Claire Bednarski goes to the Ohio State University and is a senior studying international relations, diplomacy, public policy and Spanish. Claire has been in the DME internship for two years and has risen through the ranks to now hold the position of co-Social Media ELT where she manages social media content for the VA’s social media accounts.

Claire says that one of her favorite things to do in the internship is the Content Calendar which makes social media posts that talk about the national holidays of the year for Veterans. Claire works on the graphics and captions of these posts and she says it is really important for Veterans to see them online because of the significant impact the military has had on their lives and to help honor their service. 

Since she will be graduating in a few months, Claire reflects on how her former positions as DH and DO of different departments helped her become a better social media ELT and explains how her leadership experience has taught her how to do things on her own and to ask more questions to leadership and other ELTs when she needs help or advice. 

Use the audio player to listen to Claire’s full interview, or read the transcript below:


Shannon Moran: The Department of Veterans Affairs does not endorse or officially sanction any entities that may be discussed in this podcast, nor any media products or services they may provide. Hello and welcome to the Department of Veterans Affairs Digital Media Engagement Interns Podcast. This podcast will focus on the experience and work of various interns on the Digital Media Engagement’s team who are working with us as part of the Virtual Student Federal Service internship within the department of Veteran’s Affairs. This podcast is two interns having a conversation about their experiences in order to highlight the work, as well as encourage application to this program and friendship amongst the interns. So please join us as we highlight and get to know some of the many interns that are part of our program. Thank you for listening! Hello and welcome back to the DME Interns Podcast, we are so grateful for you listening again this week.  Today we have Claire Bednarski, she’s a senior at “the” Ohio State University studying International Relations and Diplomacy, Public Policy, and Spanish.  She sort of accidentally fell into the DME internship, but we’ll talk more about that later.  She has stuck through it for almost two years now, and has risen up through the ranks, she is co-ELT for the Social Media Department and manages several dozen interns in researching, scheduling, and creating social media content for VA’s official Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  She also oversees the DME Interns social media accounts and various other projects.  She runs a lot with the DME Interns and it’s a pleasure to have you on, Claire!  How are you doing?

Claire Bednarski: Hi! I’m good.  First of all, thank you for saying “the” Ohio State University, putting some respect on my college’s name. 

SM: I grew up out there, I know these midwestern schools.

CB: Did you really?

SM: I grew up in Illinois.

CB: I didn’t know that, we’re both midwestern too!

SM: So, for the listeners, Claire had some questions about podcasting a couple weeks ago, or about a couple of months now, and so she and I have started– we worked together before, but about a couple of months ago we started getting to know each other more, and we’re very similar people.  We’ve become really good friends, so normally I become friends with people after I interview them on the podcast.  This is one of the first times it has gone the other way, and I’m very excited about it.  Also, we are kind of the same person, we study the same things in school, we have very similar personalities, we’re applying to the same internships for our next jobs for life after the VA, so it’s very exciting.  How did you decide on becoming a Social Media Intern?

CB: Great question.  As you said earlier, I fell into this by accident.  My journey is actually really similar to Atifa’s, who was podcasting a couple of weeks ago with you.  I applied for three other positions not with the DME at all, didn’t get any of them, and then a couple of weeks later when I thought I wasn’t going to get an internship this year, I got an email from the Department Head at the time, and it was like hey, do you want to join this internship?  I said sure, I joined as a Twitter intern, and then I kind of just stayed on last year and I was like, this is cool, it’s ten hours a week with the VA, that’s pretty cool of an internship.  Then I kind of just rose up through the ranks, and became DO, then DH, and now ELT.  

SM: So for people who don’t know, if you want to hear more about the structure of the internship, go listen to our interview with Dom who was a couple of weeks ago.  But Department Officer, Department Head, and then Executive Leadership Team is the structure.  So Claire has risen all the way up, she’s really good at her job, and she’s a great intern we accidentally picked up, which is so much fun.  So, you study something very different in school than what you’re doing for the internship.  What are some of the transferable skills that you have learned in your Diplomacy & International Relations career that have helped with your internship, the VA, and vice versa?

CB: The two kind of go hand-in-hand.  Both focus on a lot of research and history, which is actually really helpful, even though I’m creating social media posts, a lot of what I handle is anniversary posts, the end of the Vietnam War, World War Two anniversaries, that kind of stuff.  So it involves a lot of research about foreign affairs, which is what my degree is in so I find that interesting.  That experience with the research helps me understand the context of my degree more, and my degree helps me understand the context of events that I’m focusing on for social media posts.  I really enjoy that aspect of it.  Just learning more about what has happened and why veterans are veterans today.  What did they do that made them veterans?  So, there’s a good amount of overlap, even though it seems like there wouldn’t be.

