3 pieces of advice for your first day as an intern

I’m riding the metro into work and see a lot of un-broken-in heels, shiny suits and anxious faces. To the interns sharing my morning commute to their first days at work: welcome!

Before coming to work in DC (which you’ll learn to call by acronym, rather than the outside-the-Beltway “Washington”) I spent two summers here as an intern and fellow. Outside of the District (the other appropriate moniker for the city where you now work) I did internships in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Boston, so my advice comes with experience.

If I could give you 3 pieces of advice this morning, they would be:

1) Make friends. In most cases, your peers will be the ones hiring you, not your current supervisor. Most nonprofits and legislative offices take more interns than they have hiring spaces, but many people who have cobbled together the funds for a summer working in the nation’s Capitol have ambition and an interest in policy. In 5 years, those people will be your hiring managers and you’ll be looking to hire them.

(Some interns focus all of their energy on impressing staff, which can be important, but shouldn’t be at the expense of building friendships and professional relationships with your peers. It’s like college: your classmates are your real network, not some alum you met for 10 minutes at a networking event and certainly not your professors who probably have never and will never work in your field.)

2) Eat. Eat with people a few times a week, more if you can spare the recharge time. Budgets are tight in internland, but you are here because you want to do something. Eat enough so you’re not starving at 11:30am and thus can’t pay attention.

(I ate PB&J sandwiches for my first summer in DC and pasta with homemade sauce my second. Get your fiber, get your fruits and veggies, get a little bit of chocolate when the task of learning huge preexisting systems gets you down.)

3) Write. I’m putting this post in the category I used to use for my internships, because I wrote about what I was learning in all of them. Whether you blog under your own name, grab a funny handle on tumblr, or cram your writing between two moleskin covers, this is going to be a shaping summer and you’ll want to be able to point to the moment you learned to speak fluent acronym. If you’re like me, you won’t really be able to think about something until you’re writing about it, so this will help you learn.

We’re welcoming 23 new Fellows in 20 minutes with a breakfast to help them get to know the organization they’re joining as well as start their first day full. If you’re the nervous-looking intern on my train and read this, just let me say: welcome. This summer should be fun.

Inspirational Quote:

“Good for the body is the work of the body, and good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other.”–Henry David Thoreau


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