Insider’s Guide to Interning on the Hill

September 18, 2013

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So, you’ve landed an impressive new internship in congress, moved into a decent pad, and figured out the Metro. Now’s there’s only one (albeit monumentally important) thing left to do: keep from becoming an example of what not to do.  Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois once said, “Remember the feeling you had when you first saw the Capitol…hope 50 years from now you still feel the same way.” If achieving this is the ultimate goal, then following the below tips might be a good place to start.

discretion in texting#SilenceIsGolden

The first thing you will probably hear anyone in Washington say is what happens in the office stays in the office. Period. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) got his start on Capitol Hill as an intern. He emphasizes the importance of keeping all details private. “You’re going to see things and hear things and recognize names back home of people that you may know, yet you didn’t know they were going through a financial difficulty or they needed the help of a government agency or service,” Bonner said. “Remember that when you’re here in this office, you have to treat something that comes to us…with respect.” Another unnamed staffer on Capitol Hill agreed, saying “the interns who stand out as the “worst” were those who said things they shouldn’t have. Facebook and social media are great, but a lot of the over-sharing I’ve seen interns do is done over social media,” they went on. “You really have to err on the side of caution. It’s not to be talked about outside the office.” On the Hill, social listening has a whole new meaning.

intern taking initiativeTaking the Initiative

As an intern you’re probably already prepared to do what most interns do: answer endless phone calls, sort mountains of mail and guide repetitive constituent tours. And if you let it, that will be the extent of your experience. That is, unless you do what we’ve talked about before: take the initiative. Angelique Velez, a former intern for the governor of Puerto Rico, said new interns should “Overdeliver.” When someone asks you something, don’t just do it the way they ask you,” she said, “try to improve it or do something to make your work more presentable for the office itself. It could be something as simple as making a binder – you just have to find a way to make it look nicer.” Maybe don’t go as far as one presidential hopeful did with his “Binder Full of Women,” but do show you know the importance and impact of information well organized, presented and delivered. Make sure you always take that extra step to demonstrate your commitment to the goals of your team.

mentoring an internWhen the Student is Ready, The Master Will Come

So long as the student has been doing their ABNs (Always Be Networking). You networked to get your internship, right? It’s more important to continue doing it now. Especially on Capitol Hill. It just helps to have someone who can show you the ropes, give you advice and more importantly, recommend you to future employers. For example, Velez’s mentor recommended her for her current position, and most staffers often try to help the best interns find careers. In Bonner’s office, more than half of the staff members started out as interns. And if that’s not good reason to find a mentor, then what is?  It can really launch you on your career path and expand both your social and professional network. An internship in DC is a privilege only a minute percentage of young people have a chance to ever experience. Come with a curiosity, enthusiasm and above all a positive attitude. Doing so not only gives you the best chance to succeed, but provides a great education for you regardless of where your career path takes you.

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