Welcome Interns!

Jun 8, 2010

Welcome Interns! It’s so nice to have you here.  Without you I would have to answer my own phone, sort my own mail and give constituent tours.  So allow me to express my sincere gratitude for all the time that you will spend this Summer doing tedious tasks that I feel are beneath me for little to no pay.

But all kidding aside, I and every other Hill Staffer that I know was once an intern.  So allow me to offer you a bit of advice…

The clothes that you wear to work convey a lot about how you feel about your internship, for advice on this topic please read A Guide for Capitol Hill Interns.  If you’re a girl and you need some tips on what to wear to work every day, you should start with these two posts: 15 Easy Pieces and Five Pairs of Shoes Even an Intern Can Afford.  If you need more information on why how you dress matters, please see yesterday’s Roll Call article featuring advice from yours truly. 

Dressing the part will help you stand out from the crowd of interns, but the right clothes will only take you so far if you don’t have the work ethic and professional attitude to back them up.  Some believe that my initial post on intern behavior was a bit harsh, but I’m posting the link anyway

Also, as you read this blog, please remember that I am a very sarcastic person with a gallows sense of humor that vacillates between dry and parched.  Sometimes, I come off as insulting without meaning to, so try not to get too offended by some of the things that I write.

That being said, I wanted to say a few words about what it means to be an intern on Capitol Hill.

There are many young people who come to the Hill filled with a sense of awe and wonder.  The longer you work here, the harder it will be to maintain this enthusiasm.  Over time, you will come to realize that the inner workings of government are not as simple as your American Government 101 textbook (or School House Rock) made them out to be.  This realization will sour some of you and lead you away from the Hill and the job that you thought was your calling. 

If you reach the end of your time on the Hill feeling like this career path is not for you, don’t be ashamed.  And whatever you do, don’t stick around simply because you got a job offer.  Learning what you don’t want to do with your life is just as important (if not more important) than learning what you do want to do. 

This work isn’t for everyone, and there is no shame in realizing that.  Your internship will still be a valuable experience for whatever you decide to do in the future, and working for a Senator of Congressman looks great on a resume.

As for the work that you will do here, many of the tasks that you will be asked to perform will be less than exciting.

During my internship, I gave hundreds of tours and spent thousands of hours stuffing envelopes.  These tasks are not beneath you.  These tasks are an opportunity to show your bosses that you can do work correctly, quickly, and efficiently.  And when you’ve proven that you can treat the constituents on the phone with respect and send out the bulk mailers without screwing them up, someone above you will give you a memo to write or a brief to research and take the time to teach you something that really matters. 

If they don’t give you substantive work to do, you need to ask them for some. 

Yes, I know that asking for work goes against everything that you were taught in college, but showing initiative is like saying, “Hey, I’m not an idiot.  Please teach me!”  So don’t be afraid to approach the LAs or LCs and ask us for work, because all but the most egotistical jackasses will be happy to teach you—if only because it means that we can pawn work off onto you *wink*.

As for other tips, I have compiled a list of my Intern Pet Peeves, please avoid them if possible (this applies to full-time staff as well).

Hold Please. On your first day, take the time to learn the names and issue assignments of the people in your office.  Nothing is more annoying than calling another MoC’s office to speak to the energy staffer only to wait on hold for ten minutes while the intern figures out who that is. 

Short is Sweet. Brevity is important.  If a staffer gives you a task, don’t write 1,000 words when 300 will do.  Being able to sum up an issue succinctly without leaving out the important stuff is the most important thing you will learn on the Hill.

Identity. Never wear your ID unless you are in the Capitol.  I know how exciting it is when you get your ID, and that simply possessing it fills you with pride, but when I see a gaggle of ID clad interns in Tortilla Coast, I roll my eyes so hard that it hurts. 

