I recently began an exciting adventure as an intern on Capitol Hill. Living in Washington D.C. and working with influential people is nothing short of amazing. However, you would be surprised at how much there is to learn, even on your very first day. With this being an unprecedented time in the history of the United States government, I have decided to try and keep notes throughout my days so that I can journal and cherish this opportunity. My first day, I stepped into the Rayburn House office building, confident and excited as ever, and that is when my learning truly began. Below I have reduced my handwritten notes from throughout my first day to some funny, and beneficial, tips for all those who come to work on the Hill.
Don’t put your coffee on the security conveyor belt.
Please, do not do what I did on my first day. It will spill and they will think you are dumb. Government building/Washington D.C. 101: you always have to go through intense security. This often includes metal detectors and x-ray conveyor belts for any of your belongings. Although it will be funny for years to come, do not put your hot coffee on the conveyor belt. I thought that they would want to have it go through an x-ray, just as anything else. I was wrong. By the time the man had told me not to, my adorable reusable Starbucks coffee cup with my homemade mocha had already half spilled and was all over the conveyor belt. Needless to say, the security was unhappy and so were all of those in line behind me attempting to get to work. What you should do instead of this is carry it through the metal detector with you. On my second day, I entered through another entrance. I exclaimed excitement that I did not spill my coffee this time. The security said, “that was you?” Word truly does spread quickly.
There really aren’t any maps of the Capitol building that are super beneficial.
One major misconception for first-timers on the Hill and family members of those interning/working on the Hill is that you will actually be working in the Capitol Building. Unless you are interning in the Speaker’s office, this is highly unlikely. Rayburn, Longworth, and Canon are the places you will most likely be if you are interning or working for a representative. Longworth and Canon are circular. Rayburn is two horseshoes. Of course, this all goes out the window when you start to use the underground tunnels connecting nearly every building. Pay close attention when older staff members show you around and maybe even draw a map of your own, because if you get lost like I do then you can trust that you will constantly be turned around. At some point, as an employee, you are likely to undergo Capitol tour training, I am hoping that this will help my directional challenges.
Wearing heels is not as bad as everyone has said.
One of the most continual tips for women going to work on the Hill for the first time is “don’t wear heels because you will be running so many errands.” I chose to ignore this advice. It worked out well for me. However, as someone who competes in the Miss America system and has worn character shoes in choir for a very long time, I have had a lot of practice. It really is up to you and what makes you feel most comfortable. I feel powerful and confident in my heels so that is what I tend to wear. If you are like me, I would suggest putting your heels in your bag and wearing tennis shoes or rain/snow boots to the building and changing once in the office. I always have a spare pair of flats in case of an emergency.
Female interns are by far the best dressed people on the Hill, excluding, of course, most female representatives.
You heard it here first. Female interns get very dressed up, especially in their first few days. This absolutely is not necessary, but it is fun. I have never found there to be a problem with being overdressed. As long as you adhere to the requirements of business casual or business professional, you will be fine. I always suggest coming overdressed on your first day. If you are uncomfortable it is always possible to tone it down in the following days.
It’s true, people will hang up on you if you don’t tell them what they want to hear.
This seems obvious, but on my first day, I was hung up on by a constituent when I did not give them the answer they wished to hear. Remember to be patient and not take this personally. You are doing your job. They are just frustrated. Shake it off and move on. Most callers are very polite and to the point!
Petty politics is still a thing for full-timers.
On my first day, I was able to see and hear about various strategy meetings on both sides of the aisle. It is not below full-time employees to subtly play politics within the office in order to negotiate.
You don’t get your ID on the first day.
This was a little disappointing for me because I wanted to look official and you need your ID in order to get into certain parts of the buildings. Luckily, I was able to pick it up the next day. Pro-tip: I learned my second day that full-time employees and interns have different colored badges. All other official accounts, such as the House email, IQ, etc. took less than five minutes to set up.
There truly doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the organization of offices.
One would think that the offices would be organized in some way. By party, by committee, by caucus, by state, but truly there seems to be no reasoning. The only thing you can be sure of is that offices move frequently after the start of a new Congress. Never go on an errand with just a Representatives name, make sure to get the room number.
Not every office is bustling with the news on 24/7.
The West Wing, Madame Secretary, and many other shows depict life in D.C. as a constant hustle and bustle. While this is true, it is not always true that your office will have the news on constantly. There is a television right above my desk and it has been turned on zero times since I began interning. Even the television in the welcome space has been on only a handful of times and usually does not have the sound on.
Temperatures are inconsistent throughout all the buildings.
When running errands or giving tours, it may be optimal to have your coat or a jacket during colder months. The tunnels and the basement are freezing while the office spaces fluctuate in temperature. You truly never know what you will be experiencing.
Overall, you will be surprised at what you learn on your first day at any job. I cannot wait to learn many more lessons throughout my time and I hope these experiences benefit the next person in my shoes.