Navigating a U.S. Department of (Fill-in-the-Blank)
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world…She took the midnight train going anywhere…”
Maybe not so much.
But moving from a relatively small unknown state like Oregon (pronounced Ore-uh-gun for the East Coasters) is a big change. From the quaint, hipster, semi-bustling city of Portland to a “not-so-lonely-place” called Washington, DC, there are plenty of changes to deal with, especially at the workplace.
Now this is the second time around for me. I’ve interned before at a public charter school in DC, however a government job is different, and let’s face it, kind of A BIG DEAL (not to brag).
The great news though is that this “midnight train” can take you anywhere. There are so many opportunities for growth and development once you get your foot inside the U.S. Government (hopefully for good reasons). o.O
Don’t expect these government internships to be all about paperwork, running copiers, buying coffee, etc. etc.
The more interesting the department you are appointed to, the more you will actually get to learn and gain hands on experience (such as the Office of the Chief Information Officer). Not to mention, a lot of these government institutions actually offer training, networking, and volunteering opportunities for their employees (which congratulations! you sort of count! :D)
Okay, let’s talk about some big (seemingly non significant) TIPS AND TRICKS:
1. DRESS BUSINESS FORMAL. Yes, this seems like a no brainer… but you will find that at a lot of government institutions, there are multiple buildings (the Department of Education has 5!) and many different types of people. There will be people dressed to the nines and others… well… let’s just say I’m not sure where they shop….
BUT. HOLD YOURSELF TO A HIGH STANDARD! PEOPLE WILL TREAT YOU WITH MORE RESPECT! DO NOT GET CONFUSED BY THE NOOBS OR WANDERERS!!!
2. MAKE YOUR OWN BUSINESS CARD! Even if your job doesn’t give you one, make one for yourself so that if you bump into anyone important at work or on the metro they will remember you! (It’s called sneaky networking!). I would also advise putting a LinkedIn button/logo on your card so people will know where to find you.
3. ANOTHER SNEAKY TIP! WHEN IN PUBLIC WEAR YOUR BADGE IN A VISIBLE LOCATION! (Okay, I’m not telling you to wear it around campus -.- but people on the metro WILL come up and talk to you and ask you questions.
Did I just make you another connection? Hellll yeah!
4. BE SUPER FRIENDLY! This tip is more for your journey outside of your cubicle and your department. Word can travel and you never know who you’re talking to. This includes the security guard who you will most likely be seeing often when you enter and exit.
For the introverts out there, I know. It’s painful. BUT people will be willing to do A LOT more for you if you are cheerful. Even if it’s just answering your questions or helping you with a project.
5. TRY TO FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL TAKE YOU UNDER THEIR WING. If you’re lucky, your boss or supervisor (or some older person in your office) will be your “go-to” guy. You need one of those when working for the government because a lot can get lost and shuffled around, INCLUDING YOU!
To be memorable, not only do you need to do a good job, but make sure you have a solid connection that is willing to help you during your first month, and hopefully for a good while.
6. BUY LUNCH AT THE OFFICE! Food here (in the governmental buildings) tends to be rather cheap, and it gives you an excuse to go around being nice and friendly! But, really. Do it. You’re a poor college student. (And the food’s really not that bad and usually under $5!)
7. DECORATE YOUR WORK SPACE. Okay girls. HOLD THE GLITTER!
I don’t mean turn it into Barbie’s Wonderland. I mean, add some things relevant to your state, post your tasks on colorful post-its, pin any important papers up, stash your drawers with food… (you will want a food stash in case you get hungry or dragged somewhere).
Why decorate your work space? Because then when your coworkers or boss come to talk to you, you will have something to talk about that’s pleasant and non work related. Also, posting your “to-do”s up even when you don’t really need to shows people that you are working hard, on track, and organized!
Working at the government is definitely not something to take lightly (though there may be some who do). Particularly as an intern, you will have the opportunity to not only meet, but work with very important people. People who could help you gain incredible skills.
One thing to consider when applying for your job that most people don’t think of is which semester you pick.
If you are an intern during the fall or spring semesters, there tends to be less competition and more time for you to get quality attention. (WOO!). You will also be afforded the opportunity to partake in more tasks, receive more guidance, and participate in more important aspects of the U.S. Departments.
Why? Because during the summer, interns from around the country and the world (and the tourists >.<) will floooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood DC with their needs and desires and you will most likely experience a more “superficial” environment… if you know what I mean…
There will be briefings, events, special occassions during the summer, but this just all means more overshadowing for you! AKA you have a greater chance of becoming invisible among the other interns and daily activities.
The key is to slip into the workforce seamlessly and not to have a loudspeaker over your head screaming “INTERN ALERT! INTERN ALERT! NOOB ALERT!”
So what lasting advice does a “small town girl” have for making life easier and more succesfull in the big city?
Landing an internship at any U.S. Department can really be a train to anywhere. BUT you have to think strategically, truly enjoy what you’re doing and what you’ve signed up for. Don’t just do it for the title. When you apply, they will ask you for your interests and passions. Getting the internship is just the start, it’s succeeding at it, showing up everyday on time, committing yourself to the cause, loving the people, and truly excelling at it that can take you places!
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