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.
“The staffers on the Hill tend to get very casual on recess days, and while its okay to wear a polo with your dress pants or topsiders if that’s what you prefer, its completely inappropriate for the interns to show up in sandals,” Belle said. “Being an intern is like a three-month job interview. If you’re going to show up in sandals, no matter what your boss is wearing, you’re not making a good impression.”
No. 4: Be Professional
Punctuality and respectfulness are the bare minimum for any internship, but you can go above and beyond with a few of these tips.
Be early. “If the intern is there five minutes before paid staff, that definitely makes an impression,” Belle said.
Avoid office politics. “Who’s being mean, who said something someone else didn’t like – it’s all a time waster,” Smith said. “Interns who are really trying to accomplish something shouldn’t waste their time on that. Steer clear.”
Introduce yourself to everyone. It makes it easier to ask questions or show interest.
“Interns have a tendency to stay at their desks and stay under the radar and that’s not the best thing for educating them for a career on the Hill,” Belle said.
Write thank-you notes. The best intern Belle ever supervised wrote the staff members lengthy, individual thank you notes, thanking each for what they’d taught her.
No. 5: Don’t Have Too Much Fun
It’s easy to fall into the Capitol Hill lifestyle, socializing and drinking several nights a week. It feels just like college, only with more important people around. But while it’s okay to show up to your Friday morning classes with messy hair or a hangover, it’s not all that appropriate for the Hill.
“Getting on an elevator on a Friday during the summer, you can smell the beer and the body odor from the interns. They just reek of booze,” Belle said. “You cannot just wander in after a night of drinking. You have to shower, you have to wear deodorant and you have to wash your hair. These are just basics. This is an office in the United States Capitol, not a frat house.”
That said, if you’re legal to drink, feel free to join your coworkers after hours for some networking – it’s why you came to D.C., after all.
“That’s how you get to know us, that’s how we get to know you,” Belle said.
No. 6: Find a Mentor
All the networking that helped you land your internship? Keep it up.
It helps to have someone on your side who can show you the ropes, give you advice and recommend you to future careers. Velez’s mentor recommended her for her current position, and Belle notes how often she tries to help the best interns find careers. In Bonner’s office, more than half of the staff members started out as interns, so finding a mentor can be a real career booster.
You need “someone who’s willing not only to take an interest in you and your career aspirations but who is willing to dedicate a little time to giving advice and who’s willing to take you out to do informational interviews,” Smith said.