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by Nicole Tieman

As professionals in D.C., we’ve seen the entire gamut of intern personalities. Capitol Hill is brimming with wannabe politicos who try to pass off plots from House of Cards as their own; K Street is lousy with ambitious over-achievers dressed in their best Olivia Pope knock-off suits, and Massachusetts Avenue is ripe with international up-and-comers with impressive resumes and cringe-worthy social skills.

With a relatively regular rotation of interns with similar personality types, it’s easy to overlook individuals and assume we know an intern from first impressions. This can be a costly mistake, and a disservice to each intern who walks through our doors.

Despite appearances, most interns have something valuable to offer our companies, otherwise why would we hire them? With that in mind, here are a few ways we can move past our first impressions and get the most out of our interns.

NASA Goddard Summer Interns 2011

Photo by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

1.    Learn about their interests

Spare a lunch hour and take an intern to the cheap food truck down the street. Use the time to engage them about their interests and goals for the future. It’s a small gesture that will help you learn how to best utilize their unique talents and help them feel part of the team.

2.    Be approachable

The success of our interns depends just as much on our efforts as it does on theirs. If we’re willing to be approachable and answer questions, communication lines will be open and interns will yield a higher quality of work and enthusiasm… hopefully.

3.    Explain why what they do matters

As a PR intern, I hated cold calling. It was tedious, boring, and frustrating- but mostly I didn’t understand its value. Looking back on it, I believe it would’ve been more bearable had my supervisor explained why what I did mattered to the firm. I still would’ve hated it, but I would’ve understood its significance. Now, as a professional, I try to provide context to the assignments I give in the hope that my interns don’t experience the same confused frustration I endured. When they understand the importance of their work, they’ll take it more seriously and be more willing to do a good job.

 4.    Give them a signature project

As professionals, we often forget the entire reason interns work for us is to get experience. While it’s important they learn the basics and pay their dues, they also need a signature project that highlights their unique skills. Whether it’s writing, video production, or social media savvy, creating a signature project based on an intern’s specific skill set will be good for the company, keep them engaged, and give them something to feature on their resumes.

 5.    Be appreciative

Sure, sometimes our interns make mistakes that we need to fix. And as we sit alone in our offices, re-entering data and fuming over missing the open bar at Johnny’s Half Shell, we forget about the good work our interns do every day. A “thank you” can go a long way, and despite occasional mistakes, our offices would be much worse off without intern support. So let’s try to be appreciative, even when it means missing the best happy hour of the week.


D.C. wouldn’t be D.C. without the interns who overcrowd the bar and spill their drinks on our new Michael Kors pumps at Cap Lounge after work; who talk just a little too loudly about their encounters with Scott Walker at CPAC, and who create traffic jams in the Metro every morning because they can’t quite understand that they don’t need to wait until the gates close from the previous person to touch their SmartTrip card.

So rather than settle on intern stereotypesand first impressions, then dismiss them all as the naïve and inexperienced college kids they probably are, we should work a little harder to encourage our interns and help them grow professionally- if for no other reason than they’ll probably be our bosses some day in the not-so-distant future.