This guest post was written by Scarlett Ho, a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy.
For any Political Science major, working in the nation’s capital is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Getting an internship on the Hill while still in college is not only useful in helping you decide if public policy is your niche, but also helps you get a foot in the door in other federal-related jobs in the field. This past summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to intern for a member of Congress in Washington D.C., and here are a few tips I would like to share to help anyone who is thinking about interning on the Hill.
1) The Application Process and the Interview
Most congressional internships require a standard resume and cover letter, followed by an interview. Sounds like a pretty easy process, but how do you stand out among hundreds of applicants?
- Email etiquette: Most people think that all you need to do when you email your application package is just to attach the files. But from my personal experience, crafting a short and sweet paragraph in the email containing your brief bio and objective will make your application more personable. Remember, small things matter, so make sure your resume and cover letter are free from typos and grammatical mistakes. One way to ensure that is to ask your professional network, professors and friends to proofread them.
- Interview: So you have received an invitation for an interview, how should you prepare? Research the office, know your objectives and why you want to intern there. What are your passions, and how is this internship going to contribute to your goal? Since most interview questions always revisit your past internships, be sure to be able to explain every detail you have put down on paper. Rehearse, do mock interviews, and feel confident. Remember, the secret to interviewing is: it’s not “what” you say, it’s “how” you say it.
2) Working on the Hill
Everyone has to start somewhere, and you should come to any job with the mindset that you are starting from the bottom. With that, it means mundane and trivial administrative tasks, such as answering and transferring phone calls, photocopying/scanning, and running errands. But on top of that, you should seize this wonderful opportunity to benefit the most out of it too:
- Attend briefings/committee hearings: Fortunately for a Hill internship, because you’ll be at the center of politics, interns get the chance to go to different hearings and briefings and take notes. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the issue; and any memos that come out of it will be a great writing sample for the future.
- Ask questions: Remember: no one knows the answer to everything. If you have questions or doubts, ask your fellow interns or supervisors- they will likely be able to answer them for you. Asking questions demonstrates that you’re proactive and thoughtful- something every employer would value. Additionally, ask for more tasks or offer to assist others in their work when you have completed yours. Your willingness to help others proves that you’re collaborative and are inclined to take initiative.
- Networking: It’s all about connections, that is the truth. Be active in seeking out intern networking events, or receptions near the D.C. area to talk to people from different fields and offices. Seek out interesting people from LinkedIn, through friends and ask for informational interviews either in person or over the phone. Be flexible and respect people’s time because they are busy but are generally willing to help.
3) Ways to Take your Hill Internship To The Next Level
- Keep a journal: It is important to keep track of your daily or weekly tasks, because at the end of your internship, you need to have talking points that summed up your responsibilities on your resume. Even if you don’t keep a journal (which is mostly for writing about your feelings and what you have learned), have a small notebook that jots down your tasks to make it easier to keep track in the future.
- Recommendations: I was advised by a Capitol Hill staff to ask for the letter the last week of your internship, so that you will have the letter in hand on your last few days. By creating a time constraint for the recommender, they will most likely craft a more thoughtful response because you can read it when you are still there. After your internship is over, connect with the staff on LinkedIn and ask to be recommended.
- Thank you note: A small thank you note for each staff in the office goes a long way. A nice hand-written note makes a lasting impression and you never know who will help you down the road. Therefore, this is a critical step that should not be skipped.
Interested in working in government? Career Development is hosting a Non Profit and Government Careers Forum at 5:30PM, tonight in Raytheon. Also, Thursday, October 16th at 5PM in 12 Stearns: Demystifying the Federal Job Application.
Scarlett Ho is a third year student majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Law and Public Policy. She is a former Capitol Hill intern and will be interning at the European Parliament this fall with NU’s study abroad program. As a trilingual, she is interested in foreign affairs and diplomacy, and is an avid globetrotter. Connect with Scarlett on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.
Good luck everyone!