Right about now, DC is being hit with a massive storm of interns. Ambitious college students and graduates are packing up and heading to the nation’s capitol to make the world a better place.
We all had to start somewhere, and for most that means starting as an intern.
Being an intern isn’t as glamorous as you might think. You won’t be writing legislation on your first day, you won’t be rubbing shoulders with Washington’s elite, and you won’t be rolling in money and influence. But if you keep a positive attitude, follow the below advice, and make the most of your internship, you’ll have the time of your life and will build relationships that will last a lifetime.
Look, I get it. Most of you probably didn’t graduate magna cum laude to be answering phones -- or in my case, getting to the office at 6:30am to print food labels so members could have a printed card to tell the difference between “scrambled eggs” and “fruit salad.”
But in order to succeed on the Hill, you have to approach every task -- regardless of how mundane with everything you’ve got.
No task is too small, and nothing is below you.
As an intern, you are at the bottom of the totem pole, but you're also a part of the team. Do the little things well, and staff will trust you with more: writing press releases, constituent letters, and legislative research.
They say DC is all about who you know, and they were absolutely right. DC, especially Capitol Hill, is run on relationships.
As an intern, you have the opportunity to go receptions and events just about every night. These events aren’t just great for the free food (read: now you don’t need to buy dinner), they’re also a great way to make new friends with other interns, and meet staff from other offices.
But don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to only talk with senior staff. It makes sense that if you want to get hired, connecting with those in positions of power is the best path forward. But connecting with support staff and your fellow interns are just as important. I went from intern in one office to a paid position in another office thanks to an IT person who worked both offices and pushed my resume along.
Your fellow interns are also important to network with. While they might not be able to hire you now, being in the trenches with your fellow interns and fostering those relationships will go a long way as you grow in your career. Six years later, my intern counterpart, and I still bond over our early mornings and how we’re so glad we don’t have to answer phone calls from angry constituents ever again.
Leverage Every Opportunity:
As a woman of color, you might be surprised -- or not -- that Capitol Hill interns are primarily white, and primarily upper-middle class. After all, the ability to work full-time for free while your student loans stack up and rent is due, is a massive privilege that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But with that said, there are a number of staff associations and opportunities that you should 1000% leverage to find a community while interning:
Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association
Congressional Hispanic Staff Association
Congressional Black Associates
Women’s Congressional Staff Association
Senate Diversity Initiative
Yes, it is hot in DC. Yes, it is humid. But under no circumstances should you ever even remotely consider wearing anything that could get you labeled as a “skin-tern.”
As women, we still fight a number of double standards (like how we dress) that men don’t -- just the worst. But that means we still need to dress professionally.
Don’t Give Up:
Finally, if your objective is to find a job on the Hill, you have to approach it from a “failure is not an option” perspective.
When I moved to DC, I knew one person in the entire city and didn’t have any means to pay rent, utilities, or groceries. At one point, I was juggling a full-time internship while spending nights and weekends fitting people for running shoes, serving beer at a sports bar, and working events for Powerbar.
For my first nine-months in DC, I grinded away seven-days a week until I secured a staff assistant position in a leadership office (where I spent the next year still answering phones).
Meanwhile, the number of friends I made who threw in the towel and moved back home to try again in their home state are countless.
At the end of the day, you have to want it more than the person sitting next to you in the Longworth cafe -- excuses will always be there for you, but opportunity won’t.
Cheryl Hori is the Founder & Chief Strategist at Pacific Campaign House and a contributor to The BGG.
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