Over the past year and half, I have listened to several public officials talk about how they got their start in politics. While everyone has a different story, many officials cite the internships they worked during college as what helped kick-start their careers. I have no problem believing this. Just two years ago I was working at a restaurant, which I hated, trying to make a couple extra bucks and keep myself busy. That summer most of my friends had left East Lansing to chase their dreams and many of those dreams started with…you guessed it, internships.
This sparked me to gain some relevant experience for my career after graduation. However, I didn’t know where to start, so I just informed my network that I was looking. Within a month I got a call from my friend, who was the chairman of the Michigan College Republicans at the time. He asked me if I wanted to help make phone calls and complete walk books for an organization called Americans for Prosperity. He pitched it as “really basic stuff.” I took the job.
What made me so interested in this political world was the thrill of the campaign. There was just something about working for hours on end and then watching our opponent’s needle drop point by point on the polling sites.
These interests lead me to other internships in the political world, and eventually helped me land my current position as an intern on the political team at the Sterling Corporation. I coined a phrase that I used during my interview process, “The Five Parts of Politics.” For me, this meant gaining experience in Constituent relations, Multi-Client Lobbying, Association Lobbying, Consulting, and Fundraising. I pursued internships in each of these categories, intending to work with the best the state had to offer.
Step by step I began to learn first-hand the business of politics and I began collecting key take-aways from each opportunity. It started with an internship in Congressman Mike Bishop’s office, which allowed me to gain an understanding of constituent relations and the responsibilities of a legislative staffer. And with this being a historically different election cycle, working in the congressman’s office was very busy – hundreds of constituents’ calls came in each day. I used that experience to springboard into my position at a multi-client lobbying firm – Acuitas, LLC, and then took a shot at interning with an association lobby – the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan (ABC). At ABC, I learned the inner-workings of running an association, and my position primarily focused on addressing policy that would affect hundreds of skilled trade workers across the state. Following that experience I felt that I was missing the final piece to my puzzle – the political and fundraising consultancy.
I was fascinated by the election and wanted to learn the whole process. How does a candidate make the decision to campaign for a higher office, and how do you work with said candidate to successfully achieve that? These were questions I knew could not only be answered by the Sterling team, but also taught.
Given that I have worked in several different offices with varying personalities and supervisors over the course of the last 15 months, I believe I can give a few tips for a successful intern-employer relationship:
First, employers should not be afraid to allow interns a certain sense of freedom. While I know that the processes and ideas your business operates on are there for a reason (mainly, because they work), it’s a good idea to allow interns the opportunity and platform to contribute new and unique perspectives. Many interns are eager to help make a difference while they learn, and allowing them a voice in the process can benefit both your company and their professional growth.
Second, expect a few housekeeping mistakes. For many interns, this could be their first time in a professional setting. Dedicating some time to teach interns basic office protocol may fall low on your to-do list, but proves beneficial for both parties down the road.
Finally, interns are excited and eager to learn; expect an intern to ask questions – a lot. Interns are there because they want to learn the business from an expert in the field. In the meantime, have fun! As an employer, you just may learn something from your interns too.
Jackson Keith is an intern at Sterling Corporation, an Lambert company.