As part of my internship, way back in 1997, I got to testify before the Utah State Senate on the ease of finding information on the internet about making homemade explosives.

It wasn't what I saw myself doing when I applied for an internship at the Utah State Legislature, but it sure was interesting. The Utah State Legislature is a true citizens' legislature--it only operates for 45 days per year and almost all the senators and representatives have jobs. In fact, one of the senators I worked for had to miss a day because he owned a snow removal company and there was a massive snowstorm and he had to drive a plow.

I spoke with lobbyists, made phone calls, took notes in committee meetings, and did a lot of internet searches on explosives. (I believe this was for a bill to add filters to school internet access, but it's been a long time and it could have been something else.) I even ran into a lobbyist in the hallway who shared my rather unique last name (then, McConkie). Turns out, he was my dad's cousin. Who knew?

Even though I never ended up working in government, the experience was invaluable in my future career. I never needed to look up explosives again, but I did learn to deal with people of all levels of an organization, present information, answer questions under pressure, and do a bit of schmoozing. All of these skills are important in an HR department or as a freelance writer.

I asked people how their internships helped them. Here are some of the answers:

Nathan Ring, currently a labor and employment attorney: I interned for a U.S. senator during college. Did a lot of work on constituent services regarding Medicare Part D and Social Security. It was an amazing learning experience to see how government can really work for people. During law school, I had an experience similar to your Utah experience. I externed for the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau with the non-partisan staff who really make the citizen legislature run for the four months it is in session every other year.

Stella Ioannidou, currently an IT workforce manager: As a surveying engineer, I had an internship at the Public Power Company. I worked to support the engineers who created dams and designed roads. My engineering background and experience is, I find, my greatest asset in the HR domain, because that's where my "can-do problem-solving" mentality stems from!

Rachel Bicknell, currently a network and deployment engineer - technical writer - Unix administrator: One summer, I was a computer camp counselor who taught kids Pascal and Logo. I wish there was some way to get in touch with some of the kids. It was 25 years ago, and I wonder about at least six of the kids I taught. I don't remember their names.

The next summer, I was an intern programming Java. I found out I wasn't wild about programming in Java.

The next two summers, I was an intern at UUNET, making your internet work correctly. I was turning up high-speed circuits (at the time) and I learned a lot. Because of the internships at UUNET, I started with a salary way above the average starting salary at my college -- the average at the time was about $40,000 to $45,000. I've gotten other jobs because I got hired by people who had also worked at UUNET.

Laurel Beason, currently a technical writer: In the summer after sophomore year, I had an unpaid internship with a small newspaper in northern Idaho. I interviewed people, I wrote about a range of topics, I finished on time, I met quality standards, and I had fun! The unpaid job led to a paid "stringer" job for another newspaper, and those experiences gave me a bookful of clips that helped me get a job quickly after graduation. I have continued to use my journalistic skills in my career as a technical writer. The internship was an important part of the journey.

What did you do for your internship? Did it help your career?

Published on: Jul 25, 2019
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