How to Make Your Capitol Hill Internship a Success

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How to Make Your Capitol Hill Internship a Success

Home / WORK WORLD / How to Make Your Capitol Hill Internship a Success
Some off-the-record advice from a former Hill intern.
"Make a list of 25 people you want to meet in Washington. When you meet with them, ask specific questions."
-Michael Hardaway

So you’ve somehow weaseled your way into a Capitol Hill internship. Maybe you sprayed all 535 offices with your resume. Maybe you share an alma mater with a chief of staff to some no-name congressman. Or maybe you did it the old fashion way and had your rich father call in a favor to his favorite senator.

Everyone has a different path.

I got my start by convincing a longshot Senate candidate to let me help him for free. That guy’s name was Barack Obama. That worked out well.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter how you got to The League.

What matters is that you’re here and it’s imperative you don’t fuck it up. The most important thing to remember is that your time on Capital Hill will fly by and a new group of interns will soon take your spot, so you’ll want to attack this opportunity with an aggressive strategy.

Here’s what I’ve watched the most successful interns do:

On Capitol Hill Culture

Successful interns listen and learn

When you get to your office go into observation mode. Listen more than you talk. The federal government has its own language. The more you listen, the more you’ll pick up on that language.

Keep in mind that the federal government is not a startup. It is an institution that has been around for hundreds of years. The culture is top down and there are unspoken rules you must abide by in the office.

If something goes wrong with a colleague, don’t confront them– go to your boss. If something goes wrong with your boss– go to their boss.

Get in the habit of absorbing what’s around you and learning as much as you can.

On Meeting Expectations

Successful interns prove themselves

Volunteer to work on as many projects as humanly possibly. Relentlessly search for relevant news articles and information staff may be interested in. Be resourceful. Make your internship a mutually beneficial arrangement. And when you’re given an assignment, get a clear picture of expectations so you can properly deliver what is needed.

Don’t pester your boss with three million questions, use your brain to solve problems and deliver work that is both accurate and exhaustive. The best way to build a solid reputation as an intern is to be someone who delivers what’s needed every single time, irrespective of obstacles.

On Networking

Succesful interns never eat alone

The Hill provides free rations you’ll undoubtedly need given you’re working free of charge. I don’t care if your dad sends you a couple hundred bucks a week. Free reception food is your friend.

Your best friend.

You’ll also meet other interns here who you’ll make friends with and build relationships with that will pay off for years to come. They’ll help you get jobs. They’ll give you off-the-record intel on stuff your boss needs to know. They may even be the best man at your wedding.

Successful interns secure meetings

Make a list of 25 people you want to meet in Washington. Find a commonality with each (same interests, same alma mater, even the same name) — and craft a customized pitch for each person. The main thing to remember is those people are 1,000% busier than you. Their time is money, so don’t waste it.

When you sit down with them, avoid general questions. Ask specific questions tailored for each person based on their experience and how it correlates with your goals. Be punctual, brief and don’t forget to keep them updated on your journey.

On Acting the Part

Successful interns tuck the badge

You’re not impressing anyone with a Hill ID. Trust me. Don’t wear it on the metro. Don’t wear it to happy hour. And if you’re a White House intern, the advice given during your orientation is true, you put your safety at risk when you wear your ID off-campus. So be smart about how you use it.

I’m guessing your favorite political show (see Homeland or 24) has characters who wear their ID on the outside chest pocket. It really does look official on TV. But it looks stupid in real life. And it goes without saying that you should never, ever wear your ID on your belt with one of those elastic extender cords. Keep it in your pocket and pull it out only when you need it.

Now that the serious stuff is done, get out there and have fun. Go to as many events as possible. Meet as many new people as possible. Use CAPITOL STANDARD’s events listGregslist, and Capitol Grapevine to find free events around town. You can also go to redlist.michaelhardaway.com to apply for my email list, which primarily consists of events in entertainment and politics. I can’t guarantee you’ll get approved, but it’s worth a shot.

P.S. While this may seem like a fun place, Washington is a full of wolves. Never forget that.

about the author

Michael Hardaway
Michael Hardaway
Michael Hardaway advises high-profile individuals on matters surrounding crisis communications, political affairs and brand development. He is a board member of UNICEF's Next Generation and RFK Young Leaders.