As of today, I have been interning on Capitol Hill for approximately a month and a half. It has been a truly remarkable experience that has helped me think critically about defining my goals for the future. But beyond that, it has served as a period of self-reflection, as well as personal and professional growth. Working in the office of Congressman Henry C. “Hank” Johnson has been a valuable opportunity for me as a constituent and aspiring public servant in the district. The staffers in his office are incredibly kind, and some of the hardest working people on The Hill. Working with them has opened my eyes to what is possible for a career in government, and has allowed me to get my bearings in a supportive environment. After working here for six weeks, I want to share some words of advice to others looking to intern on The Hill:
- When you enter the doors of your respective office building, you are going to want to ask a million questions and dive right in. You’ll likely want to ask every member of the staff if you can help them with a project, and may become discouraged when it seems that you aren’t making the impression you want to. Quite bluntly…CALM DOWN. This is a learning experience. Give yourself time to learn the office culture and to understand where you are needed.
- You may have heard this before, but I will say it again: complete every assignment with enthusiasm. Whether you are researching, sorting through mail, or speaking to a constituent who is using some…colorful language, remember that you are a viable member of the team. Interns do the important groundwork that keeps the Capitol running. Without you, the process would run a lot less quickly and efficiently.
- Make the most of your time here. When you get acclimated to the environment, study which staffers handle the issues you are most passionate about. Ask if you can assist them with research, tag along to a meeting, or attend a briefing on their behalf. Most of the time, they’ll want your help.
- Coffee, coffee, coffee! Is there someone you have always wanted to talk to? Is there an office on The Hill that you really want to learn more about? Is there a job that you would just like to understand better? There is no harm whatsoever in sending out a cold email and asking someone to coffee. Maybe don’t email the member of Congress themselves… but their Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Legislative Assistant, or Staff Assistant will be able to give you such valuable advice and insight. Each of them work incredibly hard to help the Member stay on top of current issues and pass legislation.
- Pro tip… know how to make coffee. I did not.
- You should not be going straight home most days. There are so many things to do in and around D.C., most of which are free! I’m not just talking about museums, either. There are constantly networking sessions, classes, meet and greets, receptions, and (most importantly for the starving college student/recent grad) free food. Step out of your comfort zone, grab a buddy, and explore!
- Please do not be afraid to make mistakes. None of us walk into the Capitol knowing the protocol, how to interact with higher ups, or any of the hundreds (!) of acronyms. There will be moments where you feel awkward; embrace the growing pains. You are not the first intern to make a mistake, and you will not be the last.
- Quite possibly the most important piece of advice I can give: come in with a purpose. Do not take a Capitol Hill internship without knowing what experience you want to gain. Whether you actually want to pursue a career in government or not, you can gain valuable skills and connections. This is not just a space filler or something to put on your resume. This is a moment wherein you can grow as a writer, build networking skills, learn what kind of work you are passionate about, and spread your wings in a new city.
I hope you find something that speaks to you in this advice. I firmly believe that we as young people have the power to change the world. But we can only do so if we have a chance to learn about what we are trying to change. A Hill internship is a good place to start. Set your goals, don’t be afraid of mistakes, and be willing to explore!
My next post will be about how to afford a D.C. internship.