The 13 Unwritten Rules of Interning
Let us be the first to congratulate you and welcome you to Washington DC. It’s an exciting place where many of the world’s decisions are made. Something is always happening for all kinds. Whether you’re here for a short time or in for the “long haul” and trying to find a job after college, here’s a great resource to help you be successful.
#1 – Hide the Badge
Please, for the love of god, hide your badge. you don’t need to be advertising where you work. It does not contain magical powers. It doesn’t allow you to cut the line at a bakery, or use it as a metro card. You WILL be laughed at, and/or land a spot on DC Intern Blog. Be humble, but avoid the humblebrag. Wear it when you need to, mainly when you enter in the morning, or are on a tour. Not 7:00pm at Cap Lounge. Nobody there cares.
#2 – You’re not running for congress
There are enough politicians in this town. Your role, just like that of the staff, is to get the behind the scenes business of governing gets done – this means helping whomever you answer to get their jobs done easier, faster, and smarter. (See our Video S#!T Hill Staff Say).
#3 – The job place is not a night club
Many times interns have been sent home because of what they’re wearing. Dressing like you’re going to the club when you come to work is a no-no. Dress professionally. Tell mom to send you money, and visit one of the many clothing stores nearby – Not Gap.
#4 – Don’t lie if you don’t know
Don’t pretend to know every nuance of an issue, or (especially for hill folks) that you know the Member’s position. Don’t tell people at the bar that you “handle” issues. The hill is a very small place, especially for those who actually do legislative work for that policy.
The only issues interns handle are tours and (sometimes) flags, that is, if the staff assistant is smart enough to delegate that task to you. You are an intern, a temporary cog in the big government machine. This isn’t to say you aren’t a big help or important to the office — odds are, you are. If interns were more trouble than they were worth, there would be no interns. You do contribute — but be honest about how you contribute. And certainly don’t be that intern who lands in the paper!
Our fair warning: when giving a capitol tour, know your material. The Red Coats, the official visitor tour guides, will call you out! So will staffers and sometimes Members. That is embarrassing to you and your boss. There is nothing wrong with saying you don’t know.
#5 – Be a Yes Man (or Woman)
Best tip: Be involved. Join the office softball team, attend receptions, join like minded individuals in groups such as Young Professionals for Foreign Policy or your own State society. But our #5 Rule is to say yes to opportunities. Don’t say no to seemingly mundane tasks. Staff does them all the time when you’re not around. Think having a bachelor’s in international affairs qualifies you to lick envelopes? No, having a tongue does. Hours of prep time to write a letter isn’t worth anything at all if it doesn’t get in the mail and in the hands of the constituent. So, help the office be productive. More often a good internship develops into a job offer if they show a good work ethic. Want to know the secret shortcut, check out FamousDC’s flow chart.
#6 – Learn your surroundings
There are 4 buildings in the House, and 3 in the Senate – learn them. memorize them. Hell, get lost and find your way back. Learning how to get around will benefit you greatly. Be it the 7th floor of CNN, the marble hall ways of capitol hill, or even the non-profit you tell everyone you work for, learn your way around wherever you are.
#7 – Keep it to yourself
Social media has become important role in everyone’s life. We all use facebook, twitter and other resources like tumblr. Writing down what you did last night or what you think about your boss will be exposed to everyone. Hell, ask X-Congressman Anthony Weiner. Keep your shenanigans and comments off the internet tubes.
#8 – The Name Game
One of the best ways to make a favorable first impression — and to get ahead socially or in business — is to remember people’s names. Make a conscious effort to remember, and collect business cards. If you don’t have your own, make them at VistaPrint. Nobody’s going to hold it against you. It’s better to be remembered than forgotten.
#9 – Have fun, but not too much fun
We encourage interns to have a fruitful and enjoyable experience. But let’s not forget this is Washington DC, and it’s a professional environment. There are many events, or receptions to attend. Attend a few, meet friends and network. But don’t be the intern who shows up late to work hung over every day.
Don’t blow it trying to show Jenny you can out drink the Legislative Director. Let’s face it — you can’t. We’ve been here longer and surviving before you showed up. DC consumes more alcohol per capita than any other part of the country, fact! So lets earn you that letter of recommendation and a gold star.
#10 – Try not to walk and text
Put it away when you’re walking. You’ll still get the message when you arrived at your destination. Walking and texting should be illegal. You’re not focusing (best example: bear video), and causing problems around you. You need to be looking, you might get run over by a DC bus.
#11– Overzealous Stalking
Try to refrain from stalking members of congress. Don’t wait for them near their office or wait for them at the bottom of the escalator. They tend to come in the back door anyways. May we suggest if you’re gung-ho about meeting the “dream” member, have your intern coordinator reach out to their coordinator or drop by and ask if the member has time for a photo op. It doesn’t hurt.
#12 – Thank you cards
Thank You Notes can be the final make-or-break point in whether or not you receive a job offer. They can be a huge benefit to help you stand out. Someone did something nice for you, write them a thank you card. We even dedicated a post of the importance of this subject. Seriously. Take it from me as an ex hill staffer, a few moments of your time to send a personal response will be worth it.
#13 – Wrap It Up
Yeah, we said it. Not so long ago DC was known as the murder capital of the world, now it’s taken the ranks of STD. Nasty! Don’t give the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe attend Sen. Tom Coburn‘s STD lecture?
These were made up from years of experience from our contributors. Now get out there and make a difference!