Smart Interns Look Beyond Summer

By Anjali Athavaley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 26, 2005

Darrell Ayers had some bright ideas when he worked as an intern at the Kennedy Center 18 years ago.

He worked in public relations for some of the Kennedy Center's workshops. While doing that, he realized the performing arts center still used old-fashioned pen and paper to register people for music and theater workshops. So he wrote a simple computer program that could keep track of names easily.

It was smart. It was innovative. And it got him hired a month after his internship.

"They called me after I had left and said, 'You know, you were such a good intern here, we'd like you to apply for the position,' " said Ayers, 47, who is now vice president for education at the Kennedy Center.

Ayers's experience is what other interns dream about. The internship is increasingly becoming a tryout for entry-level positions rather than just a summer job.

If you want to get asked to stay on, you have to be willing to do any task, whether it's making copies of a 10K or filling the boss's coffee mug, career advisers say. Then, you have to do more than what your employer asks of you to stand out as a prospective hire.

"They want someone reliable," said Eugene Alpert, senior vice president at the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. "They want someone who makes the boss look good."

Alpert has seen his fair share of intern blunders. Rule number one, he said, is that interns shouldn't try to steal the limelight.

A few years ago, he recalled, there was a group of interns in the White House press office who would constantly vie for attention from star visitors. One intern, however, would remain at his desk and work.

"He was the only one who wouldn't glad-hand every famous person who walked through the door," Alpert said.

That intern was the only one chosen to see then-President Bill Clinton give his Saturday morning radio address in the Oval Office.

It's not just what you do, it's how you do it. Career counselors said intern etiquette can either make a career or ruin it. For instance, it's important to avoid office politics.

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