder. She thanks her assertive nature and her grit (that made her call out an executive VP!) as her leading strength in reaching the position of CEO at Xerox in 2016.

The key takeaway: Before you roll up your sleeves, break your knuckles and head over to your boss’s room to confront him now, hear me out. What helped Ursula Burns up the corporate ladder wasn’t this one isolated incident. In fact it’s probably the first of many confrontations she must have had along the way. What matters is assertiveness.

And you don’t always have to act brash and confrontational when being assertive. Be confident about your opinions, your expertise, your skills and your talents; You’re in this field because you have some of each. Make sure that your resourcefulness and your creativity are heard in the workplace.

#2 Adena Friedman didn’t want to stop where she was asked to stop.

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Adena Friedman speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us

Or she wanted to go where she wasn’t asked to go.

Adena Friedman is now the President and CEO at Nasdaq. But when she started out on her first day at Nasdaq in 1993, she was just an intern. Like you, probably. Over time, Friedman integrated her ideas and her drive into the company and was able to grow together with Nasdaq. And what helped her climb the corporate ladder, you ask? Going beyond where she was supposed to go.

In an interview, she reveals that when she was an intern, she seized every opportunity that came her way but didn’t stop just there. She made sure that she added value to the opportunity and proved that she was an asset to the company with every responsibility she handled. She advises aspiring CEOs to climb the corporate ladder by doing more than what you’re told. In fact Friedman has established this approach in the entirety at Nasdaq when it comes to hiring and evaluating employees.

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The key takeaway: Pretty simple. You don’t join a company as an employee so that 10 years later, you’ll be at the same position. You want to advance and go up the corporate ladder. And to do this, once again, it is yourself that you need to challenge.

Ask yourself what you can add, not to the company, but to all the responsibilities and tasks that are asked of you. Don’t satisfy your seniors, impress them. Bring out your best through your work and you’ll be the next intern-turned-CEO.

So how did they do it?

We read their stories but that’s them and this is you. Right? Can you really do all that and end up like these glorious CEOs?

Let me ask you a question: Did either of these CEOs walk into their company on the first day as a CEO? Simple answer: No. So what did they walk in with? Simple answer again: A personality.

They knew who they were and where they needed to go one day. Instead of feeling apologetic for their gritty qualities, they embraced them in the best ways possible. And that brings us to that secret that I promised I’ll let you in on:

How you can go from intern to CEO:

Here are 4 secrets to becoming your best career-driven self:

#1 Know and believe in your strongest qualities

They can help. Really. Your best qualities can help. Make a list of all your best qualities and figure out how you can use them in adding value to your internship. You can be different from everyone else there and do what you think is right. There’s a learning curve to everything but if you don’t believe in yourself and make yourself heard, you will never have a learning curve.

#2 Look at the big picture- this is not about you

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There are so many people who have dreams and goals to make a change. But most of them fail. Have you ever wondered why? It’s because most ambitious people think it’s always all about them. And I’m here to tell you: Ego never brings success.

In the big picture it’s about the company as a whole so don’t worry about who gets credit. If you let go of that worry, your brain can allocate new space; more space, to coming up with ideas and doing your best. And eventually you will be so good at what you do that you don’t even notice that you’ve started to receive all your due credit.

Learn to enjoy your work, not personal competition.

#3 Talented co-workers are a blessing

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A team of talent is a team of unstoppables. Sounds a bit like a team of superheroes? You’ve got that right.

Spot the talented people in your company and among your co-workers. Learn from them and associate yourself with them. Talented co-workers who can get things done, have a lot to learn from, not only when it comes to their skills but also when it comes to their work ethics and general qualities.

There’s no shame in it. It’s cool to learn from seniors and evolve into a better professional.

#4 Be positive

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Seems about right?

There is no such thing as a completely smooth workplace. If there is, then you won’t have any chance to grow there. And you need to get out of it ASAP!

Challenging responsibilities, tiring workloads, difficult personalities: these are all a part of a complete and healthy work environment. The key is to not take any challenge too personal but rather as an opportunity for you to evolve. After all, at work, very rarely do we get attacked personally or challenged personally. Your work is at the front lines here. So next time you feel like all bad things happen to you, at work, breathe, relax and calm that nerve on your forehead that’s about to pop.

Believe you can handle it and don’t give up until you have.

And that’s it for today, but….

If you’re looking for more general inspiration in your everyday life you can get some tips from my blog post on how to be inspired with 5 steps. Something else that can inspire and motivate us is money. Find out how to make money while you sleep. If you’re still looking for an internship or even a full time job during these trying times, follow this guideline for some tips on applying for jobs.

You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure

Zig Ziglar

Thank you for the read! Hope you have an amazing weekend. Don’t forget to follow Snow Tree on Facebook and Instagram for quizzes, AMAs, Behind-the-scenes, motivational videos, lifestyle and hobby captures and more! If you liked today’s post, share it with your friends and leave a comment below!

See ya!

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Anuththara Peiris

Writer, Researcher, Content creator.


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