Many internships are available in the nation's capital, but competition to land a good one can be fierce. Many students hoping for a career related to the federal government view an internship in D.C. is a mandatory prerequisite to a job after graduation. Finding an internship requires diligence, networking and a basic knowledge of how Washington works. Prepare for the search well in advance and approach it as you would any professional job hunt. Look for internships inside of and outside of government and understand the duties and responsibilities before applying.
Set goals and priorities for the D.C. internship you seek, including the field in which you wish to work and the level of responsibility you seek. Become acquainted with websites and organizations like The Fund for American Studies and InternMatch that are devoted to finding internships in Washington. Seek assistance from your school's career development office. Become familiar with the multitude of government offices in Washington. Create a wish-list of agencies, media outlets, trade groups and other organizations in D.C. you find appealing.
Contact your Congressman and other local connections working in Washington. The member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represents your district is likely to have an internship program, and may favor constituents as candidates. She also will know of others on Capitol Hill. Also, seek out internships at local news outlets or other companies that are based in your geographic region and have a presence in the capital.
Build a list of references that will be viewed favorably in Washington. Local government officials and civic leaders willing to vouch for your character and competence can be major assets. Do volunteer work for a local political party or politician and ask for a letter of recommendation.
Determine if the internship you seek has a specific application procedure or contact person. Prepare a professional-looking presentation that stresses your familiarity with government or private-sector organizations in D.C. Include a resume that demonstrates an interest in civics and outlines any volunteer work or actives in student government. Begin contacting organizations and looking for a place to live at least six months prior to the planned start of your internship.
Widen your search to include organizations in D.C. that rely heavily on low-paid or non-paid labor. Propose an internship to a D.C.-based non-profit organization or community group to create a non-traditional approach to a Washington internship and provide a true hands-on experience in government matters.
- Look for internships in areas of Maryland and Virginia that are in close proximity to D.C.
- Be prepared to undergo a background check and drug test for many internships in Washington.
- Summer internships in D.C. are the most competitive.
- An internship involving partisan politics can limit your career options down the road.
Al Stewart's 30-year background as a writer/editor includes staff positions at "Adweek," "Billboard," "Chain Drug Review," "Cable World," "DNR" (men's fashion), "National Floor Trends," and "Variety." A native New Yorker, he is now a writer/editor living in Los Angeles. He has a BA in political science from Wagner College.