Preparing for International Co-op

white workspace macbookPreparation is key.

I leave for Ecuador in exactly five days and I just bought my plane tickets! I know exactly what you’re thinking, for someone writing about job preparation, she really doesn’t seem very prepared for the next four months.

Let me backtrack a bit and describe my situation. I will be on co-op with the U.S. Department of State for the next four months at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. I’ll be doing political work in the Embassy, which will include researching political issues in Ecuador and writing reports on how those issues affect the United States. I am beyond excited to start, but for a while I didn’t think I would get to do the work at all. I’ll talk about my experience applying for international co-op and preparation for the adventure with three simple tips.

1. Have an idea of what you are interested in doing and start researching early.

Before I left my last co-op in Washington, D.C. I had already begun brainstorming what I was interested in doing for my second co-op. This proved to be essential because I was able to get a head start on my application and was not rushed when the due date rolled around. Many international co-ops have earlier application deadlines than domestic co-ops, which is why making sure your resume is always up to date is very important. I knew I wanted to work in government in some way for all my co-ops, but I was also very keen on traveling. When someone mentioned the State Department overseas Embassy internships, I knew I had to apply. My application deadline was extremely early – July 1st for a job that wouldn’t start until at least January of the following year. While this early of a deadline is unusual, other international co-ops can have early dates because of visa issues. Making sure that you do your research early so that you are aware of any special deadlines is crucial if you are considering an international co-op.

2. Keep an eye on your inbox and make sure you respond to emails from your employer right away.

This is key for any job, but especially if you need special paperwork for your international co-op. In my case, I had to complete extremely in-depth paperwork so that I could obtain a security clearance as well as get fingerprinted by the police. Both of these things were very time sensitive in my case and responding early to those requests is what allowed me to get my clearance in time to start my co-op as planned.

In other cases, you might have to deal with background checks, visa issues, and international housing; all of which take time to figure out. Don’t wait until the last minute or your plans for international co-op could be ruined.

3. Be patient.

This is perhaps the best piece of advice I received and that I could give to someone. Even though I accepted my co-op back in July, it was not official until I was granted my full security clearance the second week of January. This whole process has taken six months to get set up and so much of that time was filled with uncertainty. I won’t lie – I had many freak-outs over the past semester when I thought my clearance wouldn’t come through in time or when I was sure something was going to go wrong along the way to prevent me from ending up in Ecuador next week. Patience is key, especially when you are traveling and working internationally.

Rose Leopold is a third-year political science major currently on international co-op with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. Prior to this experience, Rose spent her first co-op in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington, D.C. Follow Rose’s adventures through her blog justsittingontopoftheworld.wordpress.com and on Instagram @roselandis.

Taking Advantage of Serendipity

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Bangkok’s Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

The universe has a funny way of unraveling itself.

On the eve of my first organic chemistry exam this past September, I found myself in a familiar place: trapped in Snell Library scouring the Internet, desperate for stimulation. I was left numb from the repetitive and mechanic task of drawing benzene rings and their reactions. There were only so many that I could handle. I needed some down time.

Facebook was an obvious first choice. So, I wandered my News Feed, clicking on BuzzFeed links, reading endless lists of things I probably didn’t need to know, even for conversation’s sake. I flirted with the front page of Reddit, and then moved on to other news outlets, NPR, The New York Times, and Al Jeezera to name a few. This was the usual direction my Internet habits followed to kill some time; and almost as if by automatic action, I always was led back to Facebook. And on this particular night, I am certainly glad I was.

A friend of mine posted a status on her wall; she was in search of a travel companion on her way to an international co-op in China. I curiously, and somewhat jokingly commented “Knowing Chinese necessary?” to which I received a prompt reply, and a private inbox message to accompany it.

In the coming weeks, we exchanged information, key details, and a formulated a basic plan for the spring semester. I danced around the idea for quite sometime, unsure and uncertain about what types of experiences lay before us. Reluctant, but fueled by the prospect of travel and discovery, I began to research ways in which I could make this journey a reality. And, like any good explorer, I started off by first by consulting my mother.

