Working in DC
Securing an Externship
Once you've been accepted into the D.C. Program, you need to find a job with a government, non-profit, court, or advocacy organization. While there is no “golden ticket” for finding a job in D.C., organization, planning, tenacity, and a positive attitude will help in the pursuit to track down opportunities and secure an externship suited for you.
Start early. You should expect to dedicate a serious amount of time and energy to finding a job in the highly competitive world of D.C. externships. You must identify employers that match your interests. Then, researching the organization, the division, and specific role you might serve is important for your cover letter and any follow up correspondence or interviews. Understanding the needs of the office and conveying your ability to contribute will help you stand out. You must apply for the numerous positions and if you receive an interview you should do additional homework, including searching the office’s website to understand the staff’s background and experience.
Consult with Career Services. The law school’s Career Services office offers the best resources for planning an effective job search. The office may point you to employers that suit your interests, alums or professors who can assist with your chosen employer or field, or job lists and programs that fit your interests and profile. They can also review your cover letter and resume and perform mock interviews.
The U.S. Government's official website for listing civil service job opportunities with federal agencies, it includes many externship postings. Their page for current students and recent graduates is particularly useful for externships.
While the Semester in D.C. program is a fantastic opportunity, your experience working in the city will pay off relative to the effort you put in.
Start connecting with people in your office on the first day. Interns come and go in D.C. It is important to try to make yourself different than the “average intern.” Don’t wait to be personable or friendly. Make sure to not overstep your comfort level or that of your co-workers, but try hard to remember names from people in the office. Go home and write down the names of the staff and use their names on a regular basis. Once you start using people’s names they will certainly make sure to remember yours!
Make a good first impression. Whether you are meeting office staff or shaking hands with a member of Congress, making a good first impression is essential in a place where everyone is trying to work their way up the ladder. Working professionals in a big city can be standoffish at times, and some people may just be overly judgmental, so start off on the right foot in D.C. by being professional and making a positive first impression.
Try to meet regularly with your supervisor. Every UNM student will have an attorney who signs off on their timesheet, but this may not be the person you report to. Your supervisor can be your best ally when it comes to recommendation letters or even finding a job in D.C. down the road. Do not take for granted that you have someone who you work with regularly. Develop a good relationship with your supervisor and make sure they know the value of the work you are doing.
Experience is relative. No matter how much experience or knowledge you have, there is always someone who has more. It is important to show respect to the people who have been around a while, you can learn a lot from them.
The externship Isn’t forever. Even if your externship isn’t everything you hoped, treat it with a professional attitude and understand that the experience and references gained will benefit you down the road.
Take advantage of opportunities. A big mistake of many D.C. interns is not taking advantage of opportunities while in D.C. When will you have another opportunity to hear a member of Congress speak at an event or have a personal tour of the Capitol? Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves every day.
Utilize connections. You will meet a lot of people while working. It is important to remember who you met and follow up with those who seem most likely to be a valuable connection. Have business cards available and organize a system to keep track of ones you receive.
Four months will fly by! Make sure to build connections with your office early on in your internship. If you wait, it will already be time to head back to New Mexico right when you are finally fitting in and starting to develop good relationships.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, everyone knows that you are new and still learning
- Meet everyone in your department, don’t limit your interactions to only the people you regularly work with or the “important” people
- Always introduce yourself, don’t expect people to seek you out to meet you
- Don’t ever downgrade a dress code, no one will ever look down on you for following a professional dress code, but dressing down may make you look unprofessional
- Arrive early on your first day and every day
- Limit personal work or school work at the office, especially during the first week
Federal Government Honors Programs. For those who hope to work in DC immediately after graduation, be aware that the federal government hires entry-level attorneys almost exclusively through highly competitive federal government honors programs.
Application Timeline. The application process for some federal government attorney honors programs will open over the summer and have deadlines as early as mid-summer or September a full year before the start date. Therefore, rising 3Ls interested in obtaining a post-graduate position in an honors program should begin looking into opportunities early in the summer. Some federal agencies offering these programs review applications on a rolling basis, so applying early can give you a distinct advantage. Postings announcing Attorney Honors Program openings are typically available on USAjobs.gov.
Leverage your Semester in D.C. To be successful in your government job search, you must demonstrate a commitment to public service, demonstrate an understanding of the specific agency at which you seek to work, and explain how your experience makes you a good fit. Your Semester in D.C. will help you both demonstrate commitment and explain that you can be a good fit.