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Career 411: Tips for Succeeding this Summer at a Government Internship

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion composed of public service employers discussing the problems that arise with their interns during the summer.  Based on the discussion, here are a few tips to help you succeed and make a positive impression during your summer working at a state or federal agency.

  • Change of mindset – Realize that even as an intern or extern, paid or unpaid, you are an employee. You are expected to be professional and work the allotted amount of time.  If the internship is for ten weeks, you may not be able to take that ten day vacation with your family in the middle of the two week orientation.  Taking off a day to attend a wedding in another town may be possible with proper planning, but taking most of the week off before the wedding to participate in all the activities, might interfere with the work flow in the office.  The advice of the panel members, including a representative from the US Department of Justice, was to be transparent before the internship begins and address any time that you would like to be excused from before starting the internship.  Be aware that the agency or department may be unwilling to negotiate leave time and may prefer to hire someone who can commit to the entire ten weeks.
  • Communication is important – After you accept an internship offer with the government, realize that there still may be paperwork, forms, background checks and more that is needed.  Generally you can expect the government, state or federal, to communicate through email.  One of the biggest complains voiced by the panel were students not reading their emails.  Now, it is possible you might receive some of these emails while you are preparing and taking finals, but it is still important to read, respond and act on the emails you receive from your internship placement.   Quick response before the internship begins, reflects to the agency your commitment and enthusiasm towards the position.
  • Situational awareness – To start your internship off on the right foot, the members of the panel emphasized the importance of adjusting to a new environment.  Often with government agencies, interns may not receive access to a computer immediately.  A training might be needed and the next training may not be that afternoon.  Students are encouraged to be tolerant and patient as there is protocol in the government that needs to be followed.  How interns handle adjustments and set-backs speaks to their character.
  • Being prepared – When meeting your supervising attorney to receive an assignment, come with pencil and paper or if you prefer, your ipad.  Take notes about the assignment, this shows you are prepared and conscientious. Ask what the deadline is, what sources they would like you to use (not all will be on-line), and if they have sample documents available.  Be sure to check back with your supervisor or keep him/her apprised on your progress.  Deadlines are important, turning in your work on time is crucial.
  • Encourage feedback – Lawyers are busy but receiving feedback is important to the intern’s growth.  If you are doing the experience for externship credit, your supervisor will fill out an evaluation of your work at the end of the experience.  However, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your supervisor mid-way through the internship to verbally ask for feedback.  This will allow you time to correct or make adjustments to your work product, work ethic, or professionalism, if need be.  After completing an assignment is also a great time to receive feedback.  Ask your supervisor to please tell you what you could do better, or what you did well and what you could do differently next time that would make your work product better. This approach will open up the lines of communication and let your supervisor know that you welcome constructive criticism.
  • Just ask – Employers on the panel encouraged students to ask their supervisors for opportunities.  If you are interested in going to court, attending trainings, being introduced to another area or division, speak up!  Make your interests known.

Following these six tips will help you succeed this summer!

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