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  • Erica Hilton 10:15 pm on August 20, 2012 Permalink  

    “Sort Of” End Recap 

    Originally this was supposed to be the last week of my internship.  A few weeks ago, my program decided to extend my internship. It’s pretty exciting. I can honestly say that this is the best internship experience that I’ve had. I don’t feel like an intern. I feel like a permanent employee. I get training. I get assigned extremely vital assignments. I’m also left on my own to do it. I feel like an actual stakeholder in the Department.

    Throughout the summer I’ve tried to share on the blog everything I’ve learned so far in this experience. Unfortunately, what I’ve shared isn’t even the half of it. Here are a few things I’ve shared already along with some I’ve missed.

    1. Always carry a second pen.

    You never know when something will happen to the first one or if someone really important will need the second.

    2. Find someone in the company/organization/department that cares about you growing within your career.

    This person is like a mentor. Not only will they give you guidance, but they will show you the ropes and how to work your way up in THIS organization.

    3. It’s okay to work overtime and not get paid for it.

    I’m not suggesting to always stay late, but sometimes when something needs to get done, it just needs to get done. Don’t let a few minutes after 5pm be the reason you didn’t complete your work.

    4. Dress like the people in the positions you’re trying to achieve.

    If you want to be the CEO of the company or a Senior Executive Service member… DRESS LIKE ONE! You may see yourself as one, but you want everyone else to see it as well!

    5. Take advantage of free opportunities and trainings.

    Hello! It’s there to make YOU better! Especially if you don’t have to pay for it. As interns, we don’t have the deepest pockets around. TAKE ADVANTAGE!

    6. Be a social butterfly.

    Meet anyone and everyone you can! You never know who you’ll meet. You never know what opportunity one person can have for you.

    7. Do the right thing.

    When you see other people doing things that you don’t think are necessarily right, them doing it still doesn’t make it okay. If you know better, do better.

    These are just a few that are stuck in my head. With my internship extension I’m sure there’s more to come.

  • Erica Hilton 1:14 pm on August 20, 2012 Permalink  

    Take Advantage of Free Opportunities 

    Tonight I am attending a Stress Management Workshop in Dupont Circle. Now am I stressed out? Not in the least, BUT my internship offered to pay for the course for interns. I’m going to be honest. A Stress Management Workshop isn’t something that I would seek out on my own. However, since it’s an opportunity that I don’t have to come out of my own pocket for I’m going.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs offers great training opportunities for employees. They have training courses such as Written Communications, Formal Writing Using Plain Language, Organizational Stewardship and so much more. Interns are allowed to take these free courses as well. As an intern, if you’re offered a free opportunity from your internship… TAKE IT! Not only will you receive training that you normally wouldn’t be able to receive, but you’re internship will notice the initiative that you’re taking as well.

  • Erica Hilton 4:07 pm on August 17, 2012 Permalink  

    Adapting to the Office Culture 

    Each workplace has its own office culture. While some offices maybe extremely firm and somber, others maybe more laid back and cheerful. I can’t stress how important it is for interns to recognize, learn and adapt to the culture of the office they’re interning in.

    In Washington, DC, the Department of Veterans Affairs is set up like a campus. You have headquarters stationed at central office (VACO), while other offices are located in different buildings in the downtown DC vicinity. Originally, I was working full time with majority of the interns at one of the other buildings. At our intern office we have our own culture. Our hours are from 9am – 5:30pm. Every now and then someone will place a motivational song to keep us inspired about the day. On Fridays we even have Casual Friday. All of these things make up part of the culture of our office.

    Halfway through my internship I was requested to begin working in one of the front offices at VACO (AWESOME opportunity I might add). However, in order to fit into the office and its workflow, I had to adapt from my previous culture. For example: in the office I’m in now people arrive around 8am or much earlier. By 9am, everything has already kicked off and even 1 or 2 meetings have already been held. So what did I do? I make sure I’m here around 8am to 8:30am every morning. And yes I still stay until after 5pm. Why? Because I am adapting. This office is very serious about their dedication to Veterans and so they dedicate so much of their time to them and their families. This office is also fun! They laugh and joke, but they also focus and work really, REALLY hard. The dress is even slightly different here (I still keep my bright colors as part of my business wear though).

