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Words of Wisdom

Former WLP students offer recent students advice on selecting an internship and how to make the most of their internship while in DC.  

Choosing an Internship

  • Don’t be afraid to apply to any internship that interests you, even if it seems daunting. Anyone at all interested should complete the application.
  • If you’re interested in interning on the Hill, do your research! Capitol Hill is a great place to intern as long you're with a Congressperson who is involved with an issue that greatly provokes your interest. Use this as a test run! That way you can see if it really is the place for you in the future.
  • Be aware of your own politics and the politics of the organizations you are interested in. You don’t have to agree 100% with every policy position, but it’s helpful for everyone if you are generally behind the mission and values of your place of work.
  • Take every opportunity you can to familiarize yourself with their work as soon as possible.  The earlier you understand what is going on, the sooner you will be able to provide meaningful work and insight.
  • Know the skills required of your internship. Some placements requires specific skills and knowledge such as HTML or Excel.
  • If you have any prior experience with data analysis using Excel or possess a variety of other technical skills, you will definitely have a competitive advantage over others applying. Back to Top

On The Job Advice 
Attitude | Relationships | Quality | Ask Questions | Above and Beyond | Time Management | Also...

Watch Your Attitude

  • No matter what someone asks you to do, do it to the best of your ability, and eventually your work will be rewarded with more work. ALWAYS KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE! If it gets overwhelming at any time, just remember to relax and know that any stress is only temporary.
  • Patience is not a virtue as an intern, it is a requirement. Things don’t always move as quickly or smoothly as you would like and you’ll need to learn to adapt.  
  • Always be polite, friendly, and willing to do anything that someone asks you and it will pay off!
  • It is really important to find a mentor who you can develop a relationship with and who will trust you with substantial assignments. Other than that, just take advantage of all opportunities that may arise.
  • Always act respectful and discrete, even out of the office.  You are almost always guaranteed to be on a staircase, Metro, or elevator with someone who is either important in policy-making or is connected to someone important.
  • Most internships require strong writing skills and patience. It may take you a week or two to acquire the proper writing style, but once you do they will appreciate your work.
  • No job is ever below you, because if you do a good job and have a good attitude about it, they will call you to do bigger and better things. Some assignments may not sound very interesting at first, but once you get into them it can be surprising how much you end up enjoying it. Back to Top
Build Relationships
  • Make sure to network and schedule informational interviews with as many people as you can in the agency. People are generally willing to speak to interns and able to give you contacts to help with your job search. You should really encourage your supervisor to help you schedule these meetings and lobby on your behalf because once you become a full-time employee, it will be harder for you to just call up and wish to meet top officials in the agency. Don’t feel intimidated about asking for help, this is how Washington works.
  • Get to know everyone in the office by name as soon as you can.  Focus on fostering genuine relationships with the people around you. Be polite and courteous to everyone, because you do not know who they are or what they do.
  • Don't ask for a day off unless it's vital. The more you are in the office the more you learn the culture of the office, get to know your coworkers ,and the better they get to know you. Building those relationships is the key to being trusted with bigger and better assignments. (Not to mention, attendance is required.)
  • Develop a good relationship not only with your supervisor, but also with the rest of the staff. Back to Top

Commit to Quality

  • You will only be challenged as much as you make yourself available. Do not be afraid to ask staff if they would like assistance with projects that interest you. Once people realize that you're willing to go above and beyond, they'll throw amazing projects your way.
  • PROOFREAD. The quality of the first few assignments given will weigh heavily on the amount and substance of work you will be given in the future.  I recommend letting documents sit for a while, and then return to edit one last time before sending on to the supervisor or others within the agency. Back to Top
Ask Educated Questions
  • If there is no work on your desk, let others know you are willing to help them with whatever they need.
  • Do your research thoroughly in advance and keep it up once you are in the internship.  If you don’t understand an issue that you are doing work, research it, even if you don’t technically need to.  It will lead to a better understanding of the office and your work.
  • Also, don't be afraid to ask educated questions of your supervisor, they should be there to help you have a great internship experience! Back to Top

Go Above and Beyond

  • You will only be challenged as much as you make yourself available. Do not be afraid to ask staff if they would like assistance with projects that interest you. Once people realize that you're willing to go above and beyond, they'll throw amazing projects your way.
  • Every intern should always go in early if they are asked to, attend any reception that they are able to, and really network with the people in the office--even if it is awkward at first. Also, if the supervisor asks for help on Fridays, definitely go in after class for a few days. It helps in the end.
  • Do not be afraid to provide suggestions and feedback when asked. Do not be shy about speaking up in meetings. Any and all comments are welcome in meetings (so long as they are relevant and professional) and you will make great impressions if you participate. People don’t usually remember a lackluster comment but they always remember a good one.
  • Observe what’s going on around you.  Each office has its own culture and its own politics and it is nearly impossible for us to advise you on them in advance.  Take the initiative, you don’t always have to wait for the projects to come to you
  • Try to think of a way you can leave something behind in your office after you leave, whether it is a new program, something for other interns, or a new online presence for the office. Back to Top
Mange Your Time Carefully
  • Sometimes work comes and goes. Projects have their downtime and so will the interns and employees working on them. Try to stay motivated
  • Don't get behind. Even though at times it can complete chaos, it somehow manages to work itself out. Back to Top

Also...

  • Ask about the dress code in advance, but then observe how others in the office dress.  If in question, err on the side of over-dressed.
  • Expect to be lost at your first hearing.  Don't worry, you'll figure it out.
  • If you have a medical condition that requires frequent doctor visit, talk to your supervisor ahead of time so they are not surprised and then frustrated with you about it.
  • Keep track of all work that you complete, many times old papers will be needed. 
  • Don’t gossip.  People talk. Stay out of it.  Don’t fall into that trap.
  • Identify a mentor. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your supervisor, but should be someone that has the skills and professional outlook that you hope to acquire.  It should be someone that is willing to take interest in your professional and personal development.
  • Remember to go through the chain of command if you want or need something.  Back to Top