Every year, hordes of interns from around the country descend upon Washington, DC. Summer is the most popular season for internships, since it enables students to gain valuable professional experience without missing a semester of classes. More and more colleges now accept internship experience as valid credits that count towards graduation. Summer remains the most popular time of the year for internships.
Many unique opportunities and challenges come with an internship in the nation’s capital during the hottest months of the year. If you plan to intern this summer, or would like to, here are some things to know:
Supply and Demand
First and foremost, the classic law of supply and demand applies. A limited supply of available internships confronts a high demand for summer internships. Competition is much higher during the summer, so do not be discouraged if you don’t get accepted to your dream internship.
Often, if you re-apply for the same internship but for a fall or spring semester instead, you’ll be accepted!
One component of this higher demand, outside of the fact that you will not be missing classes, is that there’s generally much more happening in the summer months. Despite relatively mild winters, the social scene in DC seems to completely shut down from October to April. It seems as if most people go to work, and then immediately return home afterward.
In mid-April, when the temperatures become consistently warmer, the social scene in DC becomes significantly more active. This presents an abundance of networking opportunities.
Networking is important in any professional field, but it’s exponentially more important in an industry where people-skills are in high demand, such as the political field.
In DC, people tend to hire from within their own personal networks, rather than hiring interns based on their resumes. This means a well-developed personal network is crucial to your career advancement, and the abundance of social events over the summer provides an abundance of opportunities. You won’t meet people if you do not put yourself out there and attend events with other like-minded individuals.
However, the abundance of social events and opportunities is both a blessing and a (potential) curse.
Many interns prioritize socializing over their work. This subtracts from their professional advancement. Those new to a professional environment (or those who’ve recently turned 21) are most vulnerable to the temptations of socializing. Constant networking can be a huge drain on financial resources. It can also easily subtract from the quality of your performance within the office.
Work/life balance is crucial, and the abundance of social events over the summer can prevent you from receiving the full value of an internship.
Congressional offices are rife with stories of hungover summer interns who were barely capable of any work in the mornings.
If you develop a reputation as an intern who prioritizes socializing or partying over your work, you will dramatically shrink your future job prospects. It doesn’t matter how adept or personable you are; it doesn’t matter how big your network is. If you can't obtain a work/life balance, your prospects in DC will be narrowly limited.
As a young burgeoning professional, your reputation will be worth its weight in gold. And DC is a town built on reputations.
A Few Final Tips
It’s impossible to mention summer internships without mentioning DC’s brutal humidity, which can make even a simple commute miserable. To counteract this heat, many office buildings overcompensate and crank up the A.C. to uncomfortable levels. While it may seem counterintuitive, layers are especially important in the summer.
On especially brutal days, it’s not uncommon for people to wear casual clothes on their commute and then change into professional attire once they arrive at the office.
It’s hard to understate how miserable it is to wear a black suit in 95-degree weather!
Summer internships offer opportunities for both professional and personal development, especially since many offices ramp up their hiring in the fall. An impressive performance over the course of your summer internship can easily lead to a job offer if the timing is right.
Beyond the professional context, DC offers endless opportunities for personal growth. Very few people who work/live in DC are actually from DC. This makes the city a fascinating melting pot of people from all over the country and world.
Your internship will provide you with endless opportunities to meet lifelong friends, challenge your philosophical worldview, and expand your knowledge about yourself and your abilities. Good luck!
If you’re interested in more career advice, networking opportunities, and training, check out the Leadership Institute’s career opportunities page.