D.C. is full of large businesses and organizations where you can intern, including the largest of them all: the federal government. Many applicants to The Washington Center are thinking about working at these big, “brand-name” organizations. So why would an intern choose a smaller organization? It turns out there are many benefits and a smaller organization might even be a better fit for you.
1. Greater Responsibility
You’ll find some great companies, and especially nonprofits and startups, in D.C. with a very small staff. There’s so much more potential for you to get involved in things you might not otherwise have had access to. In a smaller setting your supervisor will have you doing important, varied and challenging tasks.
2. Potential to Learn More Than Anticipated
Interns at organizations large and small can have ambitions that lead them to learn all sorts of great skills beyond their original expectations. The benefit to a smaller organization is that there tends to be less specialization. Sometimes without even trying, these internships can give you the opportunity to pick up skills that weren’t even part of the original position description or within your department.
3. Closer Contacts
At a small organization, you might get a chance to meet the founder or CEO. It’s a great contact to have and they could be a great mentor to get guidance from. At very tiny organizations (under 10 people) you could potentially be reporting to the head of the entire organization. Later on, it can be really helpful to have references from an Executive Director or COO.
4. More Casual or Informal
It isn’t always true, and it depends on the industry, but often smaller organizations are more informal. One of the reasons I chose my internship site (Atlas Corps) was because, during the interview process, I realized that the casual environment was exactly what I wanted and how I work best. We don’t begin the day until 10 a.m. and I can wear my sandals to work. I love having a very comfortable and laid-back workplace.
5. More Independence
If you are very self-motivated and enjoy getting a chance to work on your own projects and ideas, then this has the potential to be the best part of a small organization. Your supervisor may give you the ability to run with a great suggestion with a lot less oversight. For anyone who knows themselves and knows they work well independently, this is a fantastic opportunity to achieve something of your own within your organization.
As much as I am promoting smaller organizations here, they are not for everyone and you know best how you work. Hopefully, throughout your university career, you will get the opportunity to do more than one internship. If you have done one at a large organization before coming to The Washington Center, I suggest trying a smaller one here and vice versa. That’s what this semester is all about after all - finding out which work environment suits you best before you take your first professional job.