Even through the phone, I was able to discern my mother’s hesitation in giving her consent to me as I pursued this co-op experience. Armed with information, statistics, and narratives from students, interns, and some expatriate friends, I was able to make a compelling case for what these next six months could mean for the future.

“It just makes sense,” I told her.

With the door now open to fully pursue working in China – I gathered everything I needed to make for a seamless process in orchestrating a self-developed co-op. In between classes, I even tried to learn Mandarin (I will emphasize – tried). In looking forward though, doubts began to creep into my head.

I went back to the drawing board.

Hungry for any sign of opportunity, I realized that Thailand was Lady Luck. Again, I assembled what I needed to ensure some solidarity while I would be abroad. I didn’t have any job prospects and was operating with very limited funding. What I did have though, was an incredibly vast support network in Thailand – family, friends, teammates, and strangers I hadn’t even met yet. I was motivated by an even stronger sense of curiosity – I would be able uncover my family’s heritage, learn forgotten cultures, and traditions all to bring back and share a story not only grounded in experience, but in self-discovery and growth. This was all I needed. I then initiated the search.

It was then when I truly appreciated what my friend had done in putting together the co-op that she had laid before us in China. It was a lot of work. The holes and hoops that she had to jump through were countless, never-ending. E-mails were sent to researchers a world away, applications were sent to organizations that probably never read them, or discarded them upon receipt. It felt like a hopeless endeavor. By November, I had contacted over sixty institutions, ranging from laboratories, English language schools, universities, and non-profits.

After the bouts of insomnia, spending hours writing cover letters, refining my CV, and preparing for interviews, three researchers finally gave me the green light.

That’s where this co-op begins – a Facebook post read during a long night of studying, a couple of messages, a phone call, and a little bit of self-reflection. Chance, luck, some preparation, and dedication to an idea all seemed to come together in symphony. A year ago, let alone six months ago, this opportunity was a pipe dream. Take advantage of serendipity – who knows where you could end up.

P.S. This post was inspired by the book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things In Motion, by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison.

John Sirisuth picJohn is a 4th year health sciences student at The Bouvé College of Health Sciences. With a nose for exploration and travel, John will be writing from Southeast Asia about his experiences on co-op in Surin and Bangkok, Thailand. There, he’ll be volunteering in community clinics, in addition to conducting public health research at Chulalongkorn University. Follow his adventures on Instagram: johnsirisuth.

 

How to Stay Organized and Maintain the Internship-Class Balance

balance

This guest post was written by Scarlett Ho, a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy.

At a time when the job market is tight, having multiple internships on your resume during your college life can give you a tremendous advantage post-graduation. If you are feeling ambitious, try challenging yourself in 2015 to take up a full course load and a part-time internship. Many people might feel intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming schedule, but don’t be! With good planning and motivation, anything can be achieved. During the fall of 2014, I took classes abroad in Belgium while interning at the European Parliament simultaneously. I can personally attest to how doable it is if you put your mind to it. The following tips should guide you along the way as you plan ahead for a new year:

Time Management:

It might be a cliché, but time management is essential if you want to ensure success. Before the start of a semester, always plan ahead with a daily and weekly schedule to divide your time between classes and the internship. I recommend dedicating big chunks of time for each to allow your mind to focus. When registering for classes, try  concentrating them in a few days, allowing 2-3 full-time days for your internship. If this is not possible, try classes in the morning and work in the afternoon, or vice versa. That way, your mind and you will not be wandering around every few hours or so.

Thinking the Big Picture: Prioritizing and Be Realistic

While it is important to do well in an internship, be realistic about your time and know what your ultimate goal is in college- to get good grades. The workload of your internship may vary, but at the end of the day you have to remember what is more important. A word of caution for those who are considering taking up an internship, is that you have to ask yourself if extra workload will not sacrifice your grades. Internships, particularly unpaid ones, are likely to be very flexible and accommodating to interns’ class schedules, so definitely take advantage of that and choose the right balance between classes and work. Many employers are also very generous and they allow interns to do homework or study if the office is not busy, scoop out what the office culture/schedule is like in interviews to get a sense of the intensity and how that fits into your studies.

