July 3, 2014

When in Washington: Make the Most of Your Internship

By: Greta Pisarczyk

bigstock-Washington-DC-Aerial-view-of-37190005Swarms of summer interns inside the beltway make for fierce competition among contenders vying to distinguish themselves from the pack. How can you maximize your prospects in DC? Seek opportunities to hone skills vital to career advancement. This article is the first in a series of “When in Washington” posts that will highlight ways you can make the most of your internship experience now.

When in Washington… Network Like It’s Your Job

Networking savvy is central to career advancement, and it’s ostensibly the most difficult professional skill to perfect. Why? Networking is a commitment: the practice of networking requires planning, active behavior, and calculated risk-taking.

Planning is fundamental. The time you invest prior to a networking event will enhance your comfort and confidence. Strategically select events to attend. Research the hosting organization, and the speakers or panelists, and prepare questions related to the topic of the event. Brainstorm intelligent and engaging conversation starters. Personal presentation is also important: arrive early to mingle and dress professionally for a great first impression. You never know who you might meet!

Networking is about building relationships. Active behavior—listening, contributing value to discussions, and following up—is the only way to establish genuine, long term professional connections. Listening cannot be over-emphasized: stow your phone, make eye contact, and keep your head in the game. Avoid trite, formulaic responses. Rather, contribute thoughtful, clearly articulated ideas to add value. Follow up in an appropriate way to make a lasting impression. (Emails tend to get buried—Send a brief handwritten note within 48 hours.)

Challenge yourself to take calculated risks. Introduce yourself to a speaker or panelist and mention notable commonalities. Ask a nontraditional question. Test the longer term relationship by inviting a new acquaintance to continue an interesting networking conversation over lunch.

Like a job, networking can also be a fun and rewarding experience. Effective networking demands effort, but earns dividends in professional relationships and ongoing opportunities for career advancement. Check out William Smith’s “A Basic Guide to Networking” for step-by-step guidance.

Upcoming Networking Opportunities

Attend special student-oriented AFF events during your summer internship! Learn and network with like-minded future leaders at roundtables, dinners, seminars, lunches, and happy hours. Get started networking by attending the following events this summer:

Welcome to Washington: Your Career Advancement
AFF July Roundtable: Job Hunting: First Timers and Career Moves
Transatlantic Toast to Liberty
Is Grad School For You?

And don’t miss the hugely popular annual Cato/Heritage intern debate, Libertarianism vs. Conservatism, on July 24 at the Cato Institute!

Interested in learning more about AFF opportunities for students? Contact Greta Pisarczyk, director of student outreach for America’s Future Foundation, at Greta@AmericasFuture.org.