Well, I am in the midst of my first internship ever (woohoo!), and I am proud to report that I am surviving the professional world better than I imagined. In college, and around Northwestern in particular, it seems like nabbing your first internship is like a rite of passage, a transition point between being a college kid and a young professional. But for me, this was pretty daunting particularly because I could not really imagine what it would actually be like to be an intern….
SO here are my two cents on what finally entering the office building meant for me, and maybe it will resonate with the experience of other fresh interns out there (or perhaps paint a picture for some other college youngsters that haven’t sealed the deal yet).
First of all, a little background on my internship and the type of work I am doing. I have been working as a “Program Assistant” (just a fancy word for “intern”) at an organization called WorldChicago. In general, WorldChicago hopes to promote citizen diplomacy by welcoming international visitors to the city and arranging professional meetings for them with leaders and community member in Chicago. Many of the visitors come through a specific program called the International Visitors Leadership Program which focuses in on a particular theme for discussions during their visits.
This all sounded kind of vague to me when I first started, but I quickly learned that it meant visitors would come for several days to learn about anything from politics to pension reform to gang violence to opera theater management. It literally is different for every single group. Moreover, the size of the groups vary from just one or two delegates, to hundreds – such as on a new project I am working on for 125 journalists from over 30 countries.
The good news about all of this variety is that I am never too bored with my assignments, but it did make it somewhat difficult to figure out the lay of the land when I first started. Speaking of which, let me back up a little bit…
So how did I find this position? Honestly, it was kind of by chance. A friend from home told me about a website called idealist.org that posts jobs and internships for the more philanthropic/non-profit/NGO sector (I would actually recommend it to anyone interested in that work who has not found good job listings anywhere else). I was scrolling through it one day during spring quarter and noticed a summer intern position open at WorldChicago. After emailing the contact person, I quickly heard back that the position was full unless I would be available for late summer into September – what luck, thanks quarter system! So I was able to set up an interview at their office downtown and began my journey as an up-and-coming professional.
The interview itself was both terrifying and exhilarating. First of all, I had never really mastered the business-casual outfit and ended up having to Skype with my mom in order to get feedback on how I looked. Once the outfit was mastered I had to actually find the place and maneuver the “L” and big city to find the right office building. Scary.
It actually went smoother than I thought and I managed to make it to the right office on the right floor on my first try. One thing I keep reading in articles about interviews is the importance of asking the employer good questions to show engagement and interest in the position. I tried this out by asking things such as:
“What characteristics have made some of your previous employees good at this type of work?” and, “What type of people tend to thrive in the culture of this organization, and what type don’t do as well?”
I noticed my interviewer really perked up when I asked these questions, and it led to a longer conversation about the people and culture of the office. It was a little surprising to hear back within just a couple of days of the interview, but it was also a big relief to have figured out my summer internship plans so quickly and not continue to worry about where or what I would be doing for the summer.
Now, fast-forwarding to the first day of the job and my expectations, I think I was hoping to get some sort of orientation or background on the work I would be doing. Unfortunately the person in charge of intern orientation was out of the office that week, so it turned into a trial and error period in which I had to ask the other interns and employees for a lot of help along the way. This is probably why the first week felt so exhausting, but the good news is that it only took about a week or two to really figure out the routine around the office and get a grip on my duties as an intern. Just three weeks into the job another intern was hired and I was actually the one in charge of showing her around and getting her up to speed on the layout of the office.
At this point I still have about another month left in the position, and I have noticed that my supervisors are giving me more in-depth tasks and greater responsibility. This is great because not only does it show me that my bosses have confidence in my ability to get the job done, but it has also become more clear how quickly one can adapt to a new job and a new work environment, even when it seems overwhelming at first. Additionally, I have gained so much insight into the professional world in terms of networking, interpersonal communications, expectations, proper dress-code, and resources for finding other opportunities in my field of interest.
I would also like to add that I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP), which helped make my otherwise unpaid summer a meaningful learning experience. I know this is just the first step towards building my career goals and post-Northwestern life plans, but I am eager to be moving in the right direction and feel ready to keep adding to what I have learned over the past couple of months.
About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.