3 Things I’ve Learned While at a High-Profile Internship
As an intern at a nonprofit organization run by a former president of the United States, I’ve come to realize many of my work experiences this semester were a little more intense than your average mid-college internship. I’m almost at the end of my semester, and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the advice I’ve been given throughout my time here, and the times that I’d wished I had received some advice. The awkward encounters I’ve had with celebrities may have died down since I’ve had more experiences, but the lessons I’ve learned in diligence, phone call professionalism, and networking ensure that I will never stop appreciating this internship experience. Some of these lessons are very intuitive, and they aren’t representative of everyone’s experience at my organization, but these are the top three things that will stick with me!
1. Social media is both a blessing and a curse.
As a communications student and intern, social media is often holy territory for getting your message across. Traditional press tools are on the decline, and reliance on social media for media relations is on the rise. Not only is Instagram the ultimate professional branding platform, but I don’t know what I would do without Instagram as a platform to post pics from my NYC adventures! Everyone thinks scrubbing of the social media channels is limited to the college apps process, but in reality, you still need to think critically about what you post to Instagram or what people post about you. When you have a high profile internship, it is important to distinguish yourself and your experiences from the high profile figure that is associated with your work. For instance, if you work at the White House, it’s okay to post your picture with the President to Instagram, because that is a more personal forum, but using that picture on LinkedIn could be construed as a professional endorsement. The context of social media posts matters more than you think! I would also tell your parents, who will probably mom-brag about your internship to anyone who will listen, to be mindful of the context in which they mom-brag about the stories or pictures you share with them. Social media etiquette may not be as second nature to them as it is to us!
2. With high profile comes high structure
As I sit at my desk in a full Ann Taylor pantsuit, I understand having a former president at the helm of your work means the office culture and internship experience will not be the same as working for say, Google (I wish we had a Lego station)! Newhouse NYC orientation will prepare you as best anyone can with the top tools to be the most professional intern in the office, but some of the most memorable lessons I’ve learned have come by way of my abnormally high profile, and therefore extremely structured, internship. From conversations with influential movers and shakers, to seminars on how to actually excel at excel (yay, no longer a white lie on my resume), and many community service opportunities, having a former president at the helm of your place of work provides your organization with rare assets and requirements. A side effect of having such a high profile internship is I have had to learn business professional protocol, so not only do I know what it’s like to not be able to bring your work computer home or share secrets, but I know what it’s like to interact appropriately with a former president (and yes, it’s as intimidating as you’d think!). This brings me to lesson number three….
3. The novelty never wears off
Four months into my internship, and I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t still get giddy each time I know the former President is going to be in the office. I would be lying if I said that each time I see security detail at work, I don’t have flashbacks to the week I spent in the trenches of a hotel press entrance, engaging in light banter with multiple types and layers of security while working one of the most high profile events of the month. I really would be lying if I said the picture I have with the former President wasn’t, at one point, both the lock screen AND background on my phone, before I felt one too many stares at my phone over my shoulder on that cramped 6 train each morning, and thought to myself “no amazing picture is worth not using your phone in public.” Four months since starting this incredible internship, and I still don’t believe that I get to work for a nonprofit organization that actually makes a difference in the world. I still have to pinch myself to believe that I have even had a small part in providing economic development tools to working women in Latin America. No one told me it’s okay to still feel in shock about your surroundings and experiences, and the pressure to act jaded in a high profile environment is intense. Just because no one tells you about the time they got so nervous when meeting the President that they talked about shoes, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen (true story from a few semesters ago)! I’ve learned it’s OK that the novelty hasn’t worn off because that’s what keeps you invested in the work you do, it’s what makes those long hours and difficult tasks all the more worth it.