By Thomas Davies, Bachelor of Arts in Economics & International Affairs, GWU, 2016
It was the second semester of sophomore year, and I was without an internship. At most universities, this wouldn’t be a concern in the slightest. But let’s face it, GW students collect internships like Pokémon cards. Friends, roommates, and acquaintances had already put the World Bank, State Department, and senators’ offices on their resumes, but I was stuck with a chunk of free time that I felt I could use better by gaining work experience. So I started asking friends who had awesome sounding brands on their resumes to help me out. They quickly let me know that most positions were either filled or had closed applications, since most had applied to their internships the semester before. However, one of my close friends joked that I should find a way to play up my trips to Ireland in previous summers for a worthwhile internship in our international town.
What began as an offhand suggestion turned into a legitimate challenge for me, so I did a little research. The biggest presence the Irish government has in Washington is at their embassy near Dupont Circle. The small yet historic building is the workplace of at most 20 employees, so their website didn’t mention any sort of student internships that other larger embassies and institutions advertised online. However, there was a “Contact Us” section on their website, so I decided to reach out to them directly about an internship – even though I had no idea if they even had internships. I worked on writing an email that I felt would strongly convey both my knowledge gained from the Elliott School and my love for my mother’s home country. I made every word count in the two paragraphs I wrote, and I sent it directly to the embassy’s staff; I made sure to explain my real connection to the embassy’s work beyond what was already on my attached resume. To my surprise, the contact page on their website didn’t lead to a black hole of unread messages; I was called the next week to arrange an interview and was ultimately offered an internship position for the spring semester.
This success made me realize that there are possibilities to intern everywhere. Confidence is absolutely key, especially in your first contact with the place you’re thinking of interning. If you’re able to succinctly convey why you’ll be the best person able to help an institution accomplish their day-to-day goals, then you’ll graduate from GW with a resume stronger than those of many students at other highly-ranked universities. Don’t let that point pass you by: having a leg up on students with the same degree at a “better” school is absolutely possible, and one of the best ways to do that is by reaching out as directly as you can to where you’d like to be.
While studying abroad the following year, I penned a cover letter leveraging the courses I had taken, my extracurricular activities, and my experience at the Embassy of Ireland for various online internship applications. Although I applied to at least fifteen other positions across town, I received only two responses from interested hiring managers. My problem was that I forgot the value of reaching out directly to the organization where I wanted to work. As opposed to a unique candidate reaching out in an earnest email, I seemed like just another candidate. There is a lot of opportunity to connect with the people who will read your application; you can connect on LinkedIn, send an email asking to learn more about a position, or even send a letter. Direct communication will definitely give you an advantage, but nothing is surefire. Remember, you’re likely going to have to spend a good chunk of time looking for and applying to internships that you’ll want to put on your resume, so persistence is key.
One of GW’s best benefits for students is the access to a huge variety of internships in a close proximity to campus. If you can create a schedule of classes that allows for two or even three days off, you can use that time to gain great experience at government agencies, financial institutions, or well-known think tanks. To be frank, my GPA has not been my strongest asset while at GW, but my practical experiences have more than made up for it. If you’re a student unsure of whether or not you’re qualified for an internship, just apply and be persistent – if you don’t, you’ll be missing out on a great opportunity to get your foot in the door at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions.