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Finding Internships in Public Service

Additional internship resources on the site:

link Links to Online Internship Directories and Resources

link "ABCs of Internships" – a recent article from the PA Times


This page offers information on how to find the ideal internship in public service, helpful hints on obtaining an internship, as well as additional internship resources. Visit internship databases and information sites to begin your search for the perfect internship. Don't forget about your other sources such as alumni, professors, and employers. PublicServiceCareers does not endorse these websites. They are merely a reflection of available information, and the links may change at any time.

Finding an Internship in Public Service.

Internships ... self-directed learning, a part-time job or an invaluable first step toward a public service career? Internships today go well beyond resume building. They are about experience building, networking, and learning. Interested in a career in foreign policy? Intern at the State Department and develop research skills and first hand knowledge. Interested in children’s policy? An internship with the Children’s Defense Fund will help establish a network of contacts for the future.

A truly educational internship offers hands-on experience in the work of a particular profession. You not only perform invaluable support to an agency or organization, but you are learning skills to apply to your future career and your course work. Look beyond a prestigious name - research what you would be doing on a daily basis. Will you be photocopying and opening letters, or will you be engaged in substantive work? Will you make new contacts for the future, or will you shuffle papers in an office? The best jobs with the best experiences may not include the best - or any - pay. An internship without monetary compensation may offer training and networking that will enhance your job prospects for the future. On the other hand, a well-paid internship may end up as a glorified secretarial position. Be aware of present as well as future benefits.

Finding an excellent internship requires focus and organization. Endless possibilities exist. The first step should be with your academic institution. The career placement office has access to internships through its career databases and alumni networks. Secondly, speak with you professors about finding a mentor and develop informal, regular communication with people who have shared interests.
The Internet is an excellent search vehicle since information changes rapidly. There is no all-inclusive list of internships, but many searchable internship databases exist. Or if you are interested in specific organizations, visit the organization’s web pages and search its site for internships.

What if you still cannot find what you are looking for? Create it. Send letters to organizations that interest you, often organizations may not have advertised an internship but could arrange such a position.

Also, don’t forget your alumni! Check with the alumni or career office at your institution. Most alumni offices maintain a database of alumni willing to help students find internships and employment opportunities. Ask your professor if they know any alumni in that area and ask for an introductory call.

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Helpful Hints.

  1. Network. Never miss an opportunity to communicate about your areas of interest. Speak with professors who research in your interest area, current and past employers, neighbors, and family friends. These individuals may know of an internship or may offer to help you find one. If you are interested in government, arrange a meeting with your local elected officials or their staff.

  2. Meet with Career Placement Advisors. They have access to internships only offered to students from your university and also have access to alumni. Visit your school’s career library and browse internship guides. Many publishers, such as Peterson’s, publish yearly comprehensive directories of national internships.

  3. Search the Internet. The internet is an excellent source of possible internships. Availability can change monthly, weekly, or even daily, so start searching today. Also, visit websites of organizations that interest you. The Public Employee's Roundtable has an excellent list of websites for government agencies, states, counties, cities and government related associations. An organization or agency's website may contain current internship openings not listed anywhere else. If there are not any internship listings, it does not necessarily mean that there are no internship possibilities. Browse the staff listing and send a staff member a letter stating your experience and interest. Don't forget to follow through with a phone call or email!

  4. Speak with Other Students. Your fellow students may be engaged in internships and could point you to open positions. Also, if you are offered an internship, speak with students currently working there to get the real scoop!

  5. Get Your Foot in the Door. Many organizations see interns as potential employees. Your internship could lead to a permanent position when you are finished with your schooling. If you are interested in a federal career, now is a good time to begin. Federal internships are an excellent introduction to the workings of national policy. The Office of Personnel Management, for example, offers two-year internships with starting salaries ranging from $21,000-$34,000. After three to five years, the projected annual salary is in the $46,000 to $58,000 range. See Federal agencies can hire students part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. Visit Unpaid internships are also available in most agencies.

  6. Be Creative. If you still cannot find what you are looking for....create it! Often organizations may not advertise an internship, but could arrange one for you. Send letters of interest to organizations of interest. Remember, these individuals were once students looking for internships too and are often eager to assist you.

  7. Do Your Homework. Research the internship and its responsibilities. Would the employer want you to work 25 hours per week? Should you have specific skills? How flexible is the workplace? What will you do on a daily basis? Will you be compensated or will you receive class credit? Every internship is different. Don't end up surprised or disappointed. Learn all of their expectations, and the position's responsibilities up front.

  8. Think Ahead. Create or update your resume early. Share it with friends, faculty, or someone in your future profession in order to gain up-front feedback. For your job search, you will also need letters of recommendation. Many professors are inundated with requests for recommendations, so be sure to speak with your professors early. Always plan for unexpected delays and provide for extra time in your application schedule.

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