How to make the most of your internship
Student refugee Nibras Khudaida shares what she learned while interning at Citi.
As I walked amidst a crowd of New Yorkers, I wondered whether this was real or not. Seeing people dressed up in suits and racing to work was something I had only seen in movies. And yet, here I was dressed in a suit and going to work in New York City. It was the first day of my internship as part of the e for education Progress Awards Internship Program.
I was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but in my eagerness, I got to headquarters at 8 a.m. I obviously took a million pictures, FaceTimed my parents and walked around to see what the “real” New York was like. When I entered through those giant glass doors, it finally hit me that this was actually happening. Me, a girl who grew up in the 500-person village in northern Iraq, was working at Citi, one of the largest banks in the world.
During my time at Citi, I rotated to various desks to learn about all the different work the company does. While on the FX trading floor, I discovered that while all their desks looked similar, their responsibilities and tasks were completely different from e-sales to corporate eFX. I met employees who worked with the United Nations and organizations like the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is the organization that helped my family and me come to the U.S. It was so interesting to learn how Citi’s work helps people in other countries.
Something that struck me during my internship was the amount of female leadership at the company. I was raised in a society where girls were often not allowed to go to school. Many families in Iraq do not educate their daughters because they don’t believe that women belong in the workforce. So, I know the transformative power of a supportive environment for girls and women. It was incredible seeing female executives running trading floors and driving change at every level of the company. I loved learning about Citi’s commitment to close the gender pay gap by increasing female representation in senior roles.
No class would have taught me the information that I learned during my time at Citi — and no class taught me how to prepare for my time there! So here are some pieces of advice I have for any young woman starting her first internship:
Wear comfortable shoes. Living in Nebraska, I would drive places where it is a five-minute walk, therefore I was not used to walking — especially in high heels! After spending an entire day in heels, I had super painful blisters. So, always have comfortable shoes in addition to heels. If you walk to work, wear tennis shoes on the way there and change once you reach the building.
Network, network, network. This internship gave me the opportunity to cultivate many quality relationships with new colleagues. If you are either looking for a full-time job or planning your career path, building a network of contacts that you can ask for advice is invaluable. Don’t hesitate to ask for business cards or to connect on LinkedIn. Take advantage of the opportunity that you’re meeting so many people at once and collect their contact information as you go so you can follow up with them.
Remember names when you're introduced to new people. It can be overwhelming when you're meeting a lot of new people at once to remember names. Here are three steps that helped me: First, repeat the name of the person when you meet them. Next, repeat it when you’re leaving the meeting because each time you repeat it, it is more likely to stick in your brain. Third, look over the names at the end of the day. I collected business cards or contact information from every new person and then at the end of the day, I would go over the names of everyone I met. If you do not have their business cards, try to write the name down once you get the chance and include something to help identify them (like their job or what you talked about in your conversation) so you can help remember them.
Ask for advice. I already know that I want to pursue a career in law so I made sure to ask questions specifically about that career path. I had the opportunity to meet with a lawyer at Citi, who gave me valuable information regarding the LSAT and which skills I should cultivate in college to better prepare myself for law school. I also met with the human resources department where they gave me feedback on my resume and suggested activities I should get involved with on campus.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Since I did not have a background in finance, it was hard on the first day to understand the work or even the terms they were using. It is OK if you do not know a term or understand a concept. You can say, “English please!” when you’re confused. Asking questions shows that you are willing to learn so try your best to step out of your comfort zone and ask as many questions as possible.
Be open to learning new things. Going along with my previous piece of advice, it is very important to be open and willing to learn new things on the job. Discovering new information or exposing yourself to new experiences expands your knowledge and skills. You do not know what you do not know. Rotating desk at Citi helped me gain so much information and learn about projects and jobs I didn’t know existed.
Through the e for education campaign, Citi supports Malala Fund’s work to see every girl in school.
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about the author
Nibras Khudaida is a 20-year-old student refugee from northern Iraq. She is a freshman at Creighton University where she majors in economics and international relations. Nibras hopes to study international law post-graduation at an Ivy League university so she can advocate for human rights and education.