Student Internship Stories: Chiebuka Onwuzurike (QST’20), Converse

By Chiebuka Onwuzurike (QST’20)

CCD: Tell us about your experience. What were your responsibilities?

At Converse. product creation is done in tandem by three functions; the Product Line Manager (PLM), the Design Team, and the Development Team. The three teams collectively are called the Triad. Each function has a specific role. The PLM team is responsible for creating, tracking, monitoring all the products within all the existing product lines and making sure it has a unified theme that matches the season’s objectives. APLM typically is the youngest member on the team and has the least experience. However, what we lack in experience, we make up in our closeness to the consumer and trends.

As an APLM intern, I had various responsibilities such as creating trend reports, organizing focus groups, assisting style photoshoots and marketing research to name a few. In addition to these tasks, my personal responsibility were two projects intended to support the PLM team.

Back to School Project
For my first project, I was asked to find quantitative and qualitative data to better help the PLM team serve the back to school consumer. More than just collecting data, I needed to provide insight. I focused on a consumer group the team was lacking information about, Gen Z consumers.

Product Creation Process Project
For my second project, I was asked to help improve their storytelling and ability to capture and communicate product details. The most important product creation stage for our function is Assortment Finalization (AF). It is the point where we finalized the assortment of SKUs going to be produced and transfer the responsibility with the product to the global merchandising team. We need to internally sell and explain the products to the global merch team, as well as, provided them with the product details and story, so they can best sell the products to the different regions. AF is an extremely important milestone and you can feel the buzz it causes throughout the whole building.

CCD: How did you get the opportunity? What resources at BU or elsewhere did you use?

I actually got the internship trying to help out a friend. The day before the all-campus career fair in the GSU, I got an internship offer and had to make a decision within a week or two.

I encouraged one of my friends to go to the all-campus career fair. This would be one of his first career fairs and he was very reluctant to go because he said his resume was not polished. I told him the first year is always the most uncomfortable and that he needed to get it over with, even if he didn’t have a polished resume. That way when the time comes, when he really needed a job, he would be ready mentally and would know what companies are out there.

When I got there, he said he was running late, so I ended up going into the career fair to kill some time. I saw Nike was a company listed and thought why not check them out. It ended up not being Nike, but I was happy to see it was Converse instead because of their work with art and fashion.

After the HR rep gave her spiel about Converse and answered my questions, I asked her about the conflict I had with an internship offer already on the table. She said she could work it out and we ended up doing the interview process over a week and a half.

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation and I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, but the resources, such as, the Questrom UDC and BU CCD prepared me for the opportunity.

CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?

Converse is a huge company the employs over 2,600 people. With this many people across the various countries, it’s easy to be lost in the crowd and feel that your efforts aren’t noticed. Although having unnoticed efforts are a reality of working regardless of the size of the company, Converse makes an effort to showcase employees, teams, and projects that went above and beyond. Annually they hold the Converse Awards where a majority of the employees from all the different geographic locations, come under the same roof to celebrate the work of their peers and themselves. The top projects by each region are recognized front and center on stage. The voting process is done democratically by Converse employees with criteria being the project that best embodies the Converse values. Besides, boosting morale, recognizing achievements in this fashion really solidifies and ingrains the culture, especially since winners are all current fellow employees. The people recognized aren’t company folklore, fantasies of what an ideal employee should be. They are living breathing employees who got hired for what they could do, but ultimately got recognized for how they did it and the manner they conducted themselves.

