My First Job: The Trip of a Lifetime

Randi Zuckerberg

Founder & CEO at Zuckerberg Media

I found my first internship from an actual, physical, mailed newsletter. During my freshman year of college, my high school sent out a mailing that included a list of companies and programs run by fellow alumni that had summer internships available. The list really ran the gamut – from gathering coffee on LA film sets to driving tourists around downtown Chicago in a horse & buggy. There was a lot to sort through. But a few really stood out to me. I applied for a summer internship with the Birthright Israel Foundation. Birthright offers a free 10-day trip to Israel to young Jews to help foster a deeper connection with their heritage. As a young Jewish woman taking a modern Hebrew course in college, it seemed like it was right up my alley. (Plus it was one of the only paid internships offered – double score!)

I started working there the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I would take the hour-long train ride from my parents’ house in Westchester, NY to the office in Union Square, NYC. I didn’t have a smartphone to entertain me on the train, so I read the Wall Street Journal and New York Times every morning. I can’t help but feel a touch of envy for my 19-year-old self; she was so well-read and up-to-date on current events without the societal pressure of a million different social media networks to keep updated.

I ended up interning for Birthright Israel for 3 years, working at their Brandeis University Boston office during the school years and the New York office during the summers. Most of my time was spent working on a longitudinal research study to determine what kind of impact the trip had on participants later in life. The vast majority of people who went on Birthright Israel trips came home feeling very motivated to reconnect with Judaism, join their college Hillel, spend more time in Israel, etc. My job was to see if those feelings were still alive a few years later. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with people who had gone on Birthright years ago.

I still remember how excited the participants were to talk to an actual, live human about their experience. Although I was mostly asking them survey questions, they were thrilled to chat with someone who cared about what they thought. As a result, I got much deeper data than I would have if I’d simply sent out a survey. Even today, I tend to emphasize engaging customers or clients on a very human level, after seeing the difference it made.

The Birthright Foundation’s goal is that young people that go on this trip will stay involved and committed to maintaining and growing the Jewish community. It’s a long-term investment in people– something that has always stuck with me. Many organizations and businesses are very short-sighted, trying to get the maximum value out of a customer right now, rather than building a long-term relationship. It's much rarer to see an organization focused on making a long-term investment in people. That was one of the things that really struck me about this internship, even at an early age. How many businesses would bother to pick up the phone and connect with someone who last engaged with their product three years ago? And if they did, how many would have customers eager to engage?

Because everyone who went on Birthright trips was roughly the same age as me and the two other interns, I felt very valued at the foundation. My boss would ask us what we thought about something and then really take our advice. I felt that my perspective was valued, and that has completely shaped how I act towards my interns and new hires. I know that when they feel like their work matters, they’re more likely to work harder and put more effort into what they do.

Now, don’t get me wrong – it was an internship, not a boondoggle. There was plenty of un-glamourous work. I did a whole lot of monotonous data entry. I did a whole lot of cold calling and left voice mails for a whole lot of people who never called me back. Many days, my far and away highlight was taking a lunch break with my fellow interns at one of the many "kosher Indian" restaurants lining Madison Avenue, or if we were feeling especially indulgent, a burger and milkshake at Shake Shack. But I understood what I was signing up for as an intern – I understood that this was an opportunity to prove myself, demonstrate a strong work ethic, and pay my dues. And when hiring interns today, I similarly appreciate interns who take on both the big and small tasks equally, with a smile.

I was really thankful that the intern hiring manager at Birthright posted the internship in his high school newsletter. Birthright was a prestigious foundation, with access to tons of bright college students, but the intern program manager chose to pay it forward by hiring young, unproven interns from his old high school. He gave us a chance to earn our stripes. And having that internship on my resume made a world of difference when I was applying to jobs after college.

After I graduated, I ended up going on a Birthright trip myself. It was a wonderful trip and I went with a guy I was dating, who I am thrilled to say, eight years later, is my husband and the loving father to our 2-year-old son. We led a trip to Israel with 15 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs last month, and I can now say from experience that the foundation’s long-term investment in me paid off. I love being part of the Jewish community here in Silicon Valley and am so thankful for the responsibility given to me in my first job.
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