How to Stand out in a City Full of Interns

Posted on Tuesday, Jul 12, 2016

Coming to Washington, D.C. can be a bit overwhelming considering every 20 something year old is an intern. Which begs the question: How do I set myself a part especially when I’m not even from this city?

I am a rising senior at Texas A&M University majoring in political science. (I know, how generic.) Not to mention, I have met several interns from esteemed universities such as Georgetown, American, Harvard, Yale, etc. Talk about intimidating, what do I have to offer being a 21-year-old student from the state of Texas?

A new perspective for one thing. Not being originally from D.C. or even visited this city before, gives me an energetic attitude about well, everything. This appeals to my supervisors who enjoy my willingness to do anything for them, without an attitude. Being in this incredible city I complete any task needed and go ask for more.

I am currently working for American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) which is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of Human Services in hope for better, healthier lives for children, adults, families and communities. I think I got lucky with my internship placement. Both of my supervisors are very down to earth and willing to provide me with tasks I can use after the conclusion of my internship. For example, I discussed my passion for women’s rights with my supervisor, so she is having me write an op-ed piece on pay equity and its ties with poverty. I couldn’t be more excited to publish an actual article this summer!

Anyways, let’s get back to how to set yourself a part from the crowd. Here are my 5 tips to make the most of your internship in Washington, D.C.
  1. Research your company thoroughly before your first day. I probably could have done a better job of this. Seeing as there were several key aspects important to the organization that I knew nothing about. Luckily, my first few days were filled with reading and watching webinars to introduce myself to their common language. However, not all supervisors will be as generous. Make sure to research what your company actually does, and don’t be afraid to email your supervisor before the start of your internship to ask if there is any material you could be reading. This would have helped me my first few weeks on the job.
  2. Treat the internship like a real job. Show up early for work, act professional around other staff, and be constantly on task (i.e. only take Facebook breaks on your lunch). There is always something you could be doing and if you think there isn’t, ask your supervisor! I’m sure they will have work for you to do, even if that means making copies.
  3. Ask Questions! This is the time when it is okay to ask a lot of questions, I mean you are the intern! Not to mention it makes it easier to contribute to the discussion. Swallow your pride, and ask the seemingly “dumb” question, most of the time your supervisor would rather you ask them then sit through an entire meeting, not being able to comprehend what is being discussed.
  4. Be Flexible. This is a skill I still need to master. But it is important to realize some things are out of your control, and the cards will fall where they may. For example, this past week on Friday morning I was waiting on the metro, when I get an email from my supervisor asking if I can attend a meeting in place of him at 10:00 am on Capitol Hill. Because my work allows “casual Fridays” I was wearing jeans. I knew I needed to go home and change. So here I am running back to my apartment throwing on a pair of slacks, and grabbing my blazer. I then had to run back to the metro in order to make the meeting on time. I get off at my normal stop and take a taxi to the Capitol, I make it there with 10 minutes to spare. While this was a very stressful situation for me, trust me my mom heard all about it. It was important that my supervisor saw me as calm and collected. Therefore, when I got back to the office and he asked me how it went, I of course said great (which, the meeting itself did). I then typed up my hand written notes and emailed them to him, without explaining the sprints I ran that morning.
  5. Ask for Informational Interviews. This is key for discovering what you would like to do as a future career. Therefore, if you meet someone with a job title that interests you introduce yourself and give them your business card to set up an informational interview. These are great, because there is no pressure from either side. You are not asking for job, you are simply asking someone to talk about themselves (which people love to do, especially in D.C.). Do not be afraid to put yourself out there, you’d be surprised how many people love helping interns.

Well, there are my top five things to set yourself a part during your internship and to make the most of your experience. Whether you’re interning in the Nation’s capital or your local government be sure to make yourself stand out! And I have one last piece of advice for anyone visiting Washington, D.C. please DO NOT stand on the left side of the escalators in the metro, especially during rush hour. You will make the locals, including myself very happy. That is all!

Katlyn Riggins
American Public Human Services Association
Washington, D.C.