A Good Work-Life Balance: Down Time

Health and fitness is key if you want to stay on top of your schedule. But relaxation is equally important to recharge your energy, and keep you in a positive mood. Classes and internships can be tough and demanding in their own ways, so be sure to give yourself a little treat, such as catching up with old friends, doing a sport you enjoy, reading a book to distress. Surround yourself with motivated and like-minded people who will always encourage you to keep on going. (Check out this link for more tips on self-care.)

Reflection

At the end of the day, an internship is a complement to your studies, which is a manifestation of what you study in classes and it should align with your academic/professional interest. When picking an internship, think of the classes you are taking that semester and do something related to that. That way, you can apply what you learn in classes in real life. The fact that the two reinforces each other as they are closely related will allow you to benefit from the best of both worlds.

Scarlett Ho is a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy. During fall 2014, she studied abroad in Belgium where she interned at the European Parliament. The summer prior to that, she interned for Senator Warren on Capitol Hill, and previously Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts. She can be reached at ho.sc@husky.neu.edu for any questions ranging from resume writing, job searching to her experiences.

Photo source: Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash.com

Keep Calm and Move to Africa

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In 48 hours, I’ll board a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa to begin my first co-op. My bags are packed, my passport is ready, and my movie playlist is prepared- yet I feel strangely apprehensive. I’ve worked abroad before, however, I’m now under more pressure, and more stress. Any Northeastern student can recognize this bizarre feeling of elation, curiosity, and uneasiness. This is co-op. And to add, this is Africa.

Looking back on all of the moments I’ve left my comfort zone, I think to myself, how did I do that? Mustering up the courage to move is difficult, emotionally exhausting, and just scary. Add in a full time job and the stress doubles. To ease my pre-travel butterflies, I’ve given myself four reminders- four sentences that will ground, gratify, and calm my million-miles-a-minute mind. Four ways to give myself a break during the circus which is international co-op.

I will mess up both professionally, and personally.
But that only means that I’m trying. Expectations often create unattainable standards that we don’t realize we have set for ourselves- until we don’t reach them. I want to keep myself motivated, happy and healthy at work. I want to challenge myself, I want to take on new tasks, and I want to interact with exciting youth and inspiring coworkers. Holding myself to perfection is both limiting, and destined for disappointment.

Embrace my difference and run with it.
There is something both absolutely terrifying and absolutely beautiful about being a foreigner. What I’ve come to realize is that my difference is my greatest asset, and while it’s sometimes simpler to run away from it, the most rewarding route is to run towards it. My American perspective brings new ideas and new ways of doing things to my workplace. Why not capitalize?

Work is just going to be work until I make it something more.
Who says you can’t benefit personally from your job? I’ve realized that loving a job not only makes the work day go faster, but makes the work mean something. I want to savor every meaningful experience I have- whether it’s learning from my phenomenal coworkers, facilitating a successful workshop, or finally figuring out what a new South African word means. Every single moment should be more than “just work.”

I’ll get it- eventually.
I’m new, and eventually, I’ll understand. It may take some time, and it may happen after some embarrassing moments and misunderstandings. The beauty of working abroad comes from learning, growing, and exploring- not from being an expert from the start.

Daniella is a sophomore at Northeastern with a combined major in Human Services and International Affairs, and a minor in Spanish. She is currently on her first co-op working for a youth development nonprofit organization in Cape Town, South Africa. Daniella is passionate about social change, travel, and good food- and can’t wait to see what Africa has to offer her both professionally and personally. Email her at emami.d@husky.neu.edu

Finding an Internship Without Prior Experience

source: collegefashion.net

source: collegefashion.net

This guest post was written by Sam Carkin, a middler studying Marketing and Interactive Media. This article was originally posted on The Works on February 24, 2014.

The “real world” can be intimidating; especially when you’re just starting out. Sure, that first job as a house painter or bus boy is great for earning some money and learning to work with others, but I am assuming if you came to Northeastern you are looking to do something within your major. Northeastern is special in the sense that co-op allows you to work within your major prior to graduation, but what if you want some experience for your résumé before applying to that first co-op job? A summer internship right after your freshman year is an awesome way to go, and something I had the opportunity to do last summer with integrated marketing firm GY&K. Below, is some strategies I used for landing that internship where I gained experience in the marketing and advertising field before my first co-op (which will begin in July).

