What can you learn in 21 days?

After 3 amazing weeks into my internship, it’s a question I’m ready to answer: a lot.

Sharon and her team at Bain & Co.

From experiencing the daily ins-and-outs of the firm to getting hands-on experience with custom graphic tools, every day of my first three weeks on internship offered plenty of opportunities to learn – opportunities that I was able to take full advantage of, thanks to the headstart my SMU experience gave me. 

Knowing how to crunch data on Microsoft Excel, craft slide decks and conduct secondary research through databases such as Euromonitor and Factiva – skills I’ve picked up in the many modules I’ve taken in SMU – meant that instead of contending with a steep learning curve, I could focus on learning new skills instead. Likewise, SMU’s emphasis on group projects helped to ease me into the culture of working in small teams at work.

In just the first three weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn so many things beyond what I’ve learnt in the classroom! An example of something really fascinating that struck me over the course of my internship thus far would be the lingo and the working styles that pervade, and are central to the values of the firm.

One such concept is the idea of “Answer first”. My initial thought was that this meant providing the answer upfront (instead of the methodology or supporting material) when communicating with others. But being “Answer first” goes way beyond that: it’s about being hypothesis-driven – going in with a hypothesis of what’s going on, then proving or disproving it based on hard facts and data.

The beauty of this is that knowing what we’re trying to prove allows us to focus on key questions that need to be answered, and plot a data-driven path to get there, rather than researching every possible issue that could be addressed (also referred to here as “boiling the ocean”). Seeing first-hand how this approach has been taken in the case I’m working on has taught me how to apply this – not just during my internship, but even for the work I’ll be doing in SMU next semester and beyond.

Another is the idea of “80/20”. I’ve heard about this Pareto Principle in economics and business (e.g. 20% of the people own 80% of the wealth), but definitely not in the context of work-planning as is often used in the firm: for example, “Let’s be 80/20 about this analysis.”

Applied here, the 80/20 principle is really about working smart, not hard, and being able to obtain the most valuable output in a short time frame (as the situation often is with the cases we handle). What’s amazing is that I’ve always thought companies only paid lip service to productivity and efficiency, without actually acting on it; but here, I’ve seen first hand how the focus is truly on minimising ‘yield loss’ (or wasted efforts) and focusing time on what’s most important. For sure, this is something I personally have to work on and practice.

A partner shared this on the first day of my internship: “You need to know what you can do out there, before you can truly decide that this is what you want to do.” This piece of advice neatly sums up what I’ve come to believe the greatest value of an internship is: experiencing and understanding different career options, and acquiring the skills and expertise you need to succeed at them.

Internships are a core component of university life here at SMU, and my internship continues to open my mind, broaden my horizons, and shape my character and long-term goals. For a 21-year-old greenhorn, the industry exposure and learning I’ve gained (and will gain) on this internship are a real privilege.

What can I learn in 21 days? Not as much as I will in the next 49. I’m thankful for the 3 weeks I’ve had here at Bain, and excited about the next 7 weeks to come!