Michelle Wu and Olivia Dickinson are both in their second year of a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Marketing at the University of NSW where they are members of the Co-op Career Development Program.
They have recently wrapped up an internship at Salesforce as part of their studies. Halfway through, they found themselves ‘interning from home’. We caught up at the end of their internship to chat about their experience.
Q: Why did you want to intern at Salesforce?
Michelle: Confession: neither of us knew about Salesforce before we interviewed for the internship. Now, we can’t wait for an opportunity to return!
We discovered pretty quickly that Salesforce had the kind of values that we were really attracted to – the focus on purpose beyond profit and an inclusive culture resonated really strongly with us. We want to wake up feeling motivated to go to work and to arrive at work feeling positive. At Salesforce, that’s how we felt.
Q: What did you want to get out of your internship experience?
Olivia: Neither of us had previous professional experience in marketing so the opportunity to get real world, hands on experience was incredibly valuable. A lot of the work we do at uni can be quite conceptual – we wanted to see those concepts and strategies play out in a real world environment.
I’d never been aware of account-based marketing before, for example. So seeing that kind of work in action was revelatory. There are just so many people involved in marketing in so many different ways. It really opened my eyes as to what might be possible in terms of a marketing career.
Q: What was your first day on the job like?
Michelle: Day one would have been much more nerve-wracking if I wasn’t doing it with Olivia. It was our first corporate internship. We were a bit anxious they might be expecting us to be more experienced than we were, and that we’d be a distraction or burden.
That couldn’t have been further from the case. I was amazed at how willing people were to engage with us and help support our development journey. It’s a very friendly and open environment. We started off having coffee with our manager, being assigned a mentor and meeting other teams. It was a very casual and candid way to get to know the business. And I like that we were given realistic expectations to fulfil – it gave us the opportunity to exceed them.
Olivia: We had plenty of opportunities to meet people one-on-one which we hadn’t expected. Connections were very easy to make and we feel very lucky to have picked up some unofficial mentors along the way.
Michelle: I’ve been to a few industry networking events before but this kind of connection felt completely different – much more authentic and meaningful.
Olivia and Michelle in the Salesforce Sydney office elevators in December 2019
Q: What were your strongest impressions of the organisation?
Olivia: Transparency, collaboration and teamwork. And trust! In fact, at first being trusted to that extent in such a transparent environment was a bit intimidating. I was updating shared documents with 30 other people who could see every mistake I made!
But the collaborative effort was inspiring. At uni, the prospect of group work can be tedious. But this was group work at its best – efficient, innovative, an amazing flow of ideas in a respectful and encouraging environment. It inspired me to take a different approach to group work at university – to see it as an opportunity for innovation.
Michelle: The experience has definitely helped me develop my teamwork skills and to see how valuable transparency and idea-sharing can be. Not only is it very dynamic but it can also lead to real innovation.
Q: When COVID-19 hit, you had to finish the rest of your internship working from home. What was that like and how did it change your experience?
Michelle: A whole section of the onboarding process was dedicated to working from home, and that was way before COVID-19 made it essential. Salesforce offers all kinds of flexibility for staff to work from home – we thought that was another agile example of the culture but didn’t expect it to apply to us! So in the end we were actually really well prepared. And there was a strong focus on employee wellbeing – we were very well looked after during the isolation period.
Olivia: The biggest difference was that those chance, spontaneous meetings couldn’t happen over the lockdown period. You lose a bit of serendipity when you’re out of that face-to-face work environment. So we really had to be proactive in reaching out to people. Fortunately, by that stage we’d already made a lot of connections and felt confident enough to maintain them while working from home, plus our manager and mentors also reached out to people on our behalf. It was great knowing that you could put a call out to someone from another team and it would be positively received.
Q: What did you discover about marketing that surprised you?
Michelle: I’ve long been interested in a career in marketing but always had a concern about being involved in manipulating people to buy unnecessary products. At Salesforce the focus is entirely on customer success and on creating innovative products that help customers meet their goals. That kind of approach felt fantastic to be involved in and in doing so, I came to realise that marketing revolved around how we could create value for the customer – how we can meet their needs and celebrate their achievements.
Olivia: We loved being involved with an organisation that has an ethical approach to operations and puts the customer’s interests right at the centre. And we also got to see a company that really appreciates its marketing department and sees it as adding value, not just creating costs. Marketing is strongly aligned with other departments so we never felt isolated or disconnected from the bigger picture.
Michelle and Olivia on VTO at Two Good Co. in March 2020
Q: What was your favourite resource to use?
Olivia: Trailhead! I’d never really thought of myself as a tech-savvy kind of person but Trailhead opened my eyes up to that world and made it seem accessible and interesting.
Michelle: Trailhead was an incredibly valuable resource. We both reached Ranger status over the internship period which we felt really proud of – it took a lot of work! Olivia and I also collaborated to create a custom Trailmix for future interns to help kick start their learning before the internship program begins.
Q: What were the highlights of your internship?
Michelle: Being involved in delivering World Tour Reimagined was a real highlight. It demonstrated that Salesforce is grounded in responsible leadership, and the effort and expertise that went into delivering an outstanding experience for customers with a really short turnaround was pretty inspiring. Whatever disappointment we felt about not being able to attend World Tour in person was offset by seeing an organisation pivot so quickly whilst still keeping the customer front and centre.
Olivia: Volunteering at Fair Day was so much fun. I got to see the company really walking its talk when it comes to equality and diversity. I met heaps of people from different teams in a very organic way against the backdrop of this fantastic event. It showed me that connections don’t just have to happen in an official setting. Sometimes the best ones are the spontaneous, chance meetings that happen when you’re in a different environment.