June 10, 2000
My cubical at work
Washington, D.C. is famous for being the city that runs on interns. Almost every company, political office, newspaper, law firm and any other business, profit and nonprofit alike, are constantly looking for interns.
I like to think I am somewhat of an interning (slave labor) connoisseur. Since spring semester of my freshman year until now, the summer before my senior year, I have held non-paying internships. Of course the rationale at first for working a non-paying internship is that it will be a great experience and the mere thrill of having a big name on your resum?. But take it from me, the thrill wears off quickly, very quickly.
The spring of my freshman year I became a White House intern. (Yeah, yeah, stop smirking. This was during the whole Lewinsky scandal and my roommate’s name was Monica so between the two of us I’ve heard every joke there is). I worked about twenty hours a week in the trade ambassador’s press office. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. three days a week and walked the two blocks from Thurston Hall to my office so I could sift through twelve of the country’s leading daily newspapers.
My job was to make a clips package of all stories relating to trade or the ambassador directly. I would cut out these articles, photocopy them into what would turn out to be around a thirty-page packet, make 56 copies of the packet and distribute it to people’s desks by 8 a.m. My office manager would always tell me how important these clips were and how much of a responsibility I held in the office, but I had my doubts.
After fighting with copying machines almost every morning and delivering these clips packages I would leave the office at 9 a.m. and head to my 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. classes. Later on in the day I would head back to the office to work for three more hours in the afternoon answering phones, proof reading press releases and other assorted activities.
While I had the internship I did enjoy it, but looking back now I can’t image what I was thinking. Some of the perks of the internship included meeting President Clinton, taking several White House tours and attending staff functions. At the end of my internship, I got a gold key chain adorned with the seal of the President of the United States. On the back is an engraved stamp of the president’s signature – it’s actually pretty cool. With this internship I also lost all interest I once had in politics.
This past semester I interned at C-SPAN. This internship I can say with out a doubt I hated and found to be a huge waste of my time. The main problem I had was that the responsibilities of what I would be doing were never clearly stated.
Originally, I was told that I would be working in the new media (online) department and that I would get to do some writing, which was my main goal. The internship coordinator told me that I really did not need to be HTML fluent, and boy was she wrong. The internship coordinator really had little knowledge of what the department would have me doing on a daily basis.
Throughout my stint at C-SPAN I did not do any writing. I encoded tapes and live feeds to be posted on the Website and did daily maintenance of the different pages of the site. Luckily, I was familiar with basic HTML coding so I managed okay.
Another problem of the internship was that they just did not have enough for me to do. I ended up surfing the web for half the day, checking my e-mail every 20 minutes and between doing projects that they thought would take hours, but really only took minutes. This internship again was non-paid. I actually lost money because I had to pay for Metro fare back and forth, but I did get college credit for it which is the only reason I did not quit after a couple of weeks.
I don’t mean to dishearten many of you out there who are coming to the city with high hopes of interning bliss. If anything, from my experiences I have learned that if you want an internship you should start looking early. Most fall internships have deadlines in May, spring internships have deadlines in January and some summer internships, because they are the most competitive, have deadlines in November and December.
If possible find an internship that is paid – they are out there – or do it for credit. It is also important to find out what your responsibilities will be up front and talk to your employer and let them know what you are trying to get out of the internship. If all the hiring is done through an internship coordinator, make sure to talk to your prospective department head and ask specific questions about your day-to-day tasks.
Finally, be picky. Don’t just settle for something because you did not get the internship you really wanted. If you do that you will just end up unhappy.