Stop and Stair. If you are only going up or down one floor, do not wait for the elevator when you can take the stairs.  Staffers are usually in a hurry and stopping on every floor because someone is too lazy to take the stairs, makes us crazy.  This is just common sense. 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Show the cleaning crew, the superintendents, the delivery people, and the Capitol Police some respect.  It takes thousands of support staff to make Congress run with anything resembling efficiency, and their jobs are just as important as your job.  This is especially important in a place like the Hill which runs on favors and IOUs.

When I was a staff assistant, I befriended Charles in the Super’s office and I cannot tell you the number of times that this relationship has helped me out.  Be nice and respectful to everyone you meet, and you will go far in life. 

Sing Out Louise. Lastly, my biggest pet peeve are slow, low talkers.  If you want to be taken seriously, speak up!  I know that it can be intimidating to talk to your bosses, but if you speak with confidence and a professional attitude, people will treat you like an equal.  This problem is especially prevalent with female interns.  So speak up and get to the point.

That pretty much covers it.  If you are a staffer, a former intern or an employer who has something to add, feel free to comment on this post.  After all, it takes a village to mold these young minds into working professionals.

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  1. This basically goes for ALL DC interns, I think. Respect, professionalism, humility & dedication. Also, NOT escalefting!

  2. pqresident says:

    wait ’til they get to see how the sausage is made. sometimes it’s a real letdown in this company town. better than anything else I’ve seen or read about in other countries though!

  3. This basically goes for ALL DC interns, I think. Respect, professionalism, humility & dedication. Also, NOT escalefting!

  4. pqresident says:

    wait ’til they get to see how the sausage is made. sometimes it’s a real letdown in this company town. better than anything else I’ve seen or read about in other countries though!

  5. Kristina says:

    Thank you for this post!! I am going to be a press intern this summer for a senator. The world of DC and the Hill are new to me. Thank you!

    ps. Just a note, the links don’t work. 🙂

  6. This basically goes for ALL DC interns, I think. Respect, professionalism, humility & dedication. Also, NOT escalefting!

  7. can we get this printed and distributed to every office in case there were some interns that missed your sage advice??? LOL

  8. Thank you!! As with every new intern cycle, this advice is badly needed and, unfortunately, rarely taken. I would also add on the list of pet peeves is be courteous to other government workers and do not assume the power of your boss! When I worked at an agency leg office, nothing was more annoying than being nice and patient and helpful to a snotty demanding staffer talking down to you only to find out at the end of the call that s/he is an intern.

    Also, I have no interest in seeing your underwear. Cover it up.

  9. Belle says:

    Barbie-

    These are the lessons that I hope you pass on to your own child. 😉

  10. Stefanie says:

    Great advice Belle! I agree that it needs to be printed and handed out to every intern in this city. Taking pride in your appearance now will definitely open doors for you in your career. As far as advice goes, interns should never be afraid to ask questions if they don’t understand an assignment. I’d rather you ask and get the assignment right than assume on your own and get it wrong.

  11. Ann says:

    This is great advice for all people entering the workforce, no matter what the field. (I would add, it’s not a bad reminder to those on all levels. Truly words to live by!)

  12. pqresident says:

    wait ’til they get to see how the sausage is made. sometimes it’s a real letdown in this company town. better than anything else I’ve seen or read about in other countries though!

  13. Jocelyn says:

    Belle,
    I cannot tell you how much your intern posts helped me before during and after my Congressional internship. And how often I’ve recommended the posts to fellow college students heading to any internship, not only ones on the Hill.

    So I’ll just take the opportunity to thank you for your public service on behalf of all post- and to-be interns. Thank You!

  14. Shaun Baird says:

    There is some good advice in here, and the kind of stuff that makes you stop, and think about life… thanks for sharing.. I realzie its a been a while but the post is still relevenat in my mind

  15. anony mouse says:

    thanks for posting these. i’ve been a longtime reader and am in the process of applying to these jobs and have no idea what to wear/how to act/really anything about these jobs. your blog is such a great resource!

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