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Hill Internships 101: What You Need to Know

Courtesy Office of Rep. Jo Bonner
Jo Bonner (right) talks with then-Rep. Jack Edwards in the summer of 1981. Bonner, now a House Member from Alabama, was an intern in Edwards’ office that year.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your time on the Hill.

Take initiative and ask for advice, extra work or learning opportunities. Go to hearings and attend as many events as possible.

“I think the No. 1 thing that interns do wrong is that they come into an office and the staff assistant tells them to sort mail and answer the phones and give tours and they never reach beyond that,” Belle said. “They never try to learn what’s going on in the office, they just answer phones and give tours and assume that will be enough.” But it’s not enough, she said.

“You need to take this time to learn how to write memos and do leg research and learn what staffers do,” she said. “You need to learn. Or you’re not going to stand out when you come back looking for a reference to a job.”

Mike Smith, president of the Washington Center for Internship and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit that places students in D.C. internships, had similar advice.

“By definition, you’re not going to be writing a position paper for a Senator,” he said. “But by showing interest in whatever tasks you’re doing, that will show the folks in the office that you’re willing to do more. The more you show you can handle, the more you’ll be given. That ought to be the goal.”

Angelique Velez, a former intern for the governor of Puerto Rico, used her internship experience to land a job with the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi. Her advice for new interns isn’t too different: “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.”

No. 3: Dress Professionally

This one seems simple, but Capitol Hill has seen its fair share of intern horror stories. Some female interns come to work in short, low-cut and body-hugging mini dresses, while at least one male intern spent an entire summer with a single tie.

“I think the biggest mistake the girls make is that they assume they can put a cardigan over whatever they’re wearing and that will make it work appropriate,” Belle said. “It doesn’t work that way. If the skirt is too short, the top is too tight or the dress is too revealing, it doesn’t matter if you put a nun’s habit over it. The dress is still wrong.”

Two other pieces of advice for the ladies: Keep your undergarments covered (don’t let underwear show through skirts or bra straps peek out of tops) and buy flat shoes – your feet will thank you.

But male interns aren’t safe from the fashion faux pas, either.

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