May23200912:04 pm

‘The Obama factor’ x ‘This economy’ = Tough times placing interns

A friend of mine here in DC (a lawyer for a nonprofit that advocates for victims of international human trafficking) tells me that this summer will be a tough market for internships. A friend of hers, whose organization places students in political, nonprofit, and other internships in DC, is “desperately” looking for available positions. According to him, this summer is one of the toughest he’s ever faced finding placements for his undergrad interns coming to the Capitol City:

I regularly encounter tougher-than-normal times getting all of my students placed in internships. Summertime is by far the worst, because DC internships are extremely more competitive in the summer months than during other times of the year. But even given that phenomenon, this summer is proving particularly challenging, primarily for two reasons:

  1. the Obama factor: It’s a brave new world. Everyone wants to be in DC right now. Applications at all of the agencies we work with have shot up by huge factors. When we met with the White House a couple of weeks ago, they said they received no less than 6,000 applications for this summer.
  2. the economy: People who would normally be entering the workforce right now are turning to internships to (a) beef up their resume a bit more and (b) try to wait out the job slump. The result: a ton of people running around with Masters, PhDs, and JDs snatching up the spots that undergrads would normally be viable candidates for.

I post this not to be discouraging but only to present the reality of the situation. There’s no one, right solution for overcoming this reality, but I will say: it’s not going to be enough to rely on your stellar resume and your well-written cover letter to get you noticed (not when there’s 6,000 others sending in a great cover letter and resume too). Rather, step up your networking, your volunteering, your informational interviewing. Work any and all contacts, no matter how obscure (your parents’ dentist happens to know someone who knows someone who works at a great international nonprofit? Who cares how tenuous the connection—pursue it). The best way to get yourself noticed amongst the throng of other applicants is to become a known quantity. Get yourself in front of the decision makers and make it obvious that they can’t live without you.

I recognize that this is not an easy thing to do. But I really believe that making yourself a known quantity and proving your skills and your committment, not simply relying on how they look on paper, is the best way to stand out from the masses.


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