Heard on the Hill

From intern to ‘win’-tern: How to finish your Capitol Hill internship on top

Don’t sweat the small stuff while you’re sweating in the D.C. heat

This intern for Rep. Gregg Harper got stuck with sign-in duty in 2018. Approach every day like it’s your last one on the Hill, even if the tasks are menial, former interns say. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congratulations! You are minutes away from finishing your summer internship on Capitol Hill. Not only have you woken up at ungodly hours after too many margs at Tortilla Coast, but you’ve managed to beat everyone to the office by 30 minutes. You’ve mastered the fastest route between the House and Senate office buildings, and you’ve crushed coffee orders like the barista you could’ve been if it weren’t for this internship.

So, what’s next, you ask? You mean... you don’t have it figured out?

If you’re anything like most college kids, you’re likely coasting through summer because you have “plenty” of time before you make any decisions that include a 401(k) and rent that your parents don’t pay. Here’s the ugly truth: as gross as it is to scheme and strategize, it’s not too early to plan for what’s next. Whether you’re eyeing a full-time post on the Hill, or one hundreds of miles away from the epicenter of American politics, there are a few things to keep in mind before you make the jump from coasting to full-on adulting.

Stay out of the way

Seems counterproductive, but hear us out. Amos Snead, who co-authored “Climbing The Hill” along with South Carolina Senate hopeful Jaime Harrison, started his political ventures as a summer intern in Sen. Richard Shelby’s office. Snead’s point is that interns should “look, listen and learn” — which in turn will open doors.

There are stupid questions

If — and only if — you’re going to be in the way, make sure it’s because you’re asking the right questions. “Well, what are the right questions, Kathryn?” See, you’re already learning.Tom Manatos, founder of online jobs board TomManatosJobs.com, was an intern for Nancy Pelosi back in 2002 when she was the House minority whip. Interns “should ask other Hill staff how they got their job,” he told me. They should also ask for advice, but not before proving their value around the office. For Manatos, the reason is twofold: “It’s learning from those people as much as you can … and getting them invested in your future.”Amos suggests asking, “Is there someone I can buy a cup of coffee?” He adds, “Once you ask questions like that, you signal that you’re interested in doing more than just showing up.”

Make the first move

That’s right, the age-old advice isn’t just for dating. But isn’t searching for a job basically like searching for a soulmate anyway?Cam Smith just wrapped up a legislative internship at Sen. Pat Roberts’ office. Her next stop is a media affairs internship at the Department of Justice. “The amount of awful dad jokes I cracked to introduce myself to someone at a briefing is shocking,” she says. The jokes helped her break the ice and make lasting connections.

Vacuum the floor

Manatos says he landed a full-time spot on Pelosi’s team as a staff assistant because he stocked the fridge and vacuumed the floor “with more enthusiasm than any other intern.” “The interns that succeeded were the ones that [thought] no task was too small,” he adds.The takeaway: Menial matters.

Put your last semester first

If you’re not quite ready to leave the Hill, a Republican Senate staffer familiar with her office’s program highly recommends scheduling your time in Washington, D.C., to coincide with your last semester in school — that way you can make the most of your internship by applying and interviewing for jobs, while meeting potential employers in person.“You can learn a lot from a phone call, but I think you can learn more from face-to-face interaction,” she says.

Get to work and pay it forward

Just because your internship is done doesn’t mean your job is.“No one is going to come knock on the door and give you a job. You have to go find it,” says Snead. “Handwritten notes have not gone out of style!” he adds. “Send a thank you to everyone who helped you: members of Congress, chiefs of staff, intern coordinators, etc.” Manatos is a big believer that former interns and staffers, well aware of their own humble beginnings, are willing to help an eager intern in need. “Everyone has been an intern trying to get a job in this town. ... There’s very much a ‘pay it forward’ mentality.”

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