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Interview with an Intern: A Compelling Conversation about Mentoring

Written by Sarah Szejn, Assistant Vice President - Client Relationship Specialist Manager

Co-written by MaShawnda Howard, Commercial Banking Operations Intern

MaShawnda Howard joined my team at First Business Bank in 2016 as a Commercial Loan Servicing Intern for a one-semester commitment. More than two years later, still working at First Business, she’s planning her graduation in May of 2019 from UW-Milwaukee with a degree in Finance and will be moving to Texas to pursue an MBA post-graduation.


Since joining my team, MaShawnda and I have met monthly to set goals, review the scope of new projects, identify resources, and set deadlines. We debrief each project and identify new skills she has learned.

MaShawnda, to date, has met every goal at or prior to each deadline……except one……

In summer of 2017, we added, “author a blog” as a stretch goal in First Business’s talent management software. At this point, this stretch goal is well buried within the software. But it’s still there. We review it every month and every month MaShawnda says, “Keep it on there.”

As MaShawnda’s time with First Business winds down, it is important to me as her manager to help her achieve this stretch goal. I approached her about co-authoring a blog with me, and, with her commitment, this blog was born.

To start the project, we met one morning at Starbucks. MaShawnda ordered something out of her comfort zone. Please enjoy this co-authored blog as much as MaShawnda enjoyed her Cinnamon Shortbread Frappuccino and being in the hot seat that morning.

mashawndaMaShawnda Howard: Although I was not given the questions ahead of time, I kind of knew what to expect based on the monthly meetings Sarah and I have.

Sarah Szejn: You started here in fall of 2016; what’s the first thing you learned from me about what we expected from you?

MH: The first thing I learned was to be a team player. I’m a very self-sufficient person, and when you emphasized everyone working together, I knew that would be tough for me. I’ve always been wary of teamwork in college. I’m definitely the take-charge person when it comes to group work and I hate depending on other people to do things. I’m always prepared just to get things done myself in those situations at school, but I quickly learned how everyone at First Business Bank works together, and was glad everyone was so supportive of each other.

SS: With any high-functioning team, it’s important to know what people are responsible for, and it’s the same thing at First Business. Teamwork only works when everyone pitches in and feels responsible for success. A lot of the people you worked with were in other locations, so that was another challenge. What did you learn from that?

MH:  I learned to rely on others. I needed to become more accepting of others and trust that they would pull their weight when completing projects. Some of the things we’d work on with teams in Madison. I’d do the first half, they’d do their part, and then it would come back to me. I would always try it on my own first and as a last resort I would reach out. If I had any questions, I’d do a Skype meeting and they’d share their screen to make sure I was understanding correctly.

SS: I wanted to make sure you had access to the right resources. And it’s really important to learn to speak up to get the training you need. It’s even in the Statement of Beliefs at First Business. We want to set people up to succeed, but they have to advocate for themselves, too.

SS: Share your decision to buy a car and how you felt driving to our Madison headquarters for the first time.

MH: I had a fear of driving, but once I got this job, I realized I would need a car. It was a big step to decide to buy a car, and then that summer I had to drive to Madison. That was the farthest I’d ever driven, and it was raining on the way back. But I’m really glad I challenged myself and I appreciate that working at First Business pushed me outside my comfort zone.

SS: Since then, you’ve coordinated carpools to our headquarters and attended multiple First Business Bank intern events. Which event was your favorite and why?


MH: The intern events were really fun. I loved the Middleton picnics and volunteering with kids through United Way. We got to read to them, play with them on the playground, fish, and do arts and crafts. The escape room was my second favorite intern activity, and, again, another situation where we had to work as a group and I had to rely on other people to help the team escape.

SS: You got experience in a lot of different areas: credit, finance, loan processing, loan quality, deposit operations, payments, wires, and even human resources. What surprised you about what you liked and disliked?

MH: What surprised me most about myself was that there was nothing I actually disliked. I love trying new things and getting a lot of experience in different areas. It was eye-opening to learn about other parts of the business and see them from other people’s perspectives. Marketing could be next!

SS: We set goals and tied them to learning new skills. You worked on a variety of projects – one directly with the bank President. What new skill or project was most intimidating and why?

MH: Preparing for and leading a meeting was a new skill that was intimidating to me. It was a challenge because I was leading a team of older, more experienced workers. As a young person, I wasn’t sure if they’d take me seriously or listen to me. Also, when I moved desks to the front of the office to interact with clients and help them, I was nervous about being the new person they would have to start to trust and built a relationship with. It was difficult to open up at first, but as time went on I gained more confidence when speaking to the clients and getting to know them. I am happy that most clients have gotten comfortable with me just as I have with them. Quite a few other tasks and skills intimidated me a bit because they weren’t behind-the-scenes work, but overall everything contributed to helping me push my limits. 

SS: I am really proud of you for embracing these duties and for learning new skills. I remember when I asked you which clients you had met— you had a full list of them. This is all good data for your career. You know you can handle these challenges, and you know so much more about what you’d like to do after you graduate.  

SS: Your team in Brookfield was filled with tenured professionals, what did you learn from Peggy, Anne, Kathy, Karin, and Mary among others?

MH: From the ladies up front, I learned how to be more approachable and comfortable when I’m working with clients. Mary and Karin trained me on loan payments and a lot of important daily processes. I like how they interact with lenders to make sure they’re doing everything they need to do organization-wise and with follow-up. The lenders know they can rely on them to get things done; you have good relationships and it all fits together well. I also liked teaching everyone else a few things – more efficient ways to do things. I’m a little more tech-savvy than some other people and was happy to contribute that to the team.

SS: What did you learn most from me?

MH: What I learned most was how to be more outgoing and part of a team. The past two years I’ve realized how much I’ve made myself an independent person. You can’t do that in this line of work. I’m most proud of expanding my horizons and trying new things.

SS: It takes communication between the manager and the employee, and we make a great team. Meeting both of our needs is important. Is there anything you think I should start or stop doing?

MH: Keep pushing people to be their best. I think that people should feel challenged in what they do. When you become content, you stop growing and progressing. You pushed me outside my comfort zone and I really appreciate it.

SS: What are you excited about for your next chapter?

MH: I am most excited and nervous about moving to Texas and starting grad school.

SS: What would you say to other interns or professionals who are considering joining First Business?

MH: For those who are considering, just do it. I know there might be concerns about schedule flexibility, and work-life-balance, however, First Business has been very accommodating and understanding.

SS: When I reflect back on everything MaShawnda has learned during her internship, her motivation and ownership stand out to me. She has gained tremendous confidence since day one with First Business and I’m honored to contribute in her development into a young professional eager for her next chapter.

MH: Interning the past two years has been an incredible journey and experience. I have gained a lot of confidence and learned how to do things outside of my comfort zone. I owe many thanks to First Business and its people for helping me transition and grow into the young professional I am today.


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