Maria's role as an intern at SumUp allowed her to experience the Future Ready Programme and embrace the growth mindset to change how she thinks
What degree did you study and where?
I completed a Bachelors degree in Art Studies from the University of Lisbon and a Masters in Management and Cultural Studies by ISCTE-IUL - University Institute of Lisbon, all in my home country. During my graduate studies, I've had the amazing opportunity to do an exchange program at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. Saying those experiences were life changing is an understatement.
At what point in your degree did you do your internship?
I did three internships as a college student: one during my Bachelors and two others as a graduate student, in which I worked in museums. But some years and job positions later, I'm starting fresh as a learning and development intern at SumUp. This paid internship has been crucial to me as a career changer who wanted to pursue a path that was difficult to get into without basic experience. I'd say my Masters degree in management definitely helped, but it took some courage to admit that if people development was my dream career, I'd have to be open to starting over. It was the best decision I've ever made.
What were you looking for in an internship?
I knew my internship would have to fulfill a few conditions. Firstly, I was interested in an internship that had strong potential for becoming a full-time position and I made that clear during the interview process. That doesn't mean I am guaranteed a job, it's hard to make that promise as a company, but at the very least I expected them to be interested and willing to consider that option.
The second aspect was that it should bring me real responsibility: I wasn't interested in doing an internship where I was asked to cut up newspapers for weeks.
The third part was that I wanted my new company to match my working style, values and ethics. I made sure to actively ask about the management style, the working habits and values of the company before accepting my internship.
The fourth aspect was that I expected fair pay for my work. I'm proud to say that SumUp has fulfilled all of these and has given me much, much more.
What attracted you to Sum Up?
It's interesting: if you had asked me years ago whether I'd see myself working at a fintech company, I'd say absolutely not. I'm a woman of art, literature, education and languages. But SumUp wants to help small businesses and that means a lot to me. I already knew people who worked at SumUp and they'd told me about its fantastic environment: they always felt free to ask questions, express their ideas and try something new without being silenced or criticised for trying to innovate. When I was in college I didn't think much of this, but now I value these details more than ever.
How does the internship at Sum Up work?
It's a paid, six-month opportunity and the internship roles are published on SumUp's career page like any other full-time position, with a clear list of responsibilities.
However, interns are encouraged to speak up about what they enjoy doing, their personal interests and what other departments they'd like to collaborate with. I've never felt restricted by my title or list of responsibilities and there’s lots of space for conversation and negotiation.
Describe a typical day on your internship…
I'll plan my week and post my weekly promises on our team's Slack group. Here, we share what goals we want to accomplish for that particular week. I start working at about 9am and have a couple of meetings with team members to work together on projects (for example, designing training together, improving existing training and making decisions about future learning opportunities for employees etc). When the meetings are over and I have some time to myself, I work on my own projects, which might involve planning how to collect feedback from our employees, attending webinars and conferences to learn what's getting done out there and how we can improve our strategy, designing training and collecting content for my colleagues who develop e-learning. I often find myself collaborating with people from other teams and departments, which I love. Lunch time is quite flexible and I'll end work at around 6pm. At this point, the entire internship takes place remotely due to the pandemic, but that isn't how it normally goes.
What do you enjoy about your internship?
My relationship with my team lead and colleagues (who are incredibly talented, committed, experienced and approachable), the flexible schedule, the safe environment, the fact that I feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help and the fact that I am treated with respect. I never feel ignored, dismissed or underestimated just because I have the word 'intern' in my title. I'm actively asked for my perspective, past experiences and knowledge. I'm also thankful that my manager took the initiative to ask me what I enjoy doing and made an effort to give me responsibilities that match exactly that: strategy, innovation, creativity, improvement of existing processes and learning design.
What is the most challenging part of your internship?
The fact that the company is growing really fast and that everything is constantly changing. It's never safe to assume that what was true a month ago still holds true. As part of the people development team, we must keep our eyes open to create training and learning opportunities that don't spread outdated information. But this is an amazing 'problem' to have. It means the company is successful, unafraid to experiment and always looking to improve.
How does this internship benefit your career?
It has completely transformed my career, even in ways I couldn't have predicted. Not only has it given me the opportunity to see what I had studied in action, but it's also given me an opportunity to connect with incredibly intelligent people, learn from their experiences and ask lots of questions.
In the first three months of the internship I've already learned more than I could imagine, both about the industry and myself. Apart from the role my fabulous team played, I'm particularly thankful for the Future Ready Programme, organised by SumUp with the facilitation of GradConsult, which trained us interns and working students on crucial soft skills.
How did you find out about growth mindset?
I had heard about the concept and its principles in the past, but had never truly paid attention or wondered how it could affect me. GradConsult, particularly Rebecca Fielding and Annie Gainsborough, introduced us to the concept of growth mindset during the Future Ready Programme. I realised that a growth mindset was less about ambition, and more about how we perceive the concepts of failure, learning and talent. It's all about being self-supportive when something doesn't go the way you'd planned, rather than bashing yourself for 'failing' or 'not being talented enough'. The focus is on how to get there as much as getting there.
How has it helped you in your studying/work life?
It was life changing. I got teary-eyed during that session, because we were invited to reflect on how the black and white mentality of 'success vs failure' had been working for us so far. I realised not much. What opportunities would I have had in life if I hadn't told myself I was too unprepared, too insecure? Then I thought of my family and wondered the same. Where would they be? I couldn't help but get emotional.
Some time later, I found a great opportunity to take responsibility in my internship. One of my teammates couldn't deliver training the following day and asked if anyone would be willing to replace them. My impulse was to volunteer, but I was terrified at the thought of exposing myself in front of people and being ridiculed for not knowing how to answer a question. Then, I remembered the growth mindset training session: nobody is ever ready. Some people just happen to say yes more often. I decided to be that person and said yes. It went fantastically.
What advice would you have for other students who are planning an internship?
Take your time. Don't fall victim to the pressure of making rushed decisions. Some people will know their career direction immediately, while others will require exploration and possibly even a change of heart. That's absolutely natural.
Make sure your internship will bring real responsibility to the table. Don't accept an internship if there isn't a clear list of tasks that looks appealing to you.
Most importantly, when applying for internships, pay close attention to company culture - the people and the environment. The longer I spend in the job market, the more I'm convinced that people can make or break an organisation. A company can have a wonderful mission, a beautifully-designed website, give you a prestigious title as an employee but if the people in that company live in fear of asking questions, disrespect each other or are never willing to collaborate then run for the hills.
When searching for your ideal internship opportunity, make a couple of things non-negotiable: respect for employees, fair pay, concern for your wellbeing, a culture where the employer actually cares about your growth, where asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. To find these things out you can ask the right questions during the interview. What initiatives does the company have in place for employee wellbeing (gym, sports lessons, therapy, flexible working hours)? What workshops, programs or training do they offer? What is the management style of the person who would be supervising you? Don't be afraid to ask these questions and search online for employee reviews and ratings.