An internship is a great way to complement your graduate studies with real-world experience. You can learn about public service in your master of public administration program, but there's nothing quite like seeing a problem in real time and solving it.
More than likely, you will run headlong into bureaucratic inertia, turf wars and negative attitudes. But take heart because everyone else who tries to get things done runs into these problems. The sooner you face them, the sooner you will find ways of effectively dealing with them.
An internship is more than filler on your resume. It is your chance to get meaningful experience that will give you an advantage over other job applicants. And if you do well, you might just find your first real job!
Here are 5 ways to make your public service internship a success:
1. Choose Your Landing Spot Wisely
Your internship should be highly related to where you want to end up after graduation. If you want to be a fire chief, find an intership in a fire department. If you want to be an budget manager, pursue an internship in a city finance department or state budget office.
You want your internship manager to be someone you can learn from. Make sure this person has time to train you and answer your questions. To get the nuts-and-bolts experience you need, you may find it easier to work for a mid- to high-level manager instead of an executive. For example, an assistant city manager will likely have more time to devote to an intern than a city manager.
2. Take on a Challenge
You want your internship to be a challenge. You should tackle the largest problems you can given the short time you'll be interning. Your manager won't expect you to change the world in your semester-long intership, but people will be impressed if you can solve or mitigate a problem while you're there.
If all you do is get coffee for people, you'll have nothing to talk about in a job interview. Hiring managers look to your past to gauge what you'll do in the future. An internship experience should give you things to talk about when an interviewer asks you to give an example of something you did.
3. Ask Questions
Your internship is a learning experience. Be inquisitive. Be a sponge. Don't limit your questions to just your manager. Ask questions of anyone and everyone. Until someone is overtly indicating they're sick of your questions, keep asking.
If your question asks for an opinion, ask it of more than one person. You don't want to be stuck with only the office malcontent's perspective.
4. Be Humble
Asking questions will go a long way in showing you're humble as long as you take the answers respectfully. No matter how menial the task, do it cheerfully and to the best of your ability. If the task is not what you expected to do in your internship, bring it up with your manager. You don't have to say the task is beneath you to get the message across that you can complete higher level tasks.
5. Document What You Do
Unless you are prohibited by confidentiality reasons, keep copies of the work you do. They will be handy when you're putting together your resume, filling out job application forms and studying for job interviews. There's a big difference in saying that you can do something versus saying that you have done something.