SM: I think a common misconception for people who are just beginning their internship and first job experiences is that the only way for an internship to be valuable or for you to enjoy it is if it’s in your career field.  That’s just not necessarily the case.  I genuinely have learned more about diplomacy in my experiences with podcasting that I have in some of my lectures.  Transferable skills are so important, and learning those things in different ways, and it’s really fun to figure out different things you’ve learned in accidental ways.  So, what is your favorite thing about the internship?

CB: I think just the uniqueness of it, because anytime that I mention it to anyone, they’re like I’m sorry, where do you work? What do you do?  And I say yeah, I’m an intern for Veteran Affairs.  And they say oh that’s legit, and I say oh, I also manage other interns.  And they say, you’re in charge of interns at Veteran Affairs?  And I say yes.  So, it’s a pretty unique experience, I’m not just a social media intern, but i’m a social media intern for a federal agency.  And I’m not just a social media intern at a federal agency, but I am managing other interns at that federal agency.  It’s just a really unique experience that I think sets me apart in job interviews, which I’m grateful for and I think would be really cool.  So, I love that aspect of it.  

SM: Right, I completely agree.  It’s such a unique opportunity and we get, I say it all the time but we get so much autonomy.  The leaders, our mentors, and our advisors have so much trust in us to do what we are supposed to do and it’s really cool.  I don’t think I appreciated how unique and special this internship was until I had other internships and talked to my friends about their internships.  It’s just very different, so we’re really lucky I think personally.  What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?

CB: I love the content calendar, because that’s all about the special days of the year and the holidays.  With those captions and those graphics, we have a little bit more freedom to be creative and make some really cool graphics, write a cool caption with some history and data.  So I really like that aspect of it, and especially because those posts are some of the really big ones for the VA that gets a lot of attention and gets a lot of shares.  Some of those posts are really important for veterans to see just so that they feel recognized for their service, such as if they took part in a major battle.  It’s really for them to see that, be recognized online, and I think that aspect is super cool because it’s day to day work for us and it doesn’t seem to be that special, but then when it gets posted and it has a really big impact on people’s lives, I really like that project, it makes me feel pretty cool.

SM: So what does a typical day or week as a DME ELT Social Media Intern look like?

CB: Everyday I go through various Trello boards that I’m in charge of or that I work on.  I make sure that if there are any updates that I need to take care of that I take care of them, I see what’s been going on in there.  I check the Reddit board to see what new articles we have for the VA Twitter account.  Then there’s various other special projects that we’ve been doing.  We did the GovLove Project, we’re about to do a big Vietnam project ahead of the Vietnam War Veterans’ Day which is March 29th.  So we’re doing a lot of special posts for that.  Also checking Slack, taking care of issues, checking weekly reports, all that good stuff.  

SM:  And I don’t think people know how much goes into an Instagram post and content on any platform.  I mean personally if you think about how much time or sort of energy you consciously or subconsciously put into your own personal posts, imagine what it’s like to do that for a federal agency and knowing that thousands of people are going to see this, which is really cool.

CB: There’s a whole process that you have to go through, so many different things that you have to consider.  Legally there are certain things that we can and cannot say.  With the intent of words, we have to be careful about how we word things so that they’re not taken the wrong way.  We have to be super careful about numbers and dates and facts.  So yeah, it’s a long process of making sure it lives up to the standards, but worth it in the end for the end result.  

SM: If you haven’t gone and checked out the DME social media accounts, go do that today.

CB: Yes! 

SM: Pause the podcast, and go check it out.  Or multitask, because you’re listening.  Listen to the pod, and go check it out, because they’re really cool, and it’s really cool to see all the stuff that goes into it.  

CB: Thanks for that plug.

SM: No problem.  What are you most excited about?  So you only have a couple more months here, before you move on to bigger and better things.  You’ve been here for about two years pretty much, almost.  So, what are you most excited about to finish for your last couple of months with us?

CB: I’m excited to see what the department looks like when I leave, because I think there are going to be some really good leaders who are staying on for next year who have a ton of new ideas and stuff.  So I think that will be really cool to see them step up even more.  You know, every year this internship has grown from 50 interns, to 100, to 200, to I don’t even know how many we have now, like 250 or 300, something like that.  Next year, I know Dom wants to get to 1,000 interns at some point, so it will be super cool to see how big the social media department is next year and all the new things that they’re going to be able to do with more interns.  

SM: Yeah, I mean it’s crazy.  He and I already have ways to build it on the podcast side of things.  So it’s really exciting, all the things that we’re going to be able to do for veterans because of the internship.  What has been the biggest thing that you have learned over your time here?  

CB: Probably that asking questions is key.  I hate asking questions because I don’t want to seem like I don’t know what I’m doing.  But you know, it’s always better to ask, rather than not ask and then do something wrong, and then it’s shared to a million people on Twitter.  I’ve always learned it’s better to ask the next level up.  When in doubt, double check so that you don’t make a mistake and get the VA in hot water on social media.  

