Your Guide to Rocking that Washington, D.C. Internship

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Do you dream of commanding your own office in Capitol Hill? Thousands of students experience the extremely stressful process of applying for a coveted Washington D.C. internship each year. Whether it be an internship on Capitol Hill, a campaign or a nonprofit, D.C. has an internship for everyone. But they’re also some of the most competitive internships to get.

Check out all the tips and tricks to rocking that Washington, D.C. internship.

1. Do be D.C. Savvy

D.C. is its own little world. Knowing D.C. etiquette can make or break an interview. “D.C. workplaces tend to be more conservative in terms of attire, so we recommend wearing a dark suit for the interview,” said Nathan Slusher, Director of Outreach and Marketing for the American University Career Center. Slusher also included a tip for being punctual. “Many buildings in D.C. have security protocols that may delay your entry, so allow extra time for a security screening—especially at high traffic times, such as the start of the workday or lunch time.”

2. Do Get an Early Start on Applications

Procrastination is not an option when filling out applications. Many people, such as American University freshman Andrea Kim, apply for internships months in advance. Kim applied for her internship with Senator Tammy Baldwin during summer vacation and was on Capitol Hill by September. “I interviewed on the phone during the summer before term started,” said Kim. But also make sure you take your time to read through each application carefully. You don’t want to risk making a typo in an important email to a staffer on a congressional committee or sending a wrong indentation to a donor for a campaign.

3. Do Include Your Character in Your Applications

People’s true identities can get lost behind the stacks of paper and emails sent during the application process. Don’t let your voice and character drown in your fear of looking unprofessional. As Manager of Strategic Initiatives at StateScoop, Jake Williams hires eager students to write for Scoop News Group each summer. Williams said that while he prefers to speak in person, having some character in a cover letter helps. “If you can somehow incorporate character, comedy or your personality in a resume. That always makes me give it a second glance,” said Williams.

4. Do Your Research

Another easy way to get ahead of the crowd? Simply do your research. Know as much as you can about where you’re looking to intern and, if possible, the person who will be interviewing you. “I researched the person I knew I was interviewing with, as well as the organization, so I had plenty of personal connections to make and questions to ask,” said American University freshman and one of Running Start’s Fall 2016 intern Makenzie Gold Quiros. Almost all organizations have an “About Us” page on their websites. Take advantage of this page and the “Staff” page to learn about your interviewer. This isn’t a time to play trivia, but simply showing your interest in their organization can go a long way.

5. Do Make Yourself Available

If you get your dream internship, don’t let yourself slack off. You think you’re in the clear because you can add this one of a kind experience to that growing resume, but there’s so much more to interning. “Many interns, including myself, did not take advantage of our internship. We would do everything we were told, but rarely ask to do more, which the interns really would have benefitted from,” said Kim. After completing a task, make sure to ask for more. Your supervisor might forget to assign you a task for the day. Instead of using the work day to shop online, let your supervisor or co-workers know that you’re available if they need help with something.

6. Do Give Yourself Options

You need to have a backup plan in case you don’t land that internship you’ve been dreaming about. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a lovely experience as a D.C. intern. Apply to multiple organizations. You should apply for any internship that peaks your interest. This way, you’re giving yourself as many options as possible in case things don’t go according to plan.

7. Don’t Forget to Have Fun and Say No

The most important part of this process is to remind yourself to have fun. When people get to D.C., they can feel overwhelmed with their workload. Remember, you can say no to tasks if you don’t have time. There is no shame in being honest if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Mistakes get made when interns take on too much work. Responsible employers know this and will likely respect you more for taking the initiative by addressing the concerns you may be having.

8. Don’t Be Nervous

Keeping your cool will distinguish you from the rest of the crowd. Remember, the employers want to hire you. They want you to be the perfect match for their organization because they want their work to be done. Before submitting an application or stepping into a room for your interview, take a deep breath and tell yourself you’re the right match for this job. “I usually try to pretend I am talking to a teacher, so I don’t get too nervous,” said Kim. If you don’t get this internship, it’s not the end of the world, even if it might seem like it. There is certainly another organization out there, hungry for an eager intern like you.

9. Don’t Lie

If you feel the need to lie in your application or during an interview, then maybe the job isn’t the right fit for you. Lying is not only obviously wrong, but if you do get the job, you might set the whole team behind if you can’t actually complete the tasks they ask of you. “Avoid overestimating your skills—for example, saying you are ‘proficient in Excel’ when you’re not. But avoid underestimating your skills, too. Students often bring more to the table than they give themselves credit for,” said Slusher. Lying not only hurts the team, but it could also hurt you. Later down the road, employers you’ve lied to might write you a bad letter of recommendation or tell others they know to not hire you. And in a city like Washington D.C., a bad review can follow you for life.

10. Don’t Forget to Ask Questions

Many interns can feel timid about asking questions. Remember, this is a learning opportunity. You’re not expected to know everything when you walk in the door. Most of your co-workers will be more than willing to help you out if you run into any problems. Not asking questions can cause just as many if not more problems than proceeding to do work you don’t understand. Mistakes will inevitably happen, but if you can avoid a mistake by asking a question, then just ask.

11. Don’t Forget to Network and Stay in Touch

Networking can be as simple as grabbing a coffee. “I really don’t love the term or the idea of networking, but the way I justify it in my head is satisfying a very genuine and general human need to get to know and understand other people. And if you click with someone who might be able to hire you someday along the way? That’s a plus,” Williams said. Once you’ve said your goodbyes and have gone back to school, stay in touch with your former employer and co-workers. Share any new projects you might be working on with them. Ask them for letters of recommendation. Don’t forget that they too want to see you succeed and possibly even work for them full time in the future.

Mackenzie is a freshman Journalism and Political Science major at American University. She loves her record player, poetry and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mackenzie is from a small town in California’s Central Valley and is learning how to survive in a big city.

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