As you may remember from this post, I interned for a contracting company this summer. I got to be out on site every day, working on a new middle school and it was so much fun! I can honestly say I found what I want to do with my life; after all, how many people can say they not once dreaded going to work in the morning?
This was completely different from any other job I’ve had prior. It was a completely different industry with people I would never have been able to meet working in an office. I spent ten and a half weeks on this project and I learned so much more than I ever could have imagined. I could speak for days on my awesome experience, but I’m going to spare you my *seventy-page* document of technical details I compiled and give you the life-lessons I picked up on instead. 😉
What I learned after a summer in construction is…
Being a woman in a male-dominated field is actually kind of exciting.
I was one of 4 (give or take) women on site out of, on average, about 150 people. I’ll do the math for you- that’s 2.67% female. But you know what? I actually loved it and hardly noticed the gap. I was fully welcomed into the team and encouraged to blossom into the best I could be. I’m a very shy person when first introduced into a group, but the guys put so much effort into bringing me out of my shell. They never spoke down to me or made to feel like I didn’t belong. I mean, they let me drive the bobcat, play in the dirt, climb through access windows, and scale ladders between floors; I was having the time of my life and felt absolutely no judgement! Women, don’t let being outnumbered by the boys scare you- I know you know how to hold your own!
Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
This was one of the most popular phrases I heard throughout the summer. Construction is hard- it’s long hours, high-stress, daily problem-solving, and constant awareness of your surroundings (because, safety). Obviously, you have to take the quality of your work seriously since so many people depend on you creating a safe structure. You have to understand the importance of what you do, but you can’t let the stress of the job consume you. It’s up to you and your mindset to make the most of it and enjoy it. What gets you through the day without completely pulling your hair out is your team and the dynamic you create in that management trailer.
You have to know how to take a joke, especially in construction, that stereotype is definitely true. Basically everyone ends up with a nickname and messing with each other is expected. It’s all in good heart though, don’t worry! I don’t know if I can fully express it, I just love the community in this industry. Everyone works so hard, but they tell life like it is and are just a great group to be around.
Nothing will work if you don’t communicate.
The word of the summer, between all 14 interns on all different projects across the state, was coordination. Coordinating all of the different aspects of one task is essential if you want anything to fit together. You can’t have coordination without communication either. Communicate in life, with each other, with yourself, with your team, with your friends- just being transparent will solve so many issues.
I picked up very quickly that there aren’t any secrets on site because there simply can’t be any secrets on site. Coordinating so many people requires everyone to be on the same page looking at the same updated plans and working with the same goal in mind. No one can read minds (at least I have yet to prove it, stay tuned), so things can go very wrong very fast if we don’t take the time to be clear with each other. Do all you can to avoid miscommunication and you’ll make your life a lot easier.
We are all on the same team.
The subcontractors may all be working for different people, we may be working for our contracting company, and our contracting company may be working for the project’s owner, but everyone is on the same team. It’s important to remember that none of us will succeed on our own and we have to keep our immediate goal of finishing our structure safely, on time, and under budget in mind.
It’s like this in college too. When I first came into school as a freshman, it surprised me how willing everyone is to help each other. Between no-strings-attached tutoring, sharing class notes, loaning textbooks, and recommending employment positions and interesting organizations, the overall goal is to help each other get ahead because it has been realized that that is the best way to do so. “We rise by lifting others up” has never been more true.
So moral of this sub-story? If you find yourself in a job where all anyone does is look out for themselves and how they can get ahead at everyone else’s expense, perhaps you need to start looking elsewhere.
The ability to think ahead is what will set you apart.
You can train almost anyone to do almost anything. Not many people realize, though, how important it is to look beyond their immediate situation/goals. Set yourself up for success now by learning how to look at the end result of what you want and how you can get there. If you can plan for tomorrow, that’s great and all, but it may wind up hurting you in two days or next week or next month. You don’t have to have a finalized 10-year plan or anything, you just have to take a second to think about how what you are doing now will impact you in the future.
This is clearly important in construction since mistakes can be costly in time, money, and manpower. In school, lack of planning ahead class-wise, for example, can delay your graduation and therefore cost you another semester or two of tuition. In life, you may have to think ahead so that you don’t inadvertently cause a problem down the road with your finances, relationships (with others and yourself), stress-levels, career path…you get the idea.
If you want something, you have to speak up.
To hang in construction, you have to have a voice. You have to have confidence in yourself to truly be successful. On my last day of work this summer, I was having a life talk with one of the foremen and he said there’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Be self-assured, but never too cocky to admit when you’re wrong. Be humble, but never sell yourself short.
One of the *many* quotes that really speak to me is, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for” (Oprah Winfrey). Construction is loud. There’s always a bustle of activity. If you find yourself shrinking back and feeling like the quiet little mouse in the corner, you will get lost in it all. In life, you have to “show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there” (via). Go after what you want because, at this point, nothing is going to be handed to you.
You will meet so many different people. Everyone has a story. Everyone matters. There are some characters out there for sure, but make all of the connections you can. Make the professional connections, sure, but what you really need to do is make the effort to connect with the people you work with, regardless of what they do. I don’t care if you’re the CEO, mix with everyone and show them you actually care about who they are as people. This summer, the interns all got to see firsthand just how awesome it is to have higher-ups who care about who you are as a person. They make it a point to be around and get to know everyone. At the end of the day, this life isn’t about how much money you have or what fancy acronyms follow your name on a business card; it’s about people, the relationships you build with them, and the connection you have together.
Even if you know you’re eventually leaving the department or the company or even the industry, don’t burn the bridges that helped you get to where you are today. Show your appreciation and stay in touch!
Never be afraid to ask questions.
That’s how you learn after all! Asking Google a question counts too, I did that probably a million times. My computer history was basically all google search results, let’s be honest.
Seriously though, I knew nothing about construction going in. I knew how to use tools like a drill or a chop saw of course, but I didn’t know the first thing about actually going up and bringing a building to life. Spoiler, it’s not as easy as you might think 😉
There are about a million acronyms, all of which vary depending on the architects/contractors/engineers you’re working with. There are words with double meanings and about a thousand different types of walls (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it felt like there were a ton).
Asking questions shows how interested you are and conveys that you truly want to learn. It helps wrap your mind around things and talk through certain topics that may be a bit more complicated (hello, steel). It gives you a conversation to go back to in your mind to help the information stick and hey, it can serve as a starting point for those connections we just talked about!
This industry knows how to eat.
Y’all I ate so well this summer. Between team cookouts and trying every restaurant in town, I definitely learned that these contractors know their way around food! I had my first true barbecue, got over my fear of sushi (stop judging me), finally gave in and tried coleslaw, and learned that chicken and waffles aren’t as weird as I had been assuming for the past two years. Plus, my project team was just as obsessed with ice cream as I am, so I knew I was with quality people. 😉
The amount of information and skills I was able to take away from just 10 weeks still blows my mind. Life begins on the other side of your comfort zone- all you have to do is trust in yourself and take the leap of faith (aka how many cliches can I throw in one sentence). I’m so grateful for such an incredible internship experience and summer as a whole!
“Your job is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” -Steve Jobs
Oh, and stay on top of your email. Trust me on this.
~What was your most valuable internship experience?