Interning in DC: The New Four Questions
I’ve only been in Washington for a few days, but already I’ve learned an important lesson from my time with the United Nations Foundation: Ask questions. To help future Machon Kaplan participants and interns, I’ve devised four questions to guide through the beginning of the experience. While these might not be as memorable as the four questions my family might ask during a lovely Pesach Seder, they have nevertheless been instrumental for me in learning how to be a good DC intern:
- What is my own role in the organization, and what are the organization’s goals?
This question can partially be answered just from researching beforehand. Usually, an organization will have its goals and steps to achieving them listed on its webpage. It’s important to know what you’re getting into, and you’ll impress your supervisors by starting off with knowledge about their organization. Asking about your own role is important, too—sometimes it might not be very clear what the organization wants you to do, but the best way to find out is to ask!
- What do I want out of my internship/experience, and what does the program/organization want out of me?
An internship is a mutually beneficial relationship. While you gain a variety of benefits from it, (resume points and work experience), so does your organization (someone to support its work and a potential future employee). It’ll be important to establish your own expectations and goals before you start the internship so you’ll have something to work toward. But it’s also important to find out what the organization wants of you, so that you can give back to those providing the experience to you. The more you put in, the more you get out.
- How do I gain the trust of my organization? How can I be as helpful as possible?
Not surprisingly, asking more questions is key. People encourage it! Asking questions shows an eagerness to learn and contribute, which makes you stand out. It shows you’re curious and a critical thinker. An inquisitive intern who wants to start the ground running will make a very good impression.
- Why am I doing what I am doing?
This question is vital, and the answer can vary greatly depending on where you’re interning. Ask yourself why you’re doing a specific task, or why you’re helping out with a specific campaign or event. It’ll make you more likely to succeed at it because you’ll know what is expected as a result. Understanding the purpose behind your actions can energize you. Working on the Nothing But Nets campaign, all I have to think about is that I’m helping combat malaria to save lives, and I get straight to work.
Hopefully by now it’s obvious that my new four questions bring with them other questions, and those questions bring other questions. Don’t stop asking questions! They are how we move forward as interns, as Machon Kaplan participants, as individuals and as a society.
Ian Cantor is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. He is interning at the United Nations Foundation.