SM: Please ask us questions.  And if we don’t have the answer, we’ll find somebody who does.  

CB: Ask questions interns! 

SM: Or we’ll make an educated guess on how to best approach the situation.  

CB: Yes.

SM: Ok, so what has been the biggest difference as you have risen through the ranks?  So you’ve worked almost every job, every intern position with the VA.  Or with the DME Internship.  But you worked all of the positions within the internship.  Talk about the differences between every role that you’ve had, and what either your misconceptions were or everything you kind of learned, etc.  

CB: I think the shocking thing was, intern and D.O. level, that’s pretty normal of an internship, you’re doing some tasks.  The D.O. has a little more responsibility, at least in the social media department.  Then, I was thrown into being D.H. and then ELT.  I was like, oh okay D.H. I’m going to answer interns’ questions and then do my normal stuff.  No.  It’s not like that.  I was surprised at how much latitude and freedom D.H. and ELT have.  They really run the departments here and that was really cool to learn but also really scary because I was just like, you’re trusting me with this?  Are you sure?

SM: The imposter syndrome hits hard.

CB: Yeah, so that was the biggest thing that I had to learn when I became D.H. and ELT.  I was figuring out how to do things on my own, very important things.

SM: So what would be your advice to someone who is dealing with that imposter syndrome and that not feeling qualified for the position they may have, as far as how to continue to do your job and to trust your own judgement and all that kind of stuff.  

CB:  Yeah, first going back to asking questions, that’s always good.  When you’re ELT you don’t really have anyone to ask questions to except for Dom. 

SM: And other ELTs.  

CB: Yeah, other ELTs, now we have XOs which is awesome, but yeah, a lot of it is really up to you, so I feel like the best judgement is just, I don’t want to say go with your gut because I feel like that’s cliche, but trust yourself.  Don’t second guess yourself, you were picked to be in this leadership spot for a reason, you just have to trust that what you think is right is probably right, and then go on from there.

SM: Exactly, and at least in my experience, when I’ve had a question or tried to figure out how to handle a situation, yes I go to the higher-ups but I also would go to other ELTs.  I would message you and be like hey, how would you handle this or how would somebody else to kind of help one another out.  And that’s a lot of what our Slack channels are to, is asking one another for advice and questions, and that kind of thing.  And something really important that somebody said to me pretty early on when I first got picked to be ELT, and I had just started the internship, I did not feel qualified for it.  I forget who said this, but somebody in my house turned to me and said if there’s any organization that knows how to see leadership in other people, and be able to promote and see leadership potential in people, it’s the military.  It’s veterans, it’s this world, and so you have to trust their judgement and trust your own, and you’re going to be fine.  You’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay.  At the end of the day, they know you’re an intern.  

CB: Yeah, I never thought about it that way before, but you’re totally right.  If anyone knows about what leadership requires, it’s Dom, it’s Ray, it’s Adam, it’s Jason, it’s Tanner.  They all know, and they trust you.  Yeah, going to other ELTs is awesome because I might message someone and they’ll be like, I’m not sure, but this other person probably knows.  And I’ll be like oh, I didn’t think to ask that person.  And also, a lot of us have to remember we’re all interns even though we’re leadership interns.  We sometimes don’t know what we’re doing still.

SM: And it’s okay to tell your team that too. You know, I’ve had meetings especially in the beginning of the internship where my interns were asking me questions about the podcast and my vision with it, and I was like guys, I haven’t flushed it out yet.  What do you think?  Talking to them too, because it’s okay to admit that you don’t have all of the answers.  How do you think your leadership style and the way you normally lead a team or work with a team has been changed or evolved or been impacted because not only are you managing interns, but you’re managing interns virtually.  So how has that evolved the way it normally would’ve been developed in person?

CB: I think that being virtual allowed me to pretend like I knew what I was doing at first when I didn’t.  They don’t see my facial expressions online, so if someone asked me something I was able to pretend like I was the really professional, has it all together leader.  Then I got tired of that, because either I didn’t know what I was doing, or I was like this is exhausting.  Sometimes I just don’t know, or I just can’t do it.  Over time, I’ve become more, I’ve tried to become more laid back.  Not that I was ever really demanding of my interns or anything, but I’m not trying to seem like I am the adult who has it all together and knows everything and is leading this department perfectly.  I’m a college student, and so are the interns at my department.  I’ve tried to become more casual because I know that if I was thinking about what I would want from my ELT, I would want someone who I feel comfortable with, and who I feel like I know, even though we’re not in person.  So I feel like I’ve become, like I joke around more on Slack, I try to make the interns participate and make it more casual so that interns don’t feel scared to come to me with a question or anything.  I’m an intern too, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.  I started sending a lot of gifs in the social media channel which I’m probably annoying all the interns with, but I don’t care anymore.  When they see a New Girl gif, or a Parks and Rec gif, they’re like ahh, it’s Claire reminding us to send our weekly reports again.  I’ll just be like, hey everyone, get your weekly reports in!  I’m just trying to be more relaxed now, because I feel like then I can form better relationships.

