June 7, 2023

Career AdviceProfessional Development

Understanding the DC Intern to Staffer Culture

By: Peyton Holliday

There are some things in life that people will never fully understand until they experience it themselves. One of those, I think, is the D.C. job hunt. 

The hunt is hours upon hours of networking and building out your skills and learning and growing and trusting a process that is incredibly intricate. 

There is lingo to learn and people to meet as well as trends that you should be aware of. 

The entire world is like a college campus unto its own, full of high quality people and crazy hours. 

It can be one of the hardest decisions of your life to move to a new city and start hunting for a job in the niche area that you are interested in. 

Maybe you are into policy or communications or operations—no matter your background there is a place for you. One thing to note, though, is that your place may be hard to come by and time may be your worst enemy.

This summer, interns from all over come in to work on Capitol Hill and experience the life of a D.C. intern. Many of these interns will be returning to school in the fall, but some of them are here ready to dig in and find a job.

One common mistake that people make when looking for a job in D.C. is thinking that it will be easy. People come with degrees, skills, and talents only to find themselves making coffee for people that are more well versed in the D.C. culture than they are. 

It can be so easy to be discouraged as an intern and think that maybe all of this effort is for naught. 

There is something to be said about the right place at the right time. You may find yourself really frustrated at having had so many networking opportunities and so many close calls to a job in D.C., but nothing coming through. 

Just keep going and keep trying. The worst that you can do – when you are qualified – is to give up and decide that maybe D.C. is not for you. 

It is easy to start questioning your own qualifications for a job or for being in DC. People can seem smarter and more qualified and then suddenly you lose the confidence you had in yourself in the beginning. 

When you lose your confidence you lose what is necessary to land a job in D.C.. As an intern, you will find that many people are ambitious and rightfully so – this is a great place to build out your ambitions. 

If you are not ambitious, it can be hard to land a job. Someone will always scoop in behind you and take the place you wanted. You have to be on your toes and ready to say yes.

But maybe as an intern you are realizing that this is not the world for you. It can be daunting, hard, and incredibly frustrating as an intern. Put perspective on yourself too and realize that you are doing the hard work and the heavy lifting. You are looking at long hours of sometimes thankless opportunities that seem endless. This is the key to your success though – to get through the tough season. It is through these tough seasons that the people around you are watching. 

The ones who hired you and the ones networking with you – they are watching. They are all seeing how you are working and how you will succeed. They are the ones who will remember how eagerly you jumped up to take out the trash or make coffee. They are the ones who will remember if you complained about answering the phone. 

As an intern, remember to work hard and if you are on the job hunt – this is your resume and your hard work will pay off. Be sure to never give up and keep pressing into the hard work and one day you too can encourage an intern to keep pressing on and not give up. 

Since I was an intern, I have had to learn many of these lessons myself. It does not come easy and many times these lessons can only be learned when you are put in the middle of them. 

My encouragement to you while hunting for a job as an intern is to say yes to everything. Say yes to the interviews, say yes to the meetings, say yes to the events, and trust that your yes to these things will lead you to the right people at the right place at the right time to land a job. 

As you are on the D.C. job hunt – whether that be Capitol Hill, a think tank, or some other D.C. job – know that it is a lot to learn and a world in which everyone knows what it’s like to be new. Everyone remembers their first time as an intern and we are all here to help. D.C. is a unique place in which one conversation can lead to a job offer – so be yourself, have fun, and learn all you can while you are here!