Tips for Landing a DC Internship

Since many of my readers are in college I wanted to write a post on tips for landing that awesome internship.

My experiences mostly come from applying (and working) in Washington, DC. I attended university in the district and while I currently work in politics and non-profit advocacy, I studied public communications in college (which is a fancy term for public relations). When I applied for internships I decided that I didn't want to be tied down to one industry just yet - you can do so much with a PR background (politics, entertainment, fashion - the sky's the limit) and since I wasn't sure which field would be best for me, I decided to market myself as a worker whose skills are transferable. I've worked for a trade association, a boutique PR firm, a large PR agency, a political campaign and even on Capitol Hill. I think it's safe to say I know a bit on how to make yourself marketable to HR departments. 
Now, before I get on with some of my tips, I want you guys to know that some of them will sound a bit harsh. But chin up, ladies! It's a tough world and we'll all have to get tougher. 
  • Network, network, network: I know this is the biggest cliche in the book so let me be a tad more specific. Exchanging business cards is not networking. Adding someone on LinkedIn is not networking. Making a meaningful connection with someone in the industry is networking. Call me old-fashioned but I don't like when people who said hello to me maybe once or twice try to use me as their "in" to get a position somewhere. Don't simply "use" people like that, actually make the effort to get to know them before 
  • Prepare a portfolio: Since I started college, I had a portfolio of all my best work. I kept copies of a few press releases I wrote, an op-ed article or two, brochures, pamphlets, and other items that come in the usual media kit. This has been a changing process, of course, as over the years my writing from my university days has been replaced by my writing as a professional but the point still stands - keep a portfolio to bring with you to job interviews, networking events, etc. It's handy to be able to show your best work on the go. I keep a physical portfolio but I've been using my Dropbox account as well. I keep a folder in there for my professional items (a resume, my writing smaples, etc.) so in case I don't have my portfolio on hand, I can email it straight from my phone.
  • Do your own research: I used to track down positions on my college career website but I realized one day that if everyone was applying to the same position from the same website, well... it's going to take some time for HR departments can get back to you. I decided to rogue by simply looking up PR firms in DC. I also found a few offices that didn't have PR departments necessarily but could have used an intern to do the work. I wrote many emails and reached out to these offices explaining why I would love to work with them and how my knowledge of the industry would help their business. Sometimes it pays to go off-roading instead of depending on your school or a website to look for you. 
  • Don't disregard unconventional experiences: When I first started my internship with a small PR firm, I was a little disappointed with the setup, especially since one of my friends was interning at a large agency. The disappointment didn't last though - because they were understaffed, I ended up doing a lot of work that was more than just the usual filing, making copies, and other such menial work left to interns. My internship became very hands-on and when my internship came to an end, I was able to expand my portfolio (see the second bulletin) with real work that I did that made a real difference. Just because an internship wasn't exactly what you were expecting doesn't mean it won't be meaningful. Keep your mind open to all experiences. 
  • Be humble: I noticed after working a while that sometimes interns have a habit of talking about their accomplishments. I realize that as an intern with perhaps the least amount of experience in an office setting, you want people to take you seriously but I'm going to tell you right now that talking about how smart you are because you attend X University and you're the president of all of these organizations on campus will not impress anyone (at least not in the long-run). Even if you perform your duties flawlessly and go above and beyond on the job, no one will take you seriously if you don't stop humble-bragging. If you must talk about your accomplishments, go hang out with your friends. On the job, it's all about what you've done there not before you got there. 
  • Don't let rejection keep you down: DC internships can be hard to find but don't let it affect your passion. Repeat after me: You will get hired. Hold your head high, toughen up and keep at it on the search. It's a learning process and eventually you'll find something. 
What are some of your tips on scoring an awesome internship? Leave them in the comments below!

5 comments

  1. Dear Deborah, I appreciate it really that you share here precious experiences here and I hope really many people will read it as I'm convinced your post can save them from wrong decision. Like you I have also the opinion that especially nowadays networking belongs to the most important things - and in my opinion you are a master in this field!
    xx from Germany/Bavaria, Rena
    International
    Giveaway: Zatchels Bag as Thank-You for the Supporter of my Hobby

    www.dressedwithsoul.com

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  2. definitely love this combo of white dress with denim jacket on!
    looks so great together,simply perfect!
    also really good for spring time and as you wrote: screams spring !!

    anyway,have a great day deborah !
    ♥♥♥
    http://herlifeinstyle.blogspot.co.il/

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  3. Hi sweet Deborah,
    thank you for sharing this precious experiences!!
    Baci,
    Coco et La vie en rose - Valeria Arizzi

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  4. I'm actually not in that position, but I read your words carefully and all of those seem like pretty good advices and not too harsh :)

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  5. These are good tips Deborah! And not just for internships either, I think it applies to any job hunting. Networking is really important, so it's good you listed it first :) I was really pleased to see that pay off when I returned to work from maternity leave - a friend in another department wanted a career change and was eager to come work with us. I made sure to talk him up as much as possible before I left to all the relevant people, and he applied for a position a little later saying I had recommended he do...and of course he got the job. It's nice to come back and still be working with him, but in a completely different capacity! He had that great profile/visibility in the department before he even applied so it really helped him get where he wanted to be.

    Away From The Blue

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Thank you for your comments! I read every single one :]