First off, congratulations! Landing an internship is a big deal — whether you’re here because you applied through a rigorous selection process with essays and interviews, or because your donor father, while teeing up his ball on the ninth hole, casually mentioned to your home-state senator that you’d like to “try out” D.C.
Everyone says the Hill is busy, busy, busy, but here’s the dirty little secret: Most days are filled with LOTS of mind-numbing drudgery and boredom. There are only so many angry phone calls you can take. There are only so many four-page constituent letters ending with 10 exclamation points you can respond to. Eventually, you need a mental break. Chances are you’re reading this because you’re taking one now (or you’re bored).
Here’s a true story: At one point as an intern, I was using so much bandwidth from streaming videos online that I got reprimanded by the office IT guy. Which I thought was kind of him, considering it was absolutely none of his business what I did so long as I wasn’t emailing my password to Nigerian princes.
But this is why you need to learn discretion, the art of making it look like you’re doing work when you actually aren’t. I have a few suggestions.
Find a favorite infotainment show that you can pass off as work-related. My go-to was Charlie Rose videos … before we learned he was, um, problematic. The man has interviewed everyone under the sun, so I could check out conversations with Henry Kissinger or Colin Powell (for “research”) but also slip in one with Jay-Z. If that’s not your speed, try a John Oliver-type news-comedy show where some person/issue gets DESTROYED during a 15-minute monologue. There are tons of these now, because most TV show comedians think they’re journalists.
If you’re out filling a flag request (or any task that requires you to leave the office), take the scenic route. The Capitol Hill campus is large and complex. At some point, you will get lost. But if you take some free time to roam around, you’ll get the lay of the land faster than your peers. It could even impress your bosses when you’re traveling through the Capitol tunnels and don’t immediately start heaving into a paper bag because you don’t think you’ll ever see daylight again.
A trip to a snack shop is a great way to break up the day’s monotony and is also very tasty. There’s no work pretext for it. Just go. I would get daily doses of Sour Patch Kids, frozen yogurt, popcorn or trail mix. I would say, don’t make it a daily habit, but when you’re an intern, you have the metabolism of a hummingbird, so who cares?
When it comes to daily assignments, interns are essentially at the mercy of their office. For some offices, it’s really important that interns get the most from their experience and leave with valuable skills and contacts that give them a leg up should they pursue a career in politics. Others just tolerate them. They hope interns simply stay out of the way and do no harm. If you’re in the later cohort, this could leave you with gaping holes in your schedule. I hope these tips help fill them.