1. Network, network, network:  I visited a family friend who worked at a huge marketing agency called Arnold Worldwide. He had been in the industry a while and agreed to introduce me to an employee at GY&K, the person who ultimately offered me the internship. Ask your parents, ask your friends, find SOMEONE that works in your industry of choice and ask them if they know anyone that you might be able to talk to or work for.

2. Informational Interviews are kEY: OK, so I had been introduced to this person from GY&K, but what now? An informational interview is a perfect way to demonstrate professionalism and interest, while also learning a great deal from someone who knows the industry well. If it goes well, you have a better chance of possibly working for the person you speak with.

3. Have confidence: Going in to speak with an industry professional can be extremely intimidating; however, setting up informational interviews shows that you are genuinely interested in what that person does and see them as a successful individual in their field. They will be just as excited to tell you what they know as you are to learn, and it should be treated as a casual conversation during which you can make a great first impression.

4. Do not be afraid to ask: If your interview went well, at the end feel free to ask if that professional’s company has any opportunities for you to gain experience, or if they know of any other companies that might have these opportunities. It will allow you to possibly find that internship position, or continue to grow your network.

Sam Carkin is currently in his 3rd year at Northeastern University. He is a dual major of Business Administration-Marketing and Interactive Media and will be finishing up his first co-op this month. Feel free to contact him at carkin.s@husky.neu.edu with any questions related to the blog post or his experiences.

5 Reasons You Should Work at a Start-up – And Tips For Doing So

green lighbulbThis post was originally published on The Works November 21, 2013. Zachary graduated in January 2014 and is still working full time at CustomMade.

This guest post was written by Zachary Williamson. Zack is a 5th year Comm-Media Studies Major. He recently accepted an offer from CustomMade as a Creative Associate for the Marketing Team. Zack also freelance as a photographer for the Northeastern Athletics Department.

While many people go on co-op looking to work for a large, well know brand, I encourage people to consider smaller, less established, start-ups. These kinds of companies tend to be a good fit for self-motivated people, or someone who wants to work in a fast paced environment.

For my second co-op, I was fortunate enough to be hired at CustomMade.com, a start-up that had already secured some venture capital funding, and had been a member of the marketing team during a time of incredible growth. Every co-op is a different experience, but if you want to try something less traditional, a start-up is the way to go.

1. Work at a start-up for at least one co-op.

Working to build a company is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have early in your career. Working at a smaller company means that you are making a far greater impact because you make up a significant portion of the staff. It also means that you have to be flexible, oftentimes wearing many “hats” or serving multiple roles, depending on the needs of the company. That said, you will most likely have a lot of skills to leverage and market when looking for your next co-op, considering you were both the HR and IT assistant.

2. Be ready to make mistakes, and own them when you do.

Part of working at a start-up is building something new. Depending on the field, it’s possible that a company is the first to ever attempt something at a particular scale or in that way. Being cutting edge means you’ll inevitably make mistakes, both personally and as a business; and you’ll most likely make a lot of them. Learn from and take ownership of your mistakes to avoid them in the future. But don’t let fear of making mistakes prevent you from… (see #3).

3. Take risks and force yourself to learn new skills.

One of the co-founders of CustomMade told me they would rather a project fail, than not push it far enough or try at all. Trying out new projects makes you more versatile–and versatility is one of the best skills you can bring to a start-up. Specialization is important, but don’t allow yourself to settle into a comfort zone. All co-ops should be about seeking new opportunities, but small companies in particular have more work than they have employees. Stepping up to a task, and then figuring out how to complete it, will make you that much greater of an asset to the company as a co-op, and a more appealing full time hire in the future.

4. Start-ups move quickly– very quickly.

Most start-ups have limited funds to operate, so they need to be incredibly agile and quick to try new ideas. While it’s all well and good to work out how to complete a task, many are time sensitive. Start-ups have to be quick to adjust and find a viable solution if something isn’t working. Things have to change quickly in order to conserve funds, and sometimes projects have to be abandoned in order for this to happen. This leads into my next point, that…

5. Start-ups don’t have room for egos.

Since speed is critical for a start-ups’ survival, they need to build teams of people who can quickly switch gears and go with the new flow of the company. A negative attitude won’t get you far, every challenge must be approached not with a “this won’t work attitude”, but rather a “how can I make this work, or work better” mindset.

