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How to go From Intern to CEO in a Summer


Screen_Shot_2016-08-13_at_8.50.06_AM.pngI never thought I would work at HNI. And not because I didn’t have the dexterity, but because I’d never even heard of them. So how did I go from lowly intern to mighty CEO in a summer? Well - I didn't, but the knowledge and experience I gained has set me on the fast track to world domination, or at least a great job upon graduation. So my fellow interns - listen up, because I'm about to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my summer internship. 

First, you may be wondering how I landed this gig at HNI. Well, let's start at the beginning. 

My job search went something like this:

1) reach out to people on LinkedIn or email,

2) beg them to hire me by sending them my awesome (though sparsely populated) resume,

3) receive a response along the lines of: “Although we were impressed with your background, we’ve decided to go with someone else.”.

Save the patronizing. 

A few companies gave me the opportunity to interview. And I obliged them by mixing up interviewers’ names or smoothly referencing my high-profile acquaintances who are employed by the same organization. Still no dice.

Needless to say it was a dark and dreary stage in Mitchell Keiper’s life. This 9 to 5 life isn’t for everyone.  

Then, in the dire stretches of second semester, I secured another interview! HNI Risk Services was interested in learning more about me in a phone interview (get rejected without having to put on a suit? That I liked.) 

I got off the phone flying high with interviewer bias. I must’ve locked that job down.

When I answered the phone several days later, I was cautiously optimistic. I pulled out all the stops, but I was still keenly aware of how all previous interviews had gone to this point.   

Jennifer Romero delivered the much-awaited news: I needed to appear for an in-person interview. I was in disbelief. I figured my quick wit and irresistible charm was more than enough for them to offer me the internship on the spot. What more do I have to give?!?!

A week after my in-person interview where I combined my wit and charm with a bright smile and the facial hair of a high school student, Jennifer called again.

I was in.

Instantly, the idea that I was ‘unfit for work’ changed to feelings of intense hubris that I was about to revolutionize the entire insurance industry. 

HNI wasn’t going to know what hit them.

I started having dreams of becoming the youngest CEO in HNI history (and the only person EVER to be asked to become CEO while still being an intern). I would pretend my stuffed animals were clients and sell them insurance with a single sentence. I’d mathematically analyze all their insurable problems on the spot (I am studying actuarial sciences after all). I nagged my parents about all the liabilities in their house: the lights were too bright, the plants on the porch could cause someone to trip, their water was too hot.

Let’s cut to the chase.

So why did I intern at HNI this summer? Because HNI chose me and they were the only ones that chose me. I took a stab at applying for a position whose job description was unlike any I had read before and in return they saw something in me that no one else did. And am I glad they did.

I have learned so much here:

  • Not all sales people are slimy and shady
  • How to become a ping pong connoisseur
  • Constructing cold calls calls for creativity and criticism
  • That solving Wicked Problems is a skill that will always be in demand
  • Self-Insurance, Performance-Driven options, Captives, Specific Stop-loss, and Aggregate Stop-loss is way more interesting than delivering plain-old insurance policies.

I still don’t know what most of the words mean. But I’ve figured out that if I use them in sentences people look at me like I know what I’m talking about. 

“Hey dude, did you see that Captive speeding down the road? Pretty crazy stuff man.”

I’m getting goosebumps thinking about how cool I’ll sound when I return to school in September.

But the coolest thing about what HNI does is that they hold themselves accountable. There is no sense of entitlement about what they do and how they go about doing it.

They bust their tails for all of their clients. And they evaluate their effectiveness with a single question: “How likely would you (the client) refer us to a friend or colleague?”  And if the answer isn’t 10 out of 10, then HNI needs to be better.

That’s a lesson I live by. If I strive for something, it is my job to get it. There aren’t any excuses I can make that will change the fact that I didn’t get it.

The reason I couldn’t solve that stupid Rubix whatever-shape-it-was before the end of Certified Risk Advisor Training wasn’t because Mike, our CEO, kept calling on me when I was least prepared to respond. It was because I didn’t do enough (that is in the process of changing).

HNI’s philosophy is about giving themselves the power to get the job done by believing they can do more. Once someone stops believing they can do more, they’ve lost their passion for going to work every day. And passion is something that cannot be undersold.

Parting words

So my advice to interns (and to all people) would be this: “Know you’re an idiot, but believe you can be a genius.” If you know you’re an idiot, you know you still have a lot to learn and you can learn a lot from the people around you. If you believe you can be a genius, who knows you might just become the next Mitchell Keiper (I’m kind of a big deal).

Many thanks to HNI for giving me the opportunity to intern with the company and I look forward to the potential of continuing this journey.

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