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The Intern Rerun

Hill Navigator has long lauded the benefits of internships. But even the best of internships have their limits. How do you know when you've reached the end of the intern trail? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. I'm a college senior who will be graduating in May. I have interned in two congressional offices and my ultimate goal is to be back on the Hill. I have a couple of questions. Firstly, when is it appropriate to start applying to staff assistant positions such as those listed on job banks? Secondly, I know that both of the office[s] I have interned for would consider me if they had a staff assistant opening, but that doesn't seem likely at the moment. I know there are many ways to get to a job on the Hill, but do you think I should cut to the chase and intern again in an office in hopes of it turning into a paid position? If so, is it best to wait until the fall?
A. Hill Navigator has written on this countless times before : Interning on Capitol Hill  is one of the best ways to find a paid position. But you already knew this, which explains why you've interned twice already, putting yourself in a very good position to be hired. You have Hill experience and you have some foresight to start applying soon.  

But Capitol Hill will not fit neatly into many timelines, and even the strongest powers of prognostication cannot tell you how long until you find a paid position. What Hill Navigator can tell you is how to maximize your opportunities to do so.  

Stay in Touch : Those offices that you interned for are your best resource for additional informational interviews, recommendations for offices to contact and potential future employment. They should know that you are looking and it’s your job to keep them informed of your progress. If you are applying somewhere, let them know. If you are looking for an introduction to a particular office (perhaps your home state senator or member from a nearby district), then see if they can help arrange. Be gracious, be patient and follow up with a "thank you" each time they help you. Staff members are less likely to turn away an applicant that has been recommended to them by another office. You might not get the job, but you’re more likely to land an interview.  

Evaluate Your Prospects : What does a third internship get you? Are you angling to work on a particular committee or in a particular chamber but lack the requisite experience? If so, a third internship homing in on your interests could help. But if you’re just adding another office experience that is largely indistinguishable from the previous two, you may be better off finding temporary paid work while focusing on your Hill search.  

Seek Selective Guidance : Hill Navigator thinks you’re great, though we haven’t actually met so I can’t give you the personal assessment you need on how long your job search might take. Seek out one or two trusted individuals for their input; they may have insight on how long you'll be waiting for a job. Perhaps you’re from a region that is likely to be hiring someone local, or people are getting ready to depart for midterm election campaign trails. Or, perhaps you’re angling for a position that could take months (or a blue moon) to become available. Not all resumes and job opportunities are created equal, and someone who is closer to you and the process can give you a more realistic assessment of how long your wait might be.  

Good luck!