Start-ups require a lot of work, but they can also be incredibly fun and rewarding. They force you to make incredible career developments because you have opportunities to do everything and anything. A lot of start-up culture revolves around the concept of work really hard, play really hard. If you like a new challenge every day and never want a dull moment, consider working at a start-up. It was the best decision I’ve made to kick start my career.

Zack has spent the last four years as a coxswain on NU’s Men’s Rowing Team, and is rounding out his final semester at NU as Comm-Media Studies Major, with minors in Cinema Studies & Production. He has co-oped at the New England Conservatory as a Video Production Co-op and at CustomMade as a Marketing Co-op for 16 months (he never really left). He recently accepted an offer from CustomMade as a Creative Associate for the Marketing Team. Zack also freelance as a photographer for the Northeastern Athletics Department. You can find him on the sidelines of a home game or on twitter @ZackWVisuals. (PS CustomMade is always looking for awesome people to join our team in Cambridge, MA, so feel free to reach out if you’re interested!)

Image Source: AlltopStartups.com, Do You Have a Start-up Idea? 29 Questions to Determine its Viability

Why You Should Intern At A Startup

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Entrepreneurship is everywhere at Northeastern. Bureo Skateboards, co-founded by a NU alum, just landed an awesome partnership with Patagonia. New Ground Food, creators of the Coffee Bar, met their $10,000 Kickstarter goal in less than two days. Startup fever is here to stay. In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, we have compiled a list of a couple of reasons you should consider interning at a startup.

Access to leadership. Startups aren’t huge bureaucratic nightmares where you sit in a cube with access to no one but your supervisor. Usually, you will meet the CEO within the first week, if not the first day. You will learn how effective leaders think and run a business, which is valuable information to have early in your career.

Plenty of responsibility. Startups don’t have the money to spend on an intern who sits in the back corner and makes copies. This is great news for you as an intern – this means you can pull a chair right up to the table and contribute to the team almost immediately.

Networking opportunities for days. Startups are known for pizza party networking nights to spark business connections. These happen all the time. All. The. Time. Getting involved in the startup world means you have every opportunity in the world to meet new people and practice your elevator pitch. Your LinkedIn profile will be thrilled.

A huge expansion of your skills. At a startup, there are almost never enough people to get a job done. That means on Monday you might be researching every music festival within a hundred miles of your office, on Tuesday you might be writing a newsletter for 1,000 people, and on Wednesday you might be Googling “what is a corporate communication plan and how do I make one?” You will grow out of necessity, learn to improvise, and nothing will faze you.

There’s no such thing as “riding out the wave” as a startup intern. You will be thrown into the deep end of the pool with no life jacket and you will learn to swim to the other end in no time. You will face challenges and grow immensely during your time there. You will learn some of the most valuable skills in your career as a startup intern.

Check out the schedule of awesome Global Entrepreneurship Week events here!

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Writing. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Follow her blog here and on Twitter @lindseygsampson.

 

What I’ve Learned from Managing a Social Enterprise in South Africa’s Townships—And Other International Co-op Lessons

heart capitalOn Aug. 26, I boarded a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty five hours later I arrived at my new home for the next four months.

A week later, I started my co-op at Heart Capital, an impact investment firm on the outskirts of Cape Town that manages a portfolio of social enterprises in local townships. So what have I learned so far from this incredible opportunity to learn about social enterprise management in one of the regions of the world that needs it most? Read on.

1. Printer ink, Internet access, phone calls, and meetings are luxuries—not necessities.

 

In Cape Town, I’ve realized that you can still conduct business without a formal corporate infrastructure in place—it’s just a little more difficult. No technology on site? Better make sure you bring everything you need with you. Deliverymen didn’t drop off your compost in the right place? Time to revamp the work schedule so that you can account for manually hauling your supplies to a different location.

 

Being innovative and flexible are essential in the social space—you often won’t find well-oiled business machines in under-resourced townships.

2. Sometimes, the needs of the business don’t go hand in hand with the needs of beneficiaries. And that can be challenging.

