A Project Assistant's First Week

Editor’s Note: NDI offers paid internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students--as well as young professionals--from diverse backgrounds who are interested in international development focused on democracy and governance. Interns who possess a bachelor's degree are referred to as project assistants. For more information click here.

I waited in the lobby to meet my supervisor to start my first day as the project assistant for the Public Affairs team. With over 1,000 employees, 60 field offices and programs in over 70 countries, I had a lot to learn about the organization. The first week in a new position can be overwhelming, but human resources put together a project assistant orientation that made my transition fun and smooth.

My orientation grouped me with new hires from different teams, including staff focused on cross-cutting issues like citizens’ participation, and regional specializations like Latin America, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. Though we all had different professional backgrounds, we shared a passion for democracy and an eagerness to join the NDI community.

We explored the office, meeting every team and learning about the history of NDI. We had sessions on professional writing, accounting procedures and how to book travel. NDI’s staff used simulations to let us learn through hands-on experience. We also had an opportunity to get to know each other through community-building exercises.

A highlight of the week was the panel discussion with former project assistants who were later hired on to permanent positions. “We were once in your shoes,” said Lauren Kitz, program officer for Citizen Participation. Project assistants asked the panel questions such as: “Should I have a master’s degree? Do I need to speak multiple languages? How long can I expect to intern before I get hired on?” While there’s no magic formula, the panel emphasized that initiative, attention to detail and strong writing are highly valued.

We learned that NDI promotes 28 percent of project assistants to permanent positions. New hires had a session with global recruiter Catherine Pajic who has been with NDI since 2002. She talked us through tips on applying to full time positions and offered to help us with future job searches.  

“Everyone here is willing to answer any questions that I have in order to help me grow,” said Elise Sidamon-Eristoff, project assistant for the Eurasia team.  

The orientation gave new hires a chance to ease into the fast-paced work at NDI. “This is your chance to ask whatever you want!” joked John Palien, director of human resources. At the end of the week, I was able to jump into several projects--which brings me to my next point. NDI takes its interns seriously by paying them and giving them substantive projects.

Of the various approaches to democracy and development, NDI emphasizes focusing on people by “bringing together individuals and groups to share ideas, knowledge, experiences and expertise.” I found that this is also true for the office culture. After orientation I wasn’t just informed--I was welcomed.