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A serial founder and former public-company CEO, Dan Richards is an award-winning member of the marketing faculty at the Rotman School of Management, where he also oversees the credit course associated with MBA student internships.

New chief executive officers are often advised that their ultimate success will be defined by their initial impact – hence why there are numerous books on making the first 100 days matter. But it’s not just leaders who need to get off to a strong start; it also applies to those just beginning their careers.

At Rotman School of Management’s MBA program, internships are a requirement to graduate. As a result, in the past five years, 1,500 students have submitted reflections on what they learned from their internships and what they wish they’d done differently. Going into a job, many students believe the key to success is working hard and turning in a strong performance. And while this is important, 10 other lessons have consistently emerged from these reflections.

While these take-aways come from students with 13-week internships, they are relevant for anyone with a summer job or early in their career. The first five of these lessons are outlined below – the final five will follow next week.

Lesson one: Earn your manager’s trust

From day one, you need to earn the trust of your manager and the people you work with. Doing that doesn’t necessarily mean arriving early and staying late. Rather it requires a listening mindset, where your first focus is to understand your role and the tasks you are given and then to ensure that you’re viewed as reliable – delivering the work you’re given on time and to a good standard. Some students are initially frustrated because the work they get is basic or minimal, but experience shows that success breeds success and one successful assignment will lead to more.

As chief financial officer of the Toronto Pan and Para Pan Games, Barbara Anderson helped bring them in on budget. Her advice on this subject: “Never surprise your manager – if it looks like you might not deliver something on time or on budget, get this in front of your manager as soon as possible … along with suggestions for dealing with any negative consequences.”

Lesson two: Ask clarifying questions

The single biggest regret that students talk about after their internships is failing to ask more questions earlier. Being a strong contributor means avoiding dead ends that cost time and effort. Some students are concerned that asking questions shows weakness, but remember, managers want you to be clear on your tasks so you don’t waste your time and theirs. If you can’t figure something out after a few minutes, ask a colleague for clarification or bundle three or four questions together and ask your manager for five minutes to get clarity.

John Robertson, who held a leadership role at the iconic U.S. restaurant chain Waffle House, recommends you “try to find someone you can go to with questions early on, who will help you understand how to get things done. Finding that ally to answer even basic questions can be one of the most important steps to early success.”

Lesson three: Adapt to work norms

From your first day, it’s important to understand the expectations on your job. For Rotman internships, employers are asked to provide short written feedback after four weeks. A common comment: While students are extraordinarily bright and work exceptionally hard, their reports and other written work is much longer and detailed than needed. Remember, what works in university and what led to success in the past may not work on the job. Whenever you’re assigned to a task, try to look for previous examples and adapt your approach to how your workplace operates.

Here’s advice from Michael Walsh, managing director of CCL Financial Group: “Make it a priority to learn the norms where you work. Some can be obvious like how you dress and what time you show up. Others can be more subtle and challenging to figure out. But understanding the rules of the game is essential to succeed.”

Lesson four: Focus on learning

Early-career employees sometimes believe that the key to progression is working hard. And while that’s important, today managers also look at other factors such as the ability to work well on a team and an eagerness to learn.

Lots has been written recently about the critical importance of a learning mindset. Susan Storey, a partner at KCI Ketchum Canada, says it can help employees advance: “Of course you need to contribute and do good work, but you also need to demonstrate a real determination and openness to learn. Part of that is curiosity – every conversation is a chance to listen, to think about what you’re hearing and to learn.”

Lesson five: Demonstrate your commitment

To succeed on the job, you need to develop a reputation for going the extra mile.

“To increase your chances of succeeding, show up with demonstrated purpose in everything you do. Even if the task is menial or disappointing, don’t let that get in the way. Lots of people show up, but relatively few display that additional degree of commitment and intensity,” advises David Denison, who served as CEO of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

“This is not necessarily about working more hours, rather it’s about approaching every task with the conviction that it matters to the organization and it matters to you, that you will do this to a high standard no matter what. People who take this approach always stand out. This is totally in your control – it is your choice whether you display that intensity and commitment to excel.”

Next week, I’ll share five more lessons on how early-stage employees can succeed.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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