The Politics of Political Internships

By Hillary Kawahara| October 4, 2016

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Hate to say it, but internships in government aren’t always glamorous. Working hard to make a difference in people’s lives doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be compensated generously for it or get to work on amazing projects.

But, you have to start somewhere, and this could be the beginning of a lifelong career in politics and government. Make a good impression.

Knowing how to navigate the politics of political internships can give you an edge on getting ahead, get a super recommendation for your resume and make connections you can leverage in the future. Here’s how to get and stay on the right track during your internship.

Take Initiative: Run toward the fire

Internships don’t just have to look like juggling coffee and sorting papers (although that may be a part). They can be much more, if you recognize opportunities.

“Look for ways you can help—there is always something to do.” Says previous CBS Evening News (Washington D.C.) intern, Jenna Dagenhart, in a Seventeen article.

“Always seize the moment. Run toward the fire, not away from it.”

If you want to blend into the background, you can. But most people with internships in D.C. are there because they want to help make a difference. Don’t wait for permission before volunteering to take that extra step to help out. Jump in!

What Happens in the Office Stays in the Office

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When it comes to political offices, it’s especially important to keep things in the office. Just as if a corporate company asks you to keep financial information private from the public, so should you keep personal political information from others. What exactly will you gain by spilling unsolicited information?

“Facebook and social media are great, but a lot of the over-sharing I’ve seen interns do is over social media.

…says Belle, a Hill staffer who runs the blog Capitol Hill Style. “You really have to err on the side of caution. It’s not to be talked about outside the office.”

Everything you post online is public, and can come back to haunt you later. You might rant about something today, but may change your views later on. But your earlier rant can be dug up and bite you. Here’s a post on cleaning up your social media act

Keep it Professional

First and foremost, dress professionally. Although corporate America (and most tech companies) are getting more casual, most of Washington D.C. is still buttoned-up. When it doubt, overdress. Look snappier than everyone else.

Even on casual dress days, put extra thought into what you’re wearing: no flip flops or band tees, for example. You can be casual, but still be clean and stylish.

If you are a woman, keep your skirt length longer, your necklines higher. This is not a party—it’s a workplace. If you are a man, wear a shirt that doesn’t look like it came out of a stuffed drawer, ripped up jeans or a beat up hoodie.

Just remember, many times, that 3-month internship is one long interview for a permanent position.

Would you wear a Metallica shirt and flip flops to an interview? Check out our post on how to dress professionally on a budget

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Know how to Navigate Washington


As an intern, it’s common to run a lot of errands. To avoid being late to a meeting or getting lost when time is critical, enter your destination ahead of time into a navigation app, such as Google Maps. Also, download the DC Metro and Bus app to navigate your way around town and to know if you’ll be late for work before being in the midst of an enormous traffic jam.

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Learn the Big Names

Obviously, you need to know whom you’re working for. If it’s a campaign, know the policies of the candidate as well as they do. You don’t want to look like a deer in the headlights when conversation centers around them. Also, get to know the big names in D.C. and what they are all about. Go a little further than Facebook for background information. This is a social town, and whom you know matters, or at least who you know about.

If you’re knowledgeable, you may avoid an embarrassing moment, or even better, shine during a meeting.

If you treat your internships as one long interview, chances are you’ll score that amazing job once you’re looking for a full-time position.


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