Full Circle – How Welcome to Washington Helped Me from Both Sides of the Stage
In 2015, an ill-experienced but enthusiastic professional, eager to succeed, attended Welcome to Washington. The event was hosted at the grand offices of the American Enterprise Institute in central Washington, DC, and organized by America’s Future Foundation. 

This person was me, a 22 year old politico just a few weeks into an internship at the Leadership Institute. The internship would change my life, not least because I learned skills that would help me to succeed.

Fast forward five years. I had the opportunity to sit on the other side of that stage as a panelist with the heavy responsibility to pass on these lessons, along with three other brilliant speakers. 

Washington, D.C. goes full-circle. Today’s intern is tomorrow’s panelist.  

So what are these lessons? What did I learn at Welcome to Washington and throughout my internship which would subsequently land me a job here?  

1. You are only as employable as your reputation

Washington, D.C. is the biggest small town you can imagine. It’s a large city, but somehow everyone in D.C. seems to know each other. Forget six degrees of separation, more like one at most.  

Within your professional circle, reputations spread quickly. A foolish error as an intern will follow you around for a long time.   On the reverse, a strong reputation among the right people will accelerate your career.

2. There’s a lot of job seekers to compete with, but it’s easy to stand-out

Let’s start with your resume, which should be one side of regular 8.5 x 11 paper. There are few exceptions to this rule. The resume must be flawless in spelling, grammar, and consistency. 

In addition, your cover letter must explain why you want to work for the organization you’re applying to.

In preparing for interviews, make sure you know the organization inside and out.  It’s important that you not only demonstrate your motivation, but how your skills and accomplishments will allow you to succeed. 

3. Networking is not a dirty word 

There’s a right way and a wrong way to network. Ask any professional, and they’ve all met someone who showed no interest in them as a person at all, only in their job and the extent they can be used. If your interactions with someone aren’t sincere, you’re not likely to remember a person positively or want to work with them.

The best networkers are sincere. They show a legitimate interest in the person they meet and exchange business cards at the end of the conversation. To continue building a connection, send a follow-up email within 48 hours.  If you seek to build a strong professional relationship, ask them to coffee to learn more about their work. 

4. You can lead without authority

Many of those attending Welcome to Washington were interns and students, so naturally the question arises – how can you stand out in your internship, despite the fact you’re without much decision-making capacity?

Lead without authority. The best interns are the ones who become a presence in the office. They help other departments in addition to their own. And they introduce themselves to as many people as possible. 

Within their department, they take the initiative by anticipating their boss’s needs. They communicate their ambitions. And they have a commitment to excellence. 

5. There’s a life outside of your job 

Obsessive politicos become tiresome.  Find passions outside of your work and politics that excite you and give depth to your character.  
Washington, D.C. has a rich culture and no shortage of wonderful opportunities.  Go discover them!

…And finally,

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to attend Welcome to Washington, make sure you follow America’s Future Foundation to find out the dates for 2020.  

There’s also an abundance of opportunities to learn essential career skills.  The Leadership Institute’s Career Services are on hand to assist you with training, job recommendations, and free, personalized, one-on-one consultations.