SM: Yeah, and I think one of the perks of being virtual is that you don’t have to have an answer right away.  So if you’re in a meeting with your team and they ask you a question, there’s sort of this pressure to have an answer or at least figure it out.  You can take time, you can ask somebody else, you can think about it because you’re virtual so it makes that a little easier.  The biggest adjustment for me is that my leadership style is to get my team in a room with a whiteboard and a bunch of markers and sort of brainstorm from there and collaborate in that way, and that’s a lot harder to do virtually.  Having to do that in smaller groups on Zoom or flush things out more by myself has definitely been an adjustment, so it’s interesting.  I’ve also had to remind my team that if they were expecting to hear from me about this episode or needing this thing from me, and they haven’t heard, please let me know.  I probably forgot.  It’s lost in the sticky note chaos that is my desk.  I’m so sorry, it’s easier at least sometimes for me to have things slip because it’s virtual, but we do our best.  So what are your goals for after this internship?

CB: First and foremost, it would be nice to get a job.  I would love that.  If anyone knows of any openings, let me know, hit me up on Slack.  I would like to get a full-time job just because especially with covid I feel like my life is sort of spread out in shambles with pieces and parts everywhere.

SM: On different Slack channels.  My life is spread into one hundred different Slack channels.  

CB: Yeah, and so I would like to have a sense of organization in my life and routine, that would be nice.  But that would also require a job, so that would be cool.

SM: Fun fact, I’m trying to convince Claire to move out by me.

CB: I would love to live in New York.  I have a weird fascination with it, so fun fact listeners, I’m obsessed with romantic comedies, as my interns know because I like to make rom-com recommendations in our weekly email.

SM: I love that so much! 

CB:  My all time favorite is When Harry Met Sally, which is set in New York City, and I just have this weird fascination with New York, so I told Shannon I’m going to come visit her and she has to show me around the city.  And then maybe I’ll live there, who knows?

SM: We were talking about jobs and then I was like dude, move in with me, it’ll be great, I need a roommate! 

CB: Interns turned roommates turned best friends.

SM: Exactly.  So what is your advice for somebody that’s just starting out in this internship? 

CB: Be active and participate.  There are interns who do their work, they send in their weekly reports, but I couldn’t tell you the last time we had a conversation on Slack.  It’s the interns that participate in the random channel, participate in general, participate in federal-employment and Making Connections Mondays and stuff.  Those are the interns that I feel like I know, even though I’ve never talked to them over the phone or anything.  I talk to them on Slack, and they message me with questions or concerns, and they’re not afraid to talk to me.  It’s those interns that I feel like I know and those are going to be the interns that I can write a letter of recommendation for, or serve as a reference for them.  Otherwise, you just fly under the radar.  That’s how I was last year, for a lot of the internship at the beginning, I was not participating really.  I was just doing my work, and only asking questions when I needed to.  Then, spring semester I began sending good morning messages, and I’m going to start participating.  It seems like a lot of leadership does this so if I want to get a leadership position I should start doing this too.  Then I started sending good morning messages everyday, and then I felt like I was getting to know my fellow interns and my leaders better.  That made me known, so when my leadership thought of someone who needed to fill a role, they thought of me.

SM: Exactly, and this doesn’t have to be every week.  Consistency is key, but there are definitely weeks where I’m more active than other weeks.  Do your best to try and make these connections and it’s really important.  Come on the podcast!  Then, we’re going to hear about your and your life for 30 minutes which is really fun.  

CB: Be a friend of the pod! 

SM: To wrap this up, the thing we always do, tell me a fun fact about yourself.

CB: I’m ready.

SM: You knew this was coming, you’re excited, you’re prepared.

CB: Of course I am!  I’m a friend of the pod, I know how these end.  Yeah, I was a gymnast for most of my life.  Not most, because obviously I’m twenty years old now.  But before I graduated high school I was a gymnast and I could do some pretty cool stuff.  

SM: What could you do and now what have you lost? 

CB: Oh a lot!  I lost a lot.  I can still do the splits, I do those everyday because I like to stay flexible.  I recommend you stretch everyday, so that you don’t tear a muscle. 

SM: What great life advice.  Well thank you so much Claire, we will talk soon, thank you so much for being on the podcast!  This was so much fun!  I’m sure everyone is going to get a lot of great information out of this, so this is great.

CB: Thank you for having me!

SM: Thank you for tuning into the DME Interns Podcast, we hope you learned something about your fellow interns, more about our program, and that you come back and listen to us soon.  Have a great rest of your day!