Expert Insights: How to Make the Most of Your DC Internship by Eliza Thurston
May 25, 2012 | By Eliza Thurston
About Eliza: As the intern coordinator at the Leadership Institute, Eliza Thurston works with young conservative leaders from across the United States and around the world to prepare them for service in politics and public policy.
Eliza came to LI from The Heritage Foundation’s Special Events department where she assisted with nation-wide development events. Prior to her time at Heritage, Eliza interned at Family Research Council and Shared Hope International.
A Missouri native, Eliza attended Grove City College in Pennsylvania where she graduated with degrees in French and Political Science.
So you’ve secured a coveted internship in the nation’s capitol—now what? Learn how to make the most of your time while you are here.
When I first came to Washington, DC as an intern in the summer of 2008 I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Growing up in a sleepy Midwest town on the outskirts of farmland, life in the big city was a new concept to me. How I wish I knew then what I know now!
The advice below, culled from my time living and working in Washington, will help you navigate your internship and make it more than just another line on your resume.
In the Office
What can I do to help you? This little phrase is golden.
When you find yourself with extra time on your hands, don’t let it go to waste! Offer to assist fellow staffers with their work or look for ways to solve potential problems before they arise. Employers look for staff who demonstrate initiative and who seek opportunities to fill the gap.
The intern who makes a positive impression in the office as someone always willing to volunteer will be remembered long after the summer is over—and just may be called back when a position opens.
Invest in your organization. Even if you are here for only three months, make it your goal to become an expert in your company or office.
From the microscopic (When was the company founded?) to the panoramic (How does my department contribute to the organization’s mission?), you should be able to clearly represent your organization to anyone who asks.
The same applies to those of you working on the Hill—familiarize yourself with the district and know your boss’ position on the issues.
Seek out a mentor. Take time to get to know your office mates and establish relationships with them.
Find a mentor in your career field (whether at your office or in another one) who can guide you in your journey.
Mentors are invaluable resources who will be able to offer advice on everything from office politics to providing contacts for the future. Their experiences can guide you as you discover your own career path.
Dress for success. This is critical. No matter how many times people have told you that looks do not matter, in the professional world they do.
Before you pack your bags for the internship, find out what the office expectations are regarding appropriate attire. If you don’t own a business suit, you should purchase one. Consider it an investment in your future.
Your reputation is everything. The adage, “Don’t shame the family name,” has become a classic in my family. When my siblings or I went out for the night those words trailed us out the door. We understood that wherever we went we represented more than just ourselves.
While it may not seem like it, Washington really is a small town. People talk. Word travels quickly. Everyone knows everyone else. So remember when you are out on the town, you represent your organization and the principles on which it stands. Don’t shame the boss’ name.
Network, network, network. It’s been said that a DC intern could go an entire summer without spending a dime on meals. I believe it.
Policy luncheons, happy hours, and conferences abound in the District (and beyond). These events are worth taking advantage of—and not just for the food.
DC insiders know that the secret to landing a job here is often found through your network. Remember to follow up with those you meet, ideally within 48 hours. A follow up coffee date or informational interview could be the gateway to your next job.
Expert Insights is a regular feature of LI.org that highlights important topics by industry experts. If you would like to submit an article on a particular topic, please contact LI's External Affairs Officer Lauren Hart at LaurenHart@LeadershipInstitute.org.