As my research on Mali continues, I am starting to understand the potential that resides in an 8-hour workday. Although I spend the majority of my day researching for my situation assessment on Mali, it is impossible to read and write consistently for 40 hours a week. That however does not mean you can log on to Facebook or Twitter during these lull periods, as such behavior in a workplace environment is unacceptable. Instead I have been using this time to become more knowledgeable about my field, whether that means becoming more well read on current events, or exploring networking opportunities and talking to professionals and other interns. When people say that some of the best conversations happen around the water cooler, they weren’t kidding!
I have found that talking with others about the fields of peace building, NGOs, non-profits or government is much more beneficial than going on “internships.com” or Googling “NGO job opportunities.” Not only can colleagues provide better insight for fields you’re interested in, but can also provide you with names, organizations and hopefully recommendations for opportunities that are a good fit for you. At this point in the process, your GPA is not nearly as big of a concern compared to your ability to converse, relate and be social. Some of the smartest people have the worst social skills and without those skills, how do you plan to relate to future employers? These social skills not only help you relate to potential employers, but can help in networking. Giving a good impression as a smart, nice and interested young person can go just as far as an award winning research project.
A quick example: Having been here for almost 7 weeks, I have developed relationships with my fellow interns, discussing everything from global current events to what people are doing on the weekend. By engaging my fellow interns and giving a good impression, I have created a network of individuals who will be entering similar fields as me in the next 5 years. Furthermore, I have already seen the benefits of this network! Just yesterday, an intern who is working with her mentor in a seminar with students at the War College approached me. My fellow intern told me about a student in the seminar who is a foreign service officer deploying to Mali next year and offered to introduce me. What resulted was a 20-minute conversation about his career in Foreign Service and his business card, with instructions to email him my situation assessment on Mali when I’m finished with it. Down the road this connection and resource could serve as a portal to entering the field of Foreign Service, all because I had taken the time to discuss my career aspirations with a fellow intern. Being social and curious goes further than you think.