Aug. 11, 2016
There’s never a dull moment when you run an internship program in Washington, D.C. During the semester, the office is a little louder, buzzing with activity, and more often than not, just plain fun. When students head back to school or off to their new jobs, the office gets quieter and I go into preparation mode, fueled by anticipation for the coming semester.
Assembling the class can be nerve-wracking as I go through at least a couple iterations of intern departmental assignments, taking into consideration student interest and background, and the needs of our very busy organization. Once in a while, I have to make difficult decisions, usually based on our housing or program capacity, which inevitably leads to some self-doubt. I suppose a healthy amount of insecurity about these decisions makes sense, most of all because the three months-long contentment of not only our students, but also many of my colleagues is in my hands.
Sometimes I don’t know whether I have made the right decision until our students arrive, but there are a few situations in which I know for sure I have made the right call. If you or a student you know are interested in internships at FRC, or more generally any internship in Washington, D.C., here’s a little bit of free advice on what will make you stick out as an applicant, in the form of a good old “do’s and don’ts” list:
The Experience Collector
Do: Acknowledge your resume, especially if it looks as though you’re wandering a bit. If you have bounced from internship to internship, detail your goals and why specifically you believe an internship here will help you achieve them. That will make me much more likely to consider you.
Don’t: Act like your professional past is of no consequence. If your application features a bachelor’s and master’s degree and four internships both on and off the Hill, my first reaction is to assume you’ve grown to like being an intern a little more than you should. In that case, I am likely to thank you for your interest and nicely tell you that it’s time for you to get a job.
The Creative Writer
Do: Use your application essays to tell me why you are passionate about the issues FRC specifically focuses on, and by all means, find a connection between your interests and our mission, however unrelated they may seem. If that requires a bit of creativity, do the work. I love it when we are able to bring students from all different backgrounds to experience a semester with us.
Don’t: Send well-written essays about your interests that don’t actually answer the writing prompts. If it’s obvious to me that you sent an essay you wrote for another program, your application will most likely be rejected. The same goes for writing essays that show you aren’t actually very familiar with our work. Even if you just learned about FRC, it only takes a little bit of time on our website to learn what you should in order to convince me you are genuinely interested.
The Over-Familiar Communicator
Do: Refer to the intern coordinator with a professional salutation (e.g. Mr., Ms.), and then respond in kind if/when he or she signs off differently. Most communication will be through e-mail, so for instance, when I sign off using my first name, then it is appropriate for you to call me by it in the future.
Don’t: Send demanding, one- or two-sentence e-mails to check on your application status. From my perspective, it’s hard to recover from this, and I am unlikely to consider you if you treat me and this opportunity with anything but respect. Additionally, overuse of exclamation points and question marks is ALWAYS unprofessional.
The Silent Type
Do: Acknowledge e-mails received, even if it’s just a “Got it. Thank you!” Over-communication is preferable in these cases as it shows me you are invested.
Don’t: Ignore an e-mail, even if it is a rejection letter. You never know what contacts you may have need of in the future, and this makes me a lot less likely to lend a hand later. I would be very willing to give a recommendation on an applicant’s behalf, provided he or she treats me with respect and gratitude for the opportunity to be considered for our program. It’s just bad form to not respond with at least a short “thank you” in these cases.
Do: Follow through on your commitment once you have accepted an offer. There isn’t much else to say on this.
Don’t: Come back a week (or two months!) after accepting an offer to join us for an internship and say you won’t be able to come because you got another offer you really wanted. This is a great way to burn a bridge, and it would be nearly impossible to recover from if you ever want to be considered in the future. We expect our students to be men and women of their word, even and especially when it is difficult. That starts before you even arrive.
The Social Butterfly
Do: Feel free to use social media to share your views (and your pics, status updates, etc.) with your friends and family.
Don’t: Post things you’ll regret the next day, or when the coordinator of an internship you applied to views your account.
Some of those items may seem like common sense, but there is a reason why I mentioned each and every one. Like I said, I sometimes struggle with self-doubt while processing applications, but on day one of each of three semesters during which we offer our program, that apprehension typically gives way to confidence that the right students were selected and excitement about what’s in store over the coming months. I am happy to say that when we host students whose conduct reflects this “do’s and don’ts” list, they and we end up loving every minute of their time here.
Are you interested in more information about FRC’s internship program? Click here to learn more and to download an application.