14 Rules Every Intern Should Know

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. 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. If you enjoyed the article, feel free to share and tweet!

Rule #1 – Hide the Badge

Kenneth the page (30 Rock).

For the love of all things holy, hide your badge! You don’t need to be advertising where you work. Your badge does not contain magical powers — so only wear it when you need to. At work. And make sure you tuck it away when you’re at the happy hour.

Rule #2 – Work is Not a Night Club

Rules Every Intern Should Know

Many times, interns are sent home because of what they’re wearing. Dressing like you’re going to the nightclub in the morning is a no-no. Would you wear that outfit to church? Didn’t think so… leave it for Saturday night in Adams Morgan. Tell mom to send you money, and visit one of the many clothing stores nearby.

Rule #3 – Be a Yes Man (or Woman)

The best tip for interns is: get involved. Join the office softball team, attend receptions, or join like-minded groups such as Ladies DC or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Maybe even look at joining your state’s society (each state has one). Also don’t say NO to mundane tasks. You weren’t provided the opportunity to learn to be able to say “no.” Staff have to do these tasks with or without you. Think having a bachelor’s in international affairs qualifies you to lick envelopes. No, but having a tongue does.

Rule #4 – Keep it to Yourself

Social media is important and certainly used in everyday life. Using facebook, twitter or other resources like tumblr will help you build your online presence, but it can hurt you in the real world. Friendly reminder — what you put online will be exposed to everyone. So ask yourself if it would be a good idea to put online. Keep your shenanigans and comments off the internet tubes. Especially pictures.

Yeah not a good idea.

Rule #5 – Have Fun, but Not Too Much Fun

You are in the most powerful city in the free world, live it up. But don’t forget it’s also a professional environment. Meet new friends and network, but don’t be the intern who shows up late or hungover. Don’t blow it by showing Jenny you can out drink the Legislative Director. Let’s face it — you can’t. He’s been here longer and knows the game. DC consumes more alcohol per capita than any other part of the country, fact! So let’s earn you that letter of recommendation and a shiny gold star.

Be this guy

Not this guy

Rule #6 – First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions

Do be the person who smiles, says hello, and introduces him/herself to everybody. Don’t be the person who detonates his/her lunch in the microwave and doesn’t clean it up. Most times, you make your reputation on first impressions, especially if you’re only at the internship for a short time. So make sure that everyone’s associations with you are positive. It makes a big difference if you leave a general impression across the office that you are a good person to work with. See Rule #7.

Rule #7 – Work Hard


Your main objective should be to make yourself invaluable or at least make your co-workers’ work lives a little better. You might be overqualified for most things you do, but do it like your job depends on it. Once you’ve proven yourself worthy on the crap tasks, offer to do some other things that your co-workers might not want to do or have time for like cover a hearing, write a letter or research a bill. They’ll be grateful and you will endear yourself to them. Many times the invaluable intern gets offered a job.


Rule #8 – Learn Your Surroundings


Many people will ask you where XYZ is. Learn your surroundings. Memorize them. Hell, get lost and find your way back. Learning how to navigate will benefit you greatly. Be it the 7th floor of CNN, or the marble hallways of capitol hill. Learn your way. You never know when your boss asks you to drive him to an event.

Rule #9 – Network, Network, Network


One of the best ways to make it in DC, and to get ahead socially or in business, is to network. Many times people land jobs because of who they know. Make a conscious effort to remember names and collect business cards. If you don’t have your own, make them at VistaPrint (cheap!). Nobody’s going to hold it against you. There are so many opportunities to network in Washington. Check our calendar, Gregslist, or even Washington Post’s going out guide.

Rule #10 – Don’t Lie if You Don’t Know

Don’t pretend you know something. There is no shame in telling someone you’re an intern, and that you don’t know. This town has enough liars. And don’t be that intern who lands in the paper!

Rule #11 – Always Give Yourself an Extra 15 Minutes


Government buildings are important places. Thus, they’re targets. That’s why you can expect metal detectors and have your bag x-rayed every time you come into work. Factor this extra time into your morning routine, or you risk being 10-15 minutes late (especially if you wear a large watch that sets the metal detectors off every time). Word to the wise: make friends with the security guards. Maybe even bring them candy. You never know when you’ll need their help to get through quickly on a Friday morning after a particularly fun Thursday night.

Rule #12 – Have Multiple Streams of Income — Bar tending Anyone?

Let’s face it: you’re not doing this internship for the money. If you want to enjoy the expensive DC lifestyle while you’re here, try picking up any odd jobs you can for a little extra income. Work at a farmer’s market on Saturday morning, do freelance research on the side, or pick up a bar tending gig once a week. Not only will this help you earn a little spare cash, but DC is a small city and any side job presents a networking opportunity. Your fellow bartenders? More likely than not, they were part of the failed presidential candidates cabinet.

Rule #13 – Walk on Left, Stand on Right

This should be a law, or at least something that justifies a good-old fashioned Washington beat down. This town has a lot of escalators. In Washington, we stand on the right and walk on the left. If you see anyone breaking this rule, kindly inform them by yelling “EXCUSE ME”.

Rule #14 – Wrap It Up

Senator Coburn’s STD lecture.

Yes we said it. D.C. was once known as the murder capitol of the world, now it’s taken the ranks for most STD cases per capita. Nasty! Don’t get the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe attend Sen. Tom Coburn‘s STD lecture?

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