The Public Service Intern Program (PSIP) is offered every year by The Career Center, in order to assist students in securing summer internship positions with congressional and congressional support offices, executive offices and agencies, judicial offices, special interest and lobby organizations, arts/museums, and print and broadcast media, in Washington, D.C. There are currently about 70 PSIP students in DC this summer, and we’ve asked a few to share their experience thus far. Today we hear from Vicky Jennings, a junior Political Science major with a minor in German. Vicky is a New Media/eCampaign Intern with the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Sunrise at the Capitol with PSIP
It is something you may have heard of or imagined: interning in Washington DC. But until you go through the process of researching positions, preparing application materials, being interviewed and finally getting the “Congratulations. You’ve been selected” phone call or email, it is hard to understand the magnitude of an internship in the nation’s capital.
I was not quite sure what I was getting myself into when I boarded the plane to Reagan National Airport at the end of May. I knew what it took for me to get there, but I was so unsure of what was next. Now, having more than a month of my DC internship completed, I can say it was the best decision I have ever made.
Learn as you go
On my first day of work, I thought I might pass out from nerves. There I was, thrown into an actual 9-hour day, not having a clue what I was doing. I knew I was interested in politics and government, but I couldn’t help but wonder how qualified I was to be working among such accomplished people. What I didn’t understand then, but do now, is the purpose of interning in DC and in public service. As an intern, you are not expected to know everything. In Washington, and especially on the Hill, almost everyone was an intern at some point, which makes it easy for your office superiors to help you. You are interning for a reason: you need to learn. It is not about being qualified, because no one expects you to be. It is about using the skills you have to gain more experience to prepare for a future in the work atmosphere. Yes, you do need to be able to adapt quickly and focus on your duties, but people are willing to help if you are willing to learn. Your boss wants you to ask questions, push yourself, be resourceful, and be the greatest intern he/she has ever had. I was told, if you do great work, you would go far in DC. I believe that is true to go far in life, as well. So, it is important to do your best on every project and you will be noticed.
An important source of support for your intern experience and future employment is your co-workers. Luckily, I was in an office of 18 interns, so I met people from all over the country. Even if you are the only intern in your office, you still have lots of colleagues, who have lots of experience. People like to talk about themselves, so take every opportunity to hear what they have to say. Whether it is friends while you’re in DC or coworkers for future job seeking, you must make connections, in every way possible.
Of all of the friends I have made in DC, I have 4 friends already interviewing for jobs and 2 friends who have already moved away after earning a position somewhere. You can learn a lot about the job-seeking process from friends and they can even be resources for the future. My work friends and I joke if one of us becomes President, that we will employ our intern team from Summer 2010 to work together in the White House. Also, from witnessing how a few of my fellow interns transitioned from intern to paid employee, I finally see how past connections can get you a foot in the door for a future job. Friends are great for life in DC and can be a great networking opportunity for the future.
It is important to use your superiors to your advantage. I have already had an offer for an informational interview, simply by mentioning an interest in a field. I do not graduate for 2 more years, and I have already been offered a connection. I always felt like it was something people only said: “Oh I have a friend who works there. I’ll give you her email. She would love to meet with you.” I am proof that it really does happen. A Michigan grad put me in contact with a friend of his, after hearing I studied German. After scheduling a meeting time with the woman, I learned of many opportunities to work with German in DC and abroad. Also, while they may be intimidating, superiors in an office are full of information and are quick to pour it out. Most likely your boss did not wake up one day at his/her position. He/she had to work very hard to get to their current position and they are usually thrilled to have an intern interested in working just as hard. Take every opportunity you can to get names, emails, interviews, or business cards. You never know when it will become useful.
Editor’s note: If you’re a Michigan/PSIP alum in the DC area, please let us know if you’d like to connect with the PSIP program as a mentor
Keep an open mind
The most important aspect of the DC mentality is open-mindedness. Being unclear of how your life will be for months is a frightening concept. Coming from someone who likes to have a plan and be organized and efficient, a DC internship is a challenge, but a life-changing chance. If you don’t let yourself hold back and you reach out of your comfort zone, you will end your internship with the best experience and maybe even a job! Even if you realize public service is not right for you, you may find something along the way that is worth pursuing as a possible career. DC is so diverse in backgrounds, work and life experience, and future aspirations. It is a great city, not only to try what you are interested in, but to open new doors to exciting, fresh employment possibilities.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Public Service Intern Program, please visit the PSIP section of our website and consider applying in the fall!