I am a firm believer that internships don't just help you figure out what you want to do in life, but they help you figure out what you don't want to do, which is a helpful factor when you return to school and your studies.
Every day in Washington, DC young women come to start their career path after an arduous process of applying for multiple internships - competing with people who have the same or stronger qualifications.
I realized that working in the political sphere was exactly what I wanted to do because of my previous internship experience both in the political and artistic worlds. I figured out what I liked when I interned and what I loved, and I followed that passion and still feel it to this day. In my career I have run intern programs and advised over 150 interns, and these are the pieces of advice that I want to share and hope you find useful as you embark on your internship.
1) Please write thank you notes. It's always nice after meeting someone or interviewing to send a thank you email. However, putting a few heartfelt words on a piece of stationery thanking the recipient is even better. That personal touch that they will receive a day or two later will double down on your excitement and separate you from everyone else.
2) Collect business cards and write on the back some points to remember. If you network well at work, intern events, and happy hours you will collect a stack of business cards. Spend a minute after you are handed one and write a few notes to remind you who they were, what you were speaking about, and any follow-up questions you might want to ask them. This helps jog your memory and is also good when you reach out for a coffee or informational interview. Off course it also helps you remember tidbits you can put in a thank you note!
3) Be pro-active. This is a city full of people who want the same things you do. Every day people come to DC to work to be part of the political process. If there is a job you want after college, a person you admire or even an organization you want to learn more about, reach out. Look at their website, read the biographies of people who work there and send them a note on their email or LinkedIn. At one point in their career, they were at the same place you were so please don't be worried about reaching out to someone out of the blue. Internships are a way to see if you like the role, if you can live in that city, or is this the work you want to do. Having informational interviews are the easiest way to do this work.
4) Check your college alumni system. Who from your school is either in the city you will be interning in to reach out to or does the work you want to do? Your college career services keep track of their alums and are happy to help make connections. In many cases, they helped you with your resume and cover letter when applying for internships. Don't be afraid to ask them for help in finding people to network with.
5) Be humble, be grateful, be excited and be interested. You never know who the person next to you on the metro, sitting in a park or at a table nearby may be and who you may be talking about that you know. Trust me on this one. You worked so hard to get this internship and you should make the most of it. People you meet while you are interning will be people you keep running into at school and while looking for post-college jobs or on campaigns. Isn’t it wonderful to walk into a room and already know someone and know they have your back? They are your cohort now and future colleagues and friends.
Hope that helps and if you every have questions or want to set up an informational interview - just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laila Mohib is the Expansion Director for Emerge America.
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