Tales of a D.C. intern

Jodi Tirengel
Tales of a D.C. Intern
June 16, 2010

The secret about most workplaces in D.C. is that not long ago, many of the employees in the big corner offices were sitting in the intern cubicles. They were copying, shredding, getting the boss coffee with double espresso shots, and being referred to by co-workers as “the intern” (feel free to-politely-correct them.) It’s a rite of passage to move up the professional ladder: you have to earn your keep, but you’re not necessarily going to get paid for it. Navigating the intern scene isn’t always easy but from one generation of interns to the next, here are some tips:

-No Task Is Too Small to Do Well

Getting the CEO coffee may not be the most exciting task you’ve ever been given, but that doesn’t mean it’s too small to perform well. Introduce yourself so the CEO knows who you are. Write down the order so that you can make it correctly next time without asking. Use it to show your competence by going above and beyond. The same goes for other responsibilities you’re given: doing data entry and stapling copies may seem unimportant, but take into account the impact that incorrect database content or giving clients pages in the wrong order would have at an important meeting. Go above and beyond for the smaller tasks and you may be surprised by the bigger tasks you’re given.

-Be Proactive

Making coffee runs might become a part of your daily routine but that won’t be the extent of your assignments. Don’t expect to be given the kind of work you want; ask for it. Several weeks into my internship, I felt like everyone was enjoying their day jobs more than I was. During the next meeting I had with my supervisor, we talked about my goals. I wanted to take advantage of the resources that D.C. offers and I thought that it would be a missed opportunity to spend 3 months sitting behind a desk. A few days later, I was at a hearing on Capitol Hill. For the first time, I felt like I was doing what I came to D.C. to do. Your internship won’t necessarily be your dream job, but by opening the lines of communication you have a better chance of making the most of it. If the kind of work you ask for isn’t currently available, you might be first in line when it is.

-Your Friends May Be on Facebook, But Facebook Isn’t Necessarily Your Friend

We’ve all been there: your quick work break turns into a longer one and before you know it, you’re scrambling for words and minimizing your Gmail window when your supervisor stops by. To get the kind of work you want, be as productive as possible while you’re on the job. You want to get things done quickly and efficiently and unfortunately, Facebook stalking won’t get you there. The same goes for catching up on sports news, blogging about interning on the Hill, and texting your friends about happy hour plans. Your supervisor is likely to notice when you’re not working and may feel that you’re not deserving of more complex tasks. Facebook will still be there when the work day ends; you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on status messages then.

-Happy Hours Aren’t All D.C. Has to Offer

One trip to Dupont Circle after work will show you the popularity of local happy hours. They’re an important part of the D.C. experience. A classic mistake, though, is to limit your time to $12 buckets of Coronas at The Front Page (not a bad deal, it’s true.) There’s life beyond happy hour. Events like Screen on the Green and Jazz in the Sculpture Garden are unique experiences and they’re free. Also free: many of the museums. I’m sure your mother keeps reminding you about that one, but she’s right. Don’t be afraid to get out of the area: Harpers Ferry National Park, Shenandoah Valley, Gettysburg, Monticello, Annapolis, and Old Town Alexandria all make for great day trips. Take advantage of being so close to some of the most famous historical sites and monuments.

-Be in the Know

D.C. residents rely on blogs to find out about everything from what events are happening this weekend to which new restaurants are coming to the area. DCist (http://www.dcist.com) is one of the most heavily relied upon sources of local news and events. DailyCandy (http://www.dailycandy.com) e-mails subscribers a weekend guide every Thursday. To be clued into free concerts, art exhibits and more, check out Free in DC (http://freeindc.blogspot.com). Groupon (http://www.groupon.com/washington-dc) has local deals on restaurants , activities, and services every day. Want to know what’s going on in the Jewish community? Gather the Jews (http//www.gatherthejews.com) has a community calendar and spotlights local residents. The best way to be in the know is to find local sites you like and read them regularly.

-Make Connections And Keep Them

Networking is an important way to make connections that can help you in the future. If there’s a national organization that caters to your professional interests, monitor the website for local chapters and events you can attend. Co-workers can also clue you in to groups they’re involved with. The connections you make can follow you. My internship supervisor serves as one of my professional references and submitted a letter of recommendation for my graduate school application. When I moved back to D.C. after college, he offered me a job with the organization I interned for. Keep in touch with your co-workers; you never know when a position will open up that they can refer you for in the future. They may have friends in the same field in other cities that can also be good resources for you if you’re leaving the area. These connections are invaluable and it’s important to keep them going beyond your time as an intern.

You can shape your internship experience. By utilizing resources in the area both personally and professionally, you’ll ensure that you make the most out of your time in D.C. Now get back to work, intern.

Jodi Tirengel is the Director of Marketing for Gather The Jews