“As soon as you feel like you have enough knowledge from school, try to do an internship, because it’s best to have that foot in the door.” ~Willie Drake
With a focus on information technology and psychology, Willie plans to graduate with his Bachelor of General Studies degree in May 2020. Since beginning his internship at O’Reilly Auto Parts this past April, he has learned the value of working on a team, improved his professionalism, and realized the importance of his contributions to the company.
You began the internship for O’Reilly in April and you still have an internship with them?
Willie: Yes, I do. I’m able to work that internship until I graduate. There’s no such thing as “intern work.” I do the same things that the rest of my team members do. And my numbers go straight to the CEO, CFO, members of the executive board. And I love that I’m doing an internship because it’s preparing me for my career.
What do you do as a Merchandise Data Analyst Intern?
Willie: The merchandise is obviously the merchandise in the stores, so mainly we run tests. We have over 5,000 stores across the nation. We will test merchandise on shelves in the stores, but we won’t move them around all 5,000 stores. We’ll move them around maybe 100 stores and test them against about 200 stores; then we’ll see if we made more money or lost money. And I have to write computer code to generate those numbers that I can send to the suppliers, stakeholders, and members of the board of executives.
So, you have to write reports also? Were you expecting in school that you would have to write reports in your internship?
Willie: Yes, I do a lot of reports. I was expecting to write reports; I just didn’t have any idea what kind of reports. We don’t have data in school, so it’s very different once you start working for a company like this that has a lot of data. We have about 6,000 different data tables, which is an outrageous number.
How did you learn about the internship?
Willie: I went to the career fair, the one in February. [Note: This is the campus-wide Career Expo hosted by the Career Center. Mark your calendar for the next one on Wednesday, February 26, 2020.]
What was your interview process like?
Willie: My first interview was with HR [Human Resources]. I didn’t see anyone from the rest of my department during this interview, just a member from the HR team. And then they submitted my résumé and my information to the members of my team, and I guess they selected from a pool of who they would like to come back for the second interview. My second interview was with my two managers that I have now in the merchandise department.
They told me a while ago that they don’t have to choose a person out of the interview round if no one stands out. So, I was pleased that I stood out and they thought I was ready for the position.
Before his interview, Willie had his résumé critiqued at the Career Center. He also had taken the class IDS 120: Exploring Majors and Careers.
Willie: That class opened my eyes that there’s never just one position that you can do. I remember a lot of exercises had us find out different occupations and positions that we can do. And I found out there’s more to just computer programming. Obviously, I do data analytics; I never thought I could do that. It opened my eyes to a bunch of things I can do after graduating college.
What were the first days of your internship like? How did you make that adjustment from being a student to being a pre-professional?
Willie: The transition was hard. As I said before, we don’t really have data in class, not even mock data. What I learned in class was the very basic. So, my team helped me out; basically, it was like another class. They taught me from the beginning, and they didn’t even have a problem with doing that, which is what I like.
My first few weeks, I was just learning, learning, learning. Learning a lot that I didn’t learn in class. I found it complicated—it was hard—but the more you do it, it gets better. I have a great team at O’Reilly, about seven of us. We work on our projects together, and we have a lot of meetings to go over different projects. It’s nice to be on a team, and we have each other’s backs.
It sounds like you have a mentorship, where they’re mentoring you also.
Willie: Exactly. I didn’t know it would be like that in the workforce—the team environment, but I’m glad O’Reilly has that. We help each other out a lot.
What is your main take-away when you think about this experience? What did you gain the most from doing the internship?
Willie: Some of the main things are first that I learned how to work with a team better. Seven heads are better than one or maybe two, so I’ve learned to be a great teammate in the office. Another thing I learned is how to be more professional. Not that I wasn’t professional; I feel that MSU prepared me for that. It’s just that being in this environment teaches you how you should be in the business world. I also learned that my work is very important. Like I said, there’s no “intern work” there, so I learned that I’m valuable. What I learned at MSU is valuable, because what I do—my numbers—go to the executives and CEOs and stakeholders. I feel like I do important work for the company.
What advice would you give other students about doing an internship?
Willie: My advice is to try to do it as soon as you can. As soon as you feel like you have enough knowledge from school, try to do an internship, because it’s best to have that foot in the door. Companies love to hire from within. Once they train you to do that internship, they want to keep you.
They told me that they liked something I said at the interview. They asked me why I chose O’Reilly, why they should hire me I told them that I’m looking for a home. I’m looking for a team, and I’m looking for a home. It’s not a temporary thing. I want to work for a company for a long time. And be dedicated to them, and they really loved that. I would just say try to find an internship, and once that company has you, talk to them to learn how you go through that next level, which is full-time.