An Answer to Your DC Internship SOS

Recalling my hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties over last year’s applications to intern in Washington, D.C., I felt that I could try to help you understand, to the best of my ability, what the process will be like. For starters – I interned, part-time, at two places on Capitol Hill. Three days a week I worked as the Communications intern for Concerned Women for America (CWA),  the nation’s women’s largest public policy organization. Two days a week I worked as one of the last Congressional interns for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) before she retired. I worked at both places for 7 weeks and then finished my last 3 weeks working full-time at CWA. Long-story-short, I felt my gifts and talents were being used in a way most interns never got to experience. I was given great responsibility there and took my position very seriously, hoping to learn as much as possible.

I was just 18 years old at the time of my application being sent to Washington and was in my freshman year in college.

How did I land two killer Conservative jobs in D.C. being so young and inexperienced? Let me fill you in…

Short and Sweet Version: All I hear 24/7 is that to work in D.C. you have to know someone there or have a parent make a call for you. Sure, there are many interns that have their parents land them a job on the Hill, and some have great contacts, but that wasn’t the case for me. My parents aren’t politically inclined to the point of landing me a dream job on the Hill. So there you go, myth debunked… I searched online, found the applications, filled them out, and then asked people to be references. It’s not rocket science! I applied to 15 and got offered 4. I ended up interning with my top two choices! If you really want to make a difference in D.C.— apply! There’s no harm in applying and most of the time your school will help you in any way they can. YOU have to take charge… You’re an adult now (well you should be 18 before you apply, ha). You have to show that you are mature and are ready to face the real world. There are thousands of jobs and internships open to college kids. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending in the application. I’m not lucky… I worked very hard to get where I am and am blessed that the doors opened. I know that if you want it that bad, you’ll get it, and maybe not on the first try… don’t give up.

I can’t possibly explain the challenges or prepare you for D.C. because it’s real life experience and every intern has a different story. No amount of training will prepare you to work in Washington, but if you love it, you’ll work hard and even the tough work will be fun in the end.

Tip Central Before Applying:

1) The Application: I searched for applications that were open to any regular college student who was seeking an internship in D.C. for the summer (some applications have requirements of age, year in school, residency, etc). Be careful when applying for a dream job, it could end up being out of your reach. The normal application takes about 2-3 hours of focused work, or several days if you want to perfect it. Some may require essays or recommendations as well, be careful in choosing what topic to write on or who to pick as a reference. Lastly, the application is supposed to make you shine, but also be realistic. You can market yourself all day long on a piece of paper, but be sure you can follow through with the work once you arrive in D.C. living that city lifestyle.

2) The Interview: The interview is very important (FYI you may have more than one). I had one interview for CWA, but for the Congressional position I had two. The person in charge can vary in rank. Some have the job to specifically hire for the office, others do it on the side. Don’t expect to speak over the phone with someone extremely high up, like a CEO or Representative. Prepare questions you have for the interviewer, and ask them at the end to show your interest.

3) Picking and Choosing: Once you’ve landed a couple of offers, compare and contrast them all. Find the pros and cons of each offer and ask yourself how each one would help you get a job at the end of your studies. Sometimes this is very hard because you want to walk through all the doors, but ultimately you can only choose one. Be careful that you are also choosing one that you will enjoy – if you have to spend all summer or semester interning there, you want to enjoy most of it.

4) Getting Ready for D.C.: The normal office and dress for interns anyways, is usually business casual. Ask the office or your intern coordinator, if there is a certain criteria that needs to be met with your daily dress code. Guys should buy 2 nice suits, but then a couple pairs of khakis and polos (possibly a sport coat). Ladies need to be prepared for anything; skirts (to the knee, or else you’ll be named a skintern), conservative shirts, heels (but flats to run from place to place in), a classy tote bag to carry all your work and necessities, dress pants or one suit, dresses will be needed for events and dinner receptions…I could go on forever just about the dress codes.

5) Food and Transportation: Sometimes co-workers will go out to eat with each other, but it is not an everyday thing. There are restaurants galore in D.C., but you should honestly try to pack your lunch most days. I always ate out more on the weekends than on the weekdays. Your best bet is to find as many events on the Hill as possible. What do I mean events? Various groups or members of Congress will host many youth for receptions at lunch or dinner, any day, and you can take advantage of the networking and FREE food. I think after one month of working in the city I finally ate both lunch and dinner for free 4 out of 7 days a week. That saved a lot of money that I could use for baseball games, shopping, traveling, etc! Transportation was VERY easy in D.C.. I used the metro every single day to get around, but also hailed many taxis, or requested ‘Ubers’ when in doubt.

6) Be yourself: You are moving to D.C. and trying to eventually work there or at least have contacts there. Whatever you do, always remember that you are watched 24/7. You represent yourself and the office you work in. You never know what your employer could find out (because, oh yeah, they have social lives too) or what a future employer could see. Be friendly and attend many events that BIG name speakers will be at; introduce yourself and get one step closer to your dream job.

7) It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World: If you haven’t ever had something taken from you yet, you probably will in D.C.. No, I don’t mean you’re going to be mugged… FYI you are not the only intern 99.99% of the time. There are others (thousands all over the city) vying to be the best they can be in hopes of snatching your contacts, position and chances at a job. Certain interns will be picked to help with various things and you want to be the first one to get it – so – always ask what you can help with, even when you want to just go grab some coffee and sit on Facebook… because trust me, someone is always watching. They remember how you spent your time and who you helped in the office when you didn’t need to. I still keep in daily contact with some people in D.C. that I worked with, and others more on a monthly basis. I remember working so hard I’d fall asleep, exhausted, on the metro on the way home for the day at 8pm, and some mornings I was headed to work at 6am. Although, I know that some days I don’t remember much, I do know that the men and women I worked with, still to this day, either have a good view or bad view of me due to my work ethic and personality during my stay with them.

Remember: Don’t let anyone define who you are. You can to anything if you set your mind to it. Be brave. Be bold. In this world, all you have is your name… So, the question that you have to answer for yourself is— Are you proud of who you are and what you’re doing?

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions – I’ll do my best to respond. (comment, email, tweet me, etc)

Follow Katie on Twitter: @trudeau_katie