    Sometimes adapting isn’t always fun. People don’t like change. BUT… adapting is a major key to success.

  • Erica Hilton 9:05 pm on August 16, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: ethics training   

    Ethics Training 

    This morning I went to an ethics training course. I never realized there are so many do’s and don’ts when it comes to federal employees. I wouldn’t necessarily call them all major concerns; just things you wouldn’t automatically consider would fall under a rule or regulation. It seems as if there are provisions for everything: taking people to lunch, assisting with political campaigns and even giving fellow employees small gifts.

    What stood out to me the most was the emphasis placed on how even though something may not be ethically incorrect you still need to be concerned with how it looks. Usually more impact comes from what people see rather than what they hear.

    All in all it was a great experience. I want to have a career within the federal government, and these were definitely need to know tips. When you work for the federal government you work for the people. You never want to violate the people’s trust.

  • Erica Hilton 12:57 pm on August 3, 2012 Permalink  

    Next Generation of Government Summit 

    Last week my internship sent us to the Next Generation of Government Summit. What an experience! The summit was two days of networking, training sessions and amazing guest speakers.

    My favorite session, Moving on Up, taught young professionals how to navigate the federal government and how to work our way to the top.

    My favorite speaker of the event was the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. I can’t even explain how excited I was to hear him speak. I love WordPress! Not only is my own blog hosted on WordPress, but the internal blog that I created for an Assistant Secretary is hosted on WordPress as well.

    Matt’s demeanor and aura was awesome. He had such a great space around him, and it was such an honor to meet him!


  • Erica Hilton 6:07 pm on July 30, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , , , pentagon   

    The Pentagon 

    A few weeks ago, the other interns in my program and I went to the Pentagon for a meeting. While there we met with one of the Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense about the work his office is doing. He also walked us through the different steps and journeys that he took to achieve the career he has today.

    There was something that he said that really stood out to me. The work he does isn’t his job; it’s his passion. I’ve heard people say that before, but you could really tell by how he spoke about his work that he really and truly enjoys it. It was a nice reminder to do what makes you happy. Everything else will fall into place.

  • Erica Hilton 2:10 pm on July 25, 2012 Permalink  

    Halfway Mark 

    I can’t believe I’m already at the halfway mark of my internship. Saying it’s going by quickly is an understatement.

    So far I love every minute of it. I’m creating an internal blog for a particular office at VA. The blog is in the voice of an individual who was actually appointed by President Obama. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because it still feels so unreal. I’m also working with a strategic communications team. Having the opportunity to see everything I’ve learned at the academic level played out X 10 is incredible. I’ve even been requested to be at Central Office fulltime now. For me that’s huge. They loved the assistance I’ve been providing them and want more of it :).

    This internship has turned out to be so much more than I even imagined. I’m so excited to see what the last half is going to hold!


  • Erica Hilton 12:51 pm on July 24, 2012 Permalink  

    Little Tidbits of Advice: #1 

    Some people are always offering advice. Luckily, my supervisor is one of those people. What’s even better is that he also offers the little tidbits of advice that people usually don’t mention. These little tidbits of advice have the potential to really help you climb the ladder. Since my supervisor has been cool enough to share these little tidbits of advice with me, how could I not share them with you?

    Little Tidbit of Advice #1: Always carry an extra pen for higher leadership.

    Not because you’re “babying” them, but so that you can be the person who saves the day with a small, but very necessary item. I’m not saying that higher leadership isn’t capable of keeping up with their own pens, but a pen is the easiest thing to misplace sometimes.

