Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Advice from the White House

Allen Smith (P&G, '13) is currently working as an intern in the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance. He was kind enough to share some information about his position, how he obtained it and additional advice for those seeking internships and other opportunities in the D.C. area.

What are your responsibilities as a White House intern?

I am an intern in the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance. I am responsible for categorizing and responding to scheduling correspondence that involves the President. These requests can range from invitations to birthdays to delivering commencement addresses and attending conferences. Our office tries very hard to respond to every single inquiry.
I have several other responsibilities, including tracking scheduling correspondence and providing a weekly summary tally to Scheduling staff. I give tours of the East Wing and White House as needed. 

How were you able to secure this position?

When I initially applied to the White House Internship Program, I did not select the Scheduling and Advance office as one of my preferred choices. I think I had a strong application and writing, and I gave what may well be the best interview of my life. Despite this, I was placed on the waitlist for the program, and I had fully committed to moving on and pursuing other opportunities. However, prior to the start of the program, I was contacted again and offered the internship.
There are people who are current undergraduate students. There are people who have graduated, like me. There are people with Master's degrees and JDs. There are people who have quit their paying jobs for this program. What does that mean for you? Submit the best application you can. Write multiple drafts. Edit. Proofread. Have someone else proofread. Secure your recommendations early. The application has several parts, and I spent hours on each of them. This is not like a school paper that you can start the night before.

Do you have suggestions for others who want to pursue internships in the D.C. area?

The D.C. area has many opportunities for internships in government, on the Hill with Congressional offices, and with think tanks and non-profits. But it is a privilege to get them, and competition is fierce. You will need to consider what you have to offer, and what kind of value you can bring to an organization. If you have prior experience, that will be a huge plus. The best opportunities for you to build this experience will be local groups that have a connection to D.C. Congressional district offices, either with a state or national representative, are great for this. Check your representative's office when you go home for the summer. Other groups, like nonprofits, charities, and so on, also fit this niche.

You will also want to have a strong resume. Keep it current, with the above-mentioned experience if you have it, and make sure you have as little from high school as possible. If you are a sophomore in college, you should have done enough with school groups, sports, and/or community service to replace your high school experiences. Also make sure that your resume has correct spelling and flawless grammar. Be specific about your duties and accomplishments and if you can, put a hard number or provide other specific evidence of your accomplishments.

If you spend a semester or a quarter in D.C., you need to ask yourself some key questions:
·                     Where are you going to stay?
·                     How are going to survive? D.C. has a very high cost of living. Can you afford it?
·                     Will you be working on the side? If the internship is part time this will be substantially easier, but even with a full-time position you can still work on weekends.
·                     Will your family be able to help support you?
·                     Will you take time off from school for an internship? How will that fit into your graduation plan?
·                     Does the application need recommendations? Who will recommend you? How much time do they need?
·                     Does the application require transcripts? Do you have electronic copies?
·                     If not, the Registrar’s office can send you a scan. You should have one regardless.

I can't give you the answers to these questions, but you need to consider them in order to have a successful internship experience. As for the actual internship, here are some of my hard-won tips:
·                     First, understand that you are there to work. Organizations receive a lot of interns over the years, and you should try to add as much value as you can so that they will remember you in the future.
·                     Second, get to know the staff in your office.. Ask them about their stories. If the staff like you and remember you, they will probably give you a strong recommendation in the future. This is especially important if you apply to another organization; a new organization may ask your former supervisor about you, and you want them to advocate for you.
·                     Third, see who your office staff knows. If someone has a cool job, odds are they have cool friends as well. Maybe they know someone who works in an area that you're interested in. Ask if they can connect you. Don't be shy about making your intentions known to your staff.
Lastly, reach out to your network. Friends, family, teammates, friends-of-friends, contacts from your professor, Puget Sound alumni, godparents, your cousin's roommate’s brother; all of these people represent potential opportunities for you. D.C. is very much based around who you know, and you need to be willing to adapt to this reality.