 

The difficult thing about managing social enterprises is that they don’t operate as for-profit businesses, but they aren’t nonprofit either. In this space, we spend a lot of our time wrestling with wanting to help people directly while still trying to progress the business. These tough decisions make this space incredibly challenging. What’s important is that you figure out the best way to cope with the situation. For me, I’ve found that leaving work at the office and exploring the area allow me to clear my head and face the challenges ahead. Figure out what gives you inner peace and capitalize on that.

3. Creativity is key.

 

When there isn’t a clear procedure on how to do something, that presents an opportunity for innovative thinking. Past and current interns have developed new systems for inventory management, sourced free materials from willing companies, and launched crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for supplies. Success in this industry—and especially in an international environment—relies on drive, creativity, and innovation.

4. Working internationally is different than working at home.

Sometimes you might forget that cultural norms you took for granted aren’t the same in other countries. Email may not be effective, the laws and regulations for donations may be different, and common words and phrases may not be present in your new space.

 

Like any new job, it’s important to take each lesson in stride. Sometimes, working in a different country can be frustrating and confusing. It may make you want to tear your hair out, find the nearest McDonalds, and try to un-block Netflix. But by using each experience as a learning opportunity, and then reminding yourself about the lessons you’ll be able to take home with you, you’ll survive—and, even better—thrive.

 

Sarah Silverstein is currently managing Heart Capital’s ongoing Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 USD to purchase a bakkie, or small vehicle, which will drastically improve the organization’s operations on the ground. Check out the campaign page to learn more about the campaign.

Turning Your Co-op Into Your First Job

TurningYourCo-op1Roughly 51% of Northeastern graduates secure jobs with a former co-op employer! Wouldn’t it be cool to land a job with a former co-op employer where you’ve already developed great relationships, know their business/products/services/clients, and have proven yourself to be a top performer?

On October 15 we hosted a terrific panel on “Turning Your Co-op Into Your First Job.”  We were lucky enough to get four panelists all of whom successfully turned a former co-op into their first job.  Our panelists gave a ton of helpful tips, which would be way too long for this blog, but we’ve condensed it down into four main topics we covered that you’ll want to take note of!

Being Strategic and Thinking of Your Co-op as a Building Block:

Many of our panelists were especially strategic about their co-op choices, starting at their first if not their second co-op, in terms of recognizing company names and the types of skills and experiences that would make them more marketable down the line and that they wanted to get on their resume as a building block.  Some also looked at which companies were most likely to hire co-op students for full-time work in making their selections.

Being Successful on Co-op to Get Noticed:

This was something that, not surprisingly, all of our panelists knew how to effectively navigate!  The main points that came out here were:  (i) getting to know people in the company by attending events so that enough people knew who you are, and in that same regard, working with a variety of people in your group so you have plenty of people to vouch for you; (ii) showing initiative and a willingness to do any assignment and to do so with enthusiasm; and, (iii) making sure to ask for feedback and to really work with that constructive feedback to improve your performance as you go along on the co-op.

Advocating for Yourself:

Our panelists also made sure to advocate for themselves when it came time to discuss a full-time position.  Because they made an effort to get to know people in their department and to solicit feedback along the way, they all knew that things were going well at the co-op and that their employer was pleased with their work by the time they approached the conversation, typically about mid-way through.  Some practiced the conversation in advance with a friend or a relative, but importantly, made sure to have this conversation so that their employer knew they were interested in a full-time role.  In fact, as they pointed out, sometimes employers start to view you as an employee (which is pretty flattering) and may lose track of the fact that you haven’t yet graduated, or may not remember exactly when you graduate or even realize that you’re interested in a full-time position with them.  The point being, you need to make sure you’re effectively advocating for yourself and letting people know what you’re hoping for, and not waiting to be approached.

Developing a Strong Network:

And finally, our panelists touted the importance of networking while on co-op, but also after you leave a co-op.  Having these relationships and staying in touch with people you used to work with, through periodic, friendly emails, is an important way to make sure that you have a network to tap into when it comes time to look for a full-time position, especially since it may be the first or second co-op employer that you want to try to go back to.