    Imagine that President Obama needs a pen. Everyone is fumbling around, but no one has one (even though I highly doubt this would happen). All of the sudden you effortlessly pull out one. I can bet you $5 that President Obama will be very thankful for you. Maybe he’ll be so thankful that next thing you know you go from intern to President Obama’s Chief of Staff – Okay, so maybe I’m pushing it a little, but you get the point! 🙂

    So with that point taken, I always have at least 1 extra professional pen in my purse, specifically for 2 members of VA’s leadership. This pen is reserved for them and them only. That way when they ask, I’ll be there to save the day.

    Just a reminder: The views that I express on this blog (or anywhere for that matter) do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. They are my own and reflect only myself (Erica).

  • Erica Hilton 3:13 am on June 20, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , , , VA, veterans affairs   

    Intern Until You Can’t Intern Anymore! 

    Week 2 at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was just as exciting as the first. I thought the pace I was moving my first week was at record speed… until I got to week 2! Ironically, no matter how much I have going on at my internship, I’m still fully enjoying myself there. That hasn’t always been the case for me.

    I’ve had about 6 internships  before my current one at VA. Honestly, I didn’t like them all. A couple I loved. A couple I liked. A couple made me realize what I did not want to do with my life, but that was the best part about the experience.It helped me to clarify what I want out of a career.

    My advice to you is to grab as much internship experience as you can. Don’t just do two and quit. Even if you don’t like what you’re doing, put your all into it anyways! Pay your dues! These experiences are about more than just gaining recommendation letters. I have taken so much from each of my past internships and have met some really incredible people at each of them. Each helped me to determine what I love to do, got me to where I am now and will help me to achieve my ultimate career goal.


    • Jennifer Carignan 4:21 pm on June 26, 2012 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Erica, I really appreciate your perspective on how a less-than-ideal internship can help to clarify your career goals. With six internships, it’s clear that you’ve really had the chance to test your assumptions about what you do and do not enjoy. Even when things don’t turn out like you thought they would, there are almost always other positives, such as the new connections and relationships you mention above. And those are often just as important as completing your day-to-day work.

  • Erica Hilton 2:58 pm on June 9, 2012 Permalink
    Tags: , , innovation, , veterans   

    When They Toss You in You Better Learn How to Swim 

    I have had the craziest, most exciting and fast paced week of my life… No really.

    Before I tell you about it I should probably introduce myself to you since this is my first time on the AU blog. I’m Erica, a graduate student in the Public Communication program at American University. I finish the program this summer so I’m ready to hit the real world at full speed. Thankfully, my summer internship is allowing me to do that.

    This past Monday I started the Innovation Internship Program (IIP) at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program works to transform VA into a 21st-century department. Not only are interns given a budget to implement our own innovative project for VA, but we also work in our desired field of interest simultaneously. While I am working on my own innovative project, I work on communications for a particular office at VA as well.

    Now back to my crazy week. On the third day of my internship a mini/medium crisis occurred in the afternoon. Something needed to be done for an engagement that was happening the next morning. Usually things like this take at least three weeks to prepare for. In this case I had about 3 hours to take care of it and by myself might I add.  In a nutshell, they tossed me in the water and wanted to know whether I would sink or swim.

    It literally took all I had not to panic. Ironically, that is even the day that I have to leave early for class. That meant I had a decision to make, but I felt like this was my moment to prove myself. I wanted to show them that in the mist of crisis I can be a Gladiator (Sorry, ‘Scandal’ talk). So what did I do? I stayed late. I skipped class. I finished the project. When they tossed me in I swam. Trust me, it was worth it! I worked hard, and they noticed. It felt so rewarding! Someone even inquired about my plans for when after the program is over!

    Needless to say my first week was absolutely amazing! I’m doing what I love to the ultimate measure. Also, my father is a retired Colonel in the army. For that reason of him being a veteran, VA has been a major part of my support system when it comes to my education. I love giving back to it.

    Before I go, I do want to leave you with this disclaimer: The views that I express on this blog (or anywhere for that matter) do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. They are my own and reflect only myself (Erica). I’m thrilled to share this experience with you. We are going to take this journey together. Hold on tightly; here we go!

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