Photo Credit: GOOD.
“Show up early every day.”
“Suck up to the boss.”
“Make yourself available 24/7.”
In this town— and yes, I mean in “This Town”—interns are as ubiquitous as politicians and interest groups, and advice about what makes a good intern is no less common.
Interning is a rite of passage. And although it may be difficult for some interns to relish an internship in the moment, Washingtonians are often eager to wax nostalgic about their own internship experiences and dole out advice to the latest crop of capital neophytes.
As the person who oversees the Rational 360 internship program, and as a former DC intern myself, I submit my take on how interns can make the most of an internship and the qualities that I think make up The Good Intern:
1. Take Yourself Seriously: The first step toward becoming The Good Intern is developing a mindset that makes you feel good about yourself and the work you are doing. Treat the internship like a “real job,” and maybe it will become one. Disabuse yourself of the mindset that you are better than the internship.
2. Ask Questions: Twenty-two year olds get into trouble when they think they know things. The Good Intern prepares diligently and researches thoroughly, but is not afraid to ask questions of his supervisors when the answer is not discoverable through a different channel. Of course, The Good Intern also knows when to ask questions, and does not let his or her lack of knowledge interfere with the smooth operation of the firm.
3. Be the Best Dressed in the Office: Well, be one of the best-dressed. Especially if you are eager to accompany the boss to meetings around town, or if you subscribe to the mantra, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” you better be ready at a moment’s notice to represent the firm publicly. If your hair is a mess and your khakis are wrinkled, you probably should not expect to get invited to high-level meetings in this town (NOTE: You want to be at these meetings).
4. Be Open-Minded: Never, ever, refuse an assignment from a supervisor. While it is important to communicate your workload so you do not fall behind on your task, treat each project with care. The greater variety of work you do at a firm, the broader your skill set will be at the end of your internship. If you find yourself doing the same task repeatedly, make it your mission to master that task. It never hurts to become an expert at anything—you may make yourself vital to the operation of the firm. That said, asking for more and different responsibilities is a good idea once you have built a substantial portfolio of clean, thorough work.
5. Ask for Context: Similar to number 2 (above), asking a supervisor for the context of a project he or she has assigned to you helps you learn about the firm, the clients, and how the industry operates. Whether it is PR or politics, marketing or finance, knowing why and for whom you are working is educational and significantly more satisfying than working in a vacuum.
6. Meet the Firm: Ask people to eat lunch with you (even if you bring peanut butter sandwiches every day). Spending time with your colleagues will help you get to know them and their tendencies, but it also helps them get a sense of who you are and what interests you. I do not suggest pestering or groveling for company, but becoming a familiar and friendly face around the office will make everyone feel more comfortable. Also, be sure to say hello to your colleagues when you walk in every morning and say goodnight before you leave (NOTE: Staying late to finish up a project early israrely a bad idea).
7. Invent Your Own Project: Whether it is organizing a messy folder on the firm’s share drive, writing a blog post for the firm’s blog, or building a media list you think might be useful in the future, taking initiative shows your supervisors what type of worker you are. Be sure to share your project with your supervisors, and ask for their advice and guidance.
8. Have Fun: Remember, you are still an intern, and that can mean life is significantly less scary than it would be if you were holding down a “real job,” so relax and have fun. The stakes are still high for you, but relish each moment of exposure you gain from this experience. In most cases, internships are time-limited, so keep in mind that your position is temporary and do not get discouraged if it turns out the internship is not what you hoped it would be. Take heart, because life goes on.