A Summer Internship at JFF Helped Clarify My Career Plans
A Summer Internship at JFF Helped Clarify My Career Plans
July 27, 2023
At a Glance
Respect for interns, an emphasis on professional development, and open communication make JFF’s internship a model for employers everywhere.
When I began researching summer internships in January, I had no idea I’d end up at a nonprofit organization. Most people from my college end up working at for-profit companies. But as a first-year student, I didn’t have my heart set on a specific career or industry, so while I searched for internships, I focused on understanding each organization’s mission and whether it resonated with me.
One day, I stumbled upon a job listing for the Jobs for the Future (JFF) Summer Internship Program, and JFF’s mission statement of striving to “achieve equitable economic advancement for all” caught my eye. As I read the blog posts on JFF’s website, I realized that I deeply connect with JFF’s mission to improve economic and educational opportunities for people who are facing barriers to advancement. And I was especially interested in the internship program because it included a position on the JFF editorial team.
Interning at JFF has been one of the most rewarding work experiences I’ve had. I have a background in writing and currently study economics in college, so working as an editorial intern for an organization that addresses inequities in the U.S. economy is a perfect intersection of my interests and skills.
When I’m considering future employers, I now have a model for the type of environment I want to work in.
When I’m considering future employers, I now have a model for the type of environment I want to work in. What stood out to me is that JFF clearly respects interns, offers us career development and networking opportunities, ensures their program is accessible to a wide range of people, and offers clear and open lines of communication. Several fellow interns I’ve spoken with about this agree, and we think other employers will improve their chances of recruiting members of our generation if they prioritize the needs of young workers the way JFF does.
Respect for Interns
Young people often struggle in their jobs because they feel they’re treated as “irresponsible.” But at JFF, interns are treated with the same level of respect as full-time employees.
I wasn’t just assigned busy-work. My day-to-day tasks included work on mission-critical projects, ranging from proofreading social media posts promoting JFF’s annual summit, Horizons, to copyediting blog posts featured on JFF’s website and a 30-page report for small business owners who want to better support their employees.
By exploring these unique formats, I had the chance to figure out what projects interested me. Alaina Ford, the Knowledge Management intern, acknowledged that experimentation is an essential part of the internship experience and said, “Internships offer opportunities for those entering the workforce to test out different roles, titles, and organizations and see what they do or do not like.”
We’re also invited to staff-wide meetings, where we get the opportunity to experience JFF’s positive workplace culture, which cultivates a safe and welcoming environment for employees of all backgrounds. We even had an all-staff meeting where my fellow interns and I all introduced ourselves to the organization, and everyone welcomed us enthusiastically.
These experiences have met the expectations of intern Mia Elliott, who works in JFF’s Center for Justice & Economic Advancement. “I look for employers who both have a public commitment to diversity and equity and reflect that commitment in their hiring and company culture,” Elliott said. “At JFF, the internship process is open to anyone with a high school diploma, attracting diversity in age and life experience that enriches the workplace.”
Because JFF prioritizes a healthy and inclusive workplace culture, interns have an important role and a voice within the organization. Another intern, Hailey Patel, who works in JFF’s the Center for Racial Economic Equity, shares the sentiment. “Feeling comfortable around coworkers and your organization can play a pretty big role in how well you’re able to work and the quality of your work,” said Patel. “Even though I’m an intern, I’m treated as a regular staff member would be and I’m encouraged to bring all I have to the table and encouraged to bring aspects of my identity into my contributions as well.”
These supports are especially important considering that JFF’s internship cohorts have been comprised mostly of people of color and women of all backgrounds, groups that are underrepresented in paid internships and often do not have access to opportunities to explore career development.
Many employers know that offering all employees opportunities for professional development can improve staff engagement and retention rates. At JFF, that commitment to professional development extends to interns. Throughout the summer, we participated in many activities focused on career growth, including presentations by people at JFF, such as Vice President of Solutions Design and Delivery Nyema Mitchell, Q&A conversations with JFF employees moderated by an intern, and topical professional development meetings, such as a presentation about effective job search practices.
Additionally, interns are assigned mentors who offer advice and support. I was able to meet with my mentor on a weekly basis, and we quickly developed a strong mentor-mentee relationship that allowed me to feel comfortable asking for career advice, such as tips on the best ways to network.
Engaging with professional development experiences is essential for interns and other young people who are in the early stages of their careers.
