Interns work for free hoping to find paid work in the future. No one expects you to be an indentured servant forever. But if you want to find a paid position without burning bridges with your intern office, you need to follow some basic rules.
Be Upfront About Your Intentions. If your intern coordinator asks you if you can commit to a full semester, don’t say yes and then cross your fingers behind your back. Simply tell the interviewer that you’re looking for an internship so that you can learn the ropes on Capitol Hill and that you intend to start looking for work towards the end of your internship. Your honesty will be greatly appreciated.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep. If you committed to intern for three months, you need to intern for three months. If you are wary about doing that, say so and then find another internship. If they don’t ask you to commit to a certain time period, refer to rule number one.
The Hill is a small place and you don’t want to start burning bridges during your first weeks on the job. I still remember the names of all of my interns and I can tell you which ones left on good terms and which ones did not.
Don’t Lie About Your Experience. When you interview for a paid position, you are an ambassador for your intern office. We trained you. We’re vouching for you. And your failings are our failings. So don’t lie about the kind of work that you did for us, how long you interned or your level of experience.
If you tell a prospective employer that you did legislative research, drafted press releases and staffed committee meetings, you better damn well have done it. Because if they call me and ask about the quality of your press releases and you’ve never written a single one, I will not lie for you. The person calling me is my colleague and I will not sacrifice my credibility to get you a job. So be honest about what you’ve done for your intern office.
Plus, even if you do get away with it, the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing will become obvious in short order. You don’t want to whittle away at your credibility from day one.
And on a side note, do not make it all the way through your internship without writing a single memo or attending a committee hearing. Yes, it is our job to teach you but it is also your job to stand up and ask for a lesson. The worst thing that you can do is sit at your cube and sort mail all summer. You need to network inside your own office and use your time as an intern as a learning experience. For more information on that, click here.
Give Notice. If you can, give your intern office two weeks notice, do it. If not, give them as much notice as possible. I would recommend no fewer than five business days. But if you get the job on a Wednesday and need to start work on a Monday, that’s fine too as long as you let your supervisor know immediately.