Amy Stutius is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University.  She practiced as an attorney before transitioning to higher education.  Email her at a.stutius@neu.edu.

From Applying to Acing The Capitol Hill Internship

scarlett ho in front of capitol

Posing in front of the Capitol

This guest post was written by Scarlett Ho, a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy.

For any Political Science major, working in the nation’s capital is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Getting an internship on the Hill while still in college is not only useful in helping you decide if public policy is your niche, but also helps you get a foot in the door in other federal-related jobs in the field. This past summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to intern for a member of Congress in Washington D.C., and here are a few tips I would like to share to help anyone who is thinking about interning on the Hill.

1) The Application Process and the Interview

Most congressional internships require a standard resume and cover letter, followed by an interview. Sounds like a pretty easy process, but how do you stand out among hundreds of applicants?

  • Email etiquette: Most people think that all you need to do when you email your application package is just to attach the files. But from my personal experience, crafting a short and sweet paragraph in the email containing your brief bio and objective will make your application more personable. Remember, small things matter, so make sure your resume and cover letter are free from typos and grammatical mistakes. One way to ensure that is to ask your professional network, professors and friends to proofread them.
  • Interview: So you have received an invitation for an interview, how should you prepare? Research the office, know your objectives and why you want to intern there. What are your passions, and how is this internship going to contribute to your goal? Since most interview questions always revisit your past internships, be sure to be able to explain every detail you have put down on paper. Rehearse, do mock interviews, and feel confident. Remember, the secret to interviewing is: it’s not “what” you say, it’s “how” you say it.

2) Working on the Hill

Everyone has to start somewhere, and you should come to any job with the mindset that you are starting from the bottom. With that, it means mundane and trivial administrative tasks, such as answering and transferring phone calls, photocopying/scanning, and running errands. But on top of that, you should seize this wonderful opportunity to benefit the most out of it too:

  • Attend briefings/committee hearings: Fortunately for a Hill internship, because you’ll be at the center of politics, interns get the chance to go to different hearings and briefings and take notes. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the issue; and any memos that come out of it will be a great writing sample for the future.
  • Ask questions: Remember: no one knows the answer to everything. If you have questions or doubts, ask your fellow interns or supervisors- they will likely be able to answer them for you. Asking questions demonstrates that you’re proactive and thoughtful- something every employer would value. Additionally, ask for more tasks or offer to assist others in their work when you have completed yours. Your willingness to help others proves that you’re collaborative and are inclined to take initiative.
  • Networking: It’s all about connections, that is the truth. Be active in seeking out intern networking events, or receptions near the D.C. area to talk to people from different fields and offices. Seek out interesting people from LinkedIn, through friends and ask for informational interviews either in person or over the phone. Be flexible and respect people’s time because they are busy but are generally willing to help.

3) Ways to Take your Hill Internship To The Next Level

  • Keep a journal: It is important to keep track of your daily or weekly tasks, because at the end of your internship, you need to have talking points that summed up your responsibilities on your resume. Even if you don’t keep a journal (which is mostly for writing about your feelings and what you have learned), have a small notebook that jots down your tasks to make it easier to keep track in the future.
  • Recommendations: I was advised by a Capitol Hill staff to ask for the letter the last week of your internship, so that you will have the letter in hand on your last few days. By creating a time constraint for the recommender, they will most likely craft a more thoughtful response because you can read it when you are still there. After your internship is over, connect with the staff on LinkedIn and ask to be recommended.
  • Thank you note: A small thank you note for each staff in the office goes a long way. A nice hand-written note makes a lasting impression and you never know who will help you down the road. Therefore, this is a critical step that should not be skipped.

Interested in working in government? Career Development is hosting a Non Profit and Government Careers Forum at 5:30PM, tonight in Raytheon. Also, Thursday, October 16th at 5PM in 12 Stearns: Demystifying the Federal Job Application.

Bio pic_scarletthScarlett Ho is a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy. She is a former Capitol Hill intern and will be interning at the European Parliament this fall with NU’s study abroad program. As a trilingual, she is interested in foreign affairs and diplomacy, and is an avid globetrotter. Connect with Scarlett on LinkedIn and follow her on                                                                                            Twitter.

 

Good luck everyone!