There were 32 interns scattered across various departments at Converse this summer. Since collaboration is such a vital part of the Converse culture, our experience wouldn’t be complete without a cross-functional team project. Two interns didn’t participate because of the nature of their personal internship which left 30 interns to be divided up into 5 teams. The prompt of our project was quite vague to not stifle creativity; it was basically asking our team to think of an authentic way to connect Converse’s values to their consumer in the shape of a product, event, or experience. The project was fun, I just had some team issues that looking back I had a strong hand in. The issues didn’t affect the performance of our project but did affect me personally. Team project in an academic setting and team projects in a work setting are very different, and it took a while to get used to the change. Without going into the details, the next work team-based project I have, I will be spending more time getting to know my team and having them get to know me. There was communication but I felt there was a lot of miscommunication between me and the rest of my team. It wasn’t till the end when we got to all know each other, that things started to get better. This and moments of being a clueless intern were the only uncomfortable parts of the internship and these overall didn’t have that big of an effect.

CCD: What was the most memorable moment of your experience?

Throughout my summer internship, I not only had the opportunity to speak to anyone in the company but was greatly encouraged to. Converse uses Microsoft Outlook as its internal email and calendar system which is packed with tons of features. Sometimes you can’t appreciate the power of a tool until it is fully being utilized. With Microsoft Outlook you are able to see the unlabeled schedules of anyone you are trying to set up a meeting with. You can easily see what time works best for all parties who you wish to attend the meeting.

I would meet people throughout the building and often the conversation would end with “Throw some time on my calendar.” I would then gladly took them up on their offer and threw a quick 30 minute one on one on their calendar, which they had the liberty to accept, decline, or suggest a better time.

One on one after one on one, I got more efficient at breaking the ice and having more worthwhile conversations. My questions shifted from “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” to more informative questions like “What is the mindset you have when making your various career leaps of faith?” and “How would the people you work with describe you and do you think it’s an accurate depiction?”.

I learned a great deal through all the projects I did during my internship, but even combined they don’t compare to the insight and wisdom gained from the one on ones I had during that same time-frame. I was able to speak to not only the CEO and many VPs, but people who worked in product, design, operations, finance, strategy, marketing, digital media, account management and others. The best part was that nearly every person I talked to either had unconventional or unexpected journeys to get to where they are today.

CCD: What advice would you give to another student about making the most of an internship, job, or other career-related experience?

The 5 pieces (steps) of advice I would give to another student about internships would be:

First, take a mental inventory of yourself. Figure out what are your passions, what do people say that you are good at, and what comes easy to you. Most importantly, ask yourself what conversations do you want to have every single day at work.

Second, look at what is out there, because there are many jobs and companies that would be a great fit for you that you just don’t know of. Talk to advisers and teachers about jobs that might fit this criterion. Also, look at the final job position that you would want and then work back to the internship that would help you get there. The biggest thing to figure out is the industry or culture you want to go in and then make a list of all the companies.

Third, do inventory on your network (anyone you have built a relationship with from friends, family, coaches, and teachers) to see if anyone knows anyone in that industry. Ask them if they can introduce you to said person. Begin the conversation with them via email, phone, or in person. This is significantly better than cold calling or shooting your application on all these application portals. The conversation should be easy because you have picked an industry that you’re passionate about and/or knowingly or unknown good at. I personally did not know about this advice or use it for this internship, but if I had I known I would’ve used it. I got really lucky with this internship, but I don’t plan on pressing my luck and will use this piece in the future.

Fourth, for interviews, you should probably ask the people in the UDC or CCD for help. However, I can say no job is going to bring you in for an interview to waste their time so they already like you because of what’s on your resume or what they have heard or read. They are mainly asking you to add context (stories) to what is on your resume and that you know or care about the company, so just be yourself. Additionally, recruiting is a huge part of these HR people‘s jobs so they are very good at sniffing out when someone is faking it. Remember you can be yourself and be professional.

Lastly, when you are an intern, act like you’re not an intern. Work as if you are employed there and trying to get a raise. Try to think like your manager or whoever is above you so you can truly be helpful. Don’t be too “cold” for questions. Ask a ton of them because you are allowed to, you will learn from them, and people know you have questions. Get to know people as if you’re going to be at that company for a long time. These are your new coworkers\friends. If the company doesn’t bring you back for whatever reason, at least made great relationships and increased the quality and quantity of your network.

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