Tips for Landing an Internship in D.C.
Eight years ago, I arrived in D.C., fresh out of college and ready to begin my internship at a local PR firm.
That internship was the culmination of three years of work (I graduated early) and targeted networking, all to achieve a coveted paid internship at a PR firm in a major city.
For me, the hard work ended up being worth it, because that internship served as the launch pad for my career in public affairs.
Now, I am in a position where I can hire interns (something that I am very happy to have the opportunity to do!) As a result, I’ve spoken to lots of students and seen a lot of resumes. I’ve also experienced the range of intern quality and performance. There are a few key things that I look for in applicants which I thought I would share. These things aren’t necessarily related to academics, but for me, in my line of work, they are just as important.
Here are some thoughts in no particular order:
1. Your cover letter matters.
Most students applying for internships don’t have a lot of job experience, and that’s OK! You’ve been in school, so it’s not expected. But, since it’s hard to gather a lot from your resume, this makes the cover letter that much more important! Your cover letter is your opportunity to sell yourself and express your interest in the position and how you can add value. A well written cover letter that is articulate and clearly expresses thoughts and ideas is worth more than a resume because it allows the hiring manager to get a better picture of what you can bring to the table, especially when you don’t have a lot of demonstrated experience. Also, the cover letter is the best initial way to show that you are a good writer.
2. Does the resume look professional?
There is a trend out there where students make their resumes stand out by adding color and making them into attractive pieces of graphic design. Being creative in the formatting of your resume is probably fine in jobs outside of D.C., in fact, probably encouraged if you’re applying for a graphic design job or some other creative position. However, the fact is, most jobs and therefore internships in D.C. are policy oriented. They require candidates to have an understanding of complex ideas that could have an impact on millions of people. This is serious business, so your resume should reflect that. If you want your resume to stand out, format it in a professional way and hone the text to ensure it sells your experience in the most compelling, concise way possible.
3. What is the GPA?
Though it definitely isn’t the be-all, end all, I use GPA as a benchmark. To me, a good GPA doesn’t just indicate intelligence, but more importantly, it indicates that you are taking your schooling seriously which means there is a good chance you will take the internship seriously too. This is important, because when hiring an intern, we want someone that will be able add value and have the capacity to help out where needed.
One of the most important skills to develop in your professional career is the ability to network. It may sound daunting, but really networking is just a way to get your brand out there. It involves talking to various people, to learn more about what they do and hopefully in the process they can learn more about you. There are tons of ways to network, so I won’t focus on that. I will focus on things you should never do while networking, which is to appear flakey and unengaged. If you are supposed to talk to someone or meet with them and you cancel, you have to understand that this forms an impression. D.C. is a relatively small town and within a decade, most people in the various industries know each other. If you make a good impression on one person that can lead to other opportunities and introductions but if you appear to be flakey and unengaged you risk closing doors.
Internships in D.C. can be competitive, but the good news is, there are lots of them available! Especially in the summer months. A couple of my favorite sites for looking at available jobs and internships are below. One is a blog and it’s updated daily. It’s free to use. The other is a paid platform, but is worth it if you are looking for a position specifically on Capitol Hill, as a lot of internships and entry level jobs are posted there. It’s $15 to sign up, and then after that it’s $5 a month.
Blog: Public Affairs Jobs
Job Board: Brad Traverse
Have more questions about career or working in DC? Message me here!