“When it comes to internships, what I hope to accomplish is getting better at is networking and developing my career, growth within learning more about the company and how it functions, as well as transitioning to a more corporate setting,” said Jerica Frye, the graphic design intern.
Building a professional network of coworkers, employers, classmates, and others who can provide connections to job opportunities is an essential component of everyone’s career journey. And the JFF internship provided us with opportunities to begin building our networks.
During the first week of the program, Maria Flynn, JFF’s CEO, encouraged us to make at least 50 connections within the organization during our time at JFF. With that advice, I reached out to JFF employees across different teams for coffee chats, and they were more than happy to answer any questions I had about their work. Since I wanted to explore possible career options, I talked with people who previously worked in industries or jobs that I’m interested in and asked them about the comparison between their past experiences and their current role at JFF. These conversations have helped me gain a better understanding of nonprofit work as well as work in other spheres ranging from finance to Asian American activism. Each JFF employee told me that they’d love to stay in contact via email, so I now have a larger professional network I can reach out to in the future.
I’ve met many inspiring interns whom I’ve learned a lot from, and our bonds will last beyond this internship as we support one another throughout our career journeys.
Additionally, one of the most valuable parts of this internship experience has been the connections I’ve made with the interns in the 2023 JFF intern cohort. We connected during our weekly intern huddles and social hours and shared our experiences working on different teams across the organization. I’ve met many inspiring interns whom I’ve learned a lot from, and our bonds will last beyond this internship as we support one another throughout our career journeys.
By making the internship program a fully remote experience and offering competitive pay, JFF has ensured that the internship program is accessible to a wide range of people. Competitive pay is a key factor because, compared to for-profit organizations, most nonprofits are not as strictly required to pay interns, which limits opportunities for young people who don’t have external financial support.
The ability to work remotely is also a major factor for interns who need to be able to control their schedules or may not be able to work in person in an office. That was the case for Michelle Augustine, the Employee Engagement and Experience intern, who said, “I have a disability, and being able to control my own work hours depending on my needs is critical for me and helps increase equity and allows me to show up as my best self.”
Clear and Open Lines of Communication
The ability to communicate with people throughout an organization plays a key role in an employee’s sense of well-being.
My experience interning with the Editorial team has further allowed me to connect with JFF employees and develop my writing and editing skills through collaboration with people working on a variety of projects across the organization. Similarly, intern Chloe Samillano, a member of JFF’s California Community Colleges Call to Action team, stated, “The skills I’m generally looking to develop in an internship are note-taking, research, interpersonal communication, and team-building.”
Every morning, the Editorial team meets to discuss our tasks for the day, and these meetings have allowed me to get to know my coworkers on a personal level because we talked about more than just work. Additionally, throughout the day, I checked in with my manager, Bob, and communicated with the team on Microsoft Teams. The Editorial team’s ability to maintain clear communication about projects allows the editing process to move along quickly speaks volumes about the importance of creating channels to connect with fellow employees directly.
Many interns agree that open communication is important. “I love working for organizations where supervisors support you in your professional goals and are very open to networking and sharing their experiences,” said Marymegan Wright, an intern in JFFLabs who supports the Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow (CREST) initiative.
Young workers appreciate getting an inside understanding of an organization’s mission. Chelsea Osei, an intern working on the Student Success Center Network’s Equity-Minded Practices Repository initiative, said, “I prioritize understanding a company’s values, particularly who they aim to serve and their purpose. This ensures that I always have a clear understanding of the purpose and goals behind my projects.”
Post Internship Life
When my time as a JFF intern concludes in August, I know it’ll be hard to say goodbye to the Editorial team and other employees, especially my fellow interns, whom I’ve grown close to over the past few months. Because the internship was remote, I met JFF employees and interns across the country and listened to their individual stories about their careers and values—an opportunity I didn’t necessarily expect when initially applying for the job.
Though I’m reluctant to have my time at JFF end, I feel endlessly grateful to be leaving with memorable experiences and sharpened teamwork and technical writing and editing skills. Furthermore, I’ve gained a clearer sense of what careers and industries I’m interested in working for in the future, such as social impact investing. I’ve also built a network of people at JFF that I can reach out to at any time.
My experience with the JFF internship program has made me realize that the true value of an internship is immeasurable for young people just starting their careers. I believe that if more companies offered the type of resources and opportunities JFF provides, many more interns would have experiences like mine and walk away from their experiences with a clearer view of their future goals.
Lindsey Huang is a student at Amherst College (Class of 2026) who interned with the JFF Editorial team during the summer of 2023.