Summer Political Internship Guide
MAX MAGID: It is a time-honored tradition for Georgetown students to flock to DC for the summer. Whether they see it as a chance to begin their Machiavellian quest for power and prestige, or there’s just nothing happening back in their hometowns, this a great way for a student to spend the summer. I have spent every summer working here since my freshman year, and I’ve learned a few things either from personal experience or friends. The most important thing I learned was how to convince Residential Living to let me have a townhouse to myself even though they assigned me a Henle apartment with roommates; however, in this article I want to go over the opportunities for political internships.
Hillternship: House of Representatives
Starting off with the most obvious example, you are missing out if you don’t try and work for a congressional office at some point. If you go to Georgetown it is often easiest to get one of the internships during the school year, because then you really only have to worry about competition from other DC schools. However, it’s nice to have the facetime opportunities working longer hours in the summer provides.
Pros: You get to brush shoulders with members of congress, navigate the maze underneath the Capitol, and explore pretty much wherever you want within the Capitol Building. Plus there is robust programming and training for interns, fancy events you can go to, and the possibility of seeing a celebrity. For instance, I once bumped into the Dalai Lama in Statuary Hall while giving a tour
Cons: Although the standard may be changing, these internships are generally unpaid. Plus the work itself is rarely glamorous. Mostly your duties are talking to crazy people over the phone, answering letters, and doing the tasks the staff doesn’t like to do. I generally enjoyed giving tours, but they can be stressful, time consuming, and the training on Capitol history doesn’t fully prepare you.
Advice: The best cafeteria is in the Library of Congress, which has a fresh sushi bar along with a variety of better-than-average options. You can get there from the tunnels underneath the office buildings.
Because Senate offices come with larger staffs, an internship in the Senate is not any more difficult to get than a house internship. However, it is a slightly different experience, so you should know what you want before fully pursuing it.
Pros: Working in a Senate office, especially one of a large state, will teach you just how inconsequential most individual members of congress are. When you are working in the Senate you are working for member of a small, very powerful fraternity who are each well known throughout an entire state if not the country, and many harbor Presidential aspirations. The offices are nicer, if even more crowded, and because there are more interns you could get the chance to specialize a bit more.
Cons: With a larger staff and a more important boss you may not get as many chances to interact with the Senator, and you may not form as close a relationship with other people in the office.
Advice: Increasingly Senate offices will only provide a half-summer internship. Try to work in an office where you can stay the whole summer, so you have time to network and learn to do your job well.
This type of hillternship is often overlooked but it is a great opportunity. Definitely look into this if you are interested in a certain set of issues and are not as interested in constituent outreach.
Pro: Less crazy people calling you! Also you will likely work on more substantive tasks and gain a unique perspective on how congress operates.
Cons: Less pomp than a member’s office. Also, while constituent work is frustrating, at least you see the immediate impact of your actions. Working in a committee is often less fulfilling in that way.
Advice: Do your research before you apply. Duties and policy discussions can really vary from committee to committee.
There are a range of opportunities to work in the agencies keeping our government afloat. Whether you work for the Department of Commerce making copies and answering the phone, or work in the FBI making copies and answering the phone, there are a lot of ways to serve your country.
Pro: In some jobs you can get certain security clearances and have to go through background checks. These things make it seem like you have a really cool job, even if your duties are mostly low-level intern things. Also you get to focus more on actual policy and implementation than politics.
Con: Government offices are often small and cramped. Plus political decisions can occasionally affect office duties and moral.
Advice: Most agencies have all sorts of programming for interns. Go to as many as you can--they usually have free food.
Places like Center for American Progress, Third Way, Brookings, or the Heritage Foundation are a great continuation of school where you get to research policy, learn more about politics, and grow a network.
Pro: Lots of great networking opportunities and when your party is out of power a lot of really cool political figures staff these organizations. Plus there is a softball league among the think tanks.
Con: The experience from think tank to think tank and area to area really varies. It is possible to find the job boring and tedious rather than fun and helpful for future prospects.
Advice: These internships are very competitive and at many places instead of rejecting you, they just never respond. If you want to go this route apply to a lot of them and try to work whatever connections you might have.
If you are going this route, I suggest getting a paid internship. There are some really cool opportunities out there like Facebook, SpaceX, and Google that have room for government relations interns and pay them really well.
Pro: The groups that pay usually pay pretty well for a summer job. Plus the offices will are almost always nicer and more comfortable. You can still take a job doing something you completely agree with and believe is important.
Con: Technically you are working for lobbyists which sounds kind of gross. Plus it is often hard to tell if your efforts are paying off.
Advice: Most large corporations have a government relations team headquartered in DC. If you go this route I recommend casting a wide net and seeing what comes your way.
While most campaign work takes place outside DC, there are still opportunities here. Mostly work here tends to center around updating spreadsheets, analyzing data, and helping raise money from donors.
Pros: Lots of fancy fundraising events to visit in this city. Plus you can learn more about the donors who keep campaigns afloat.
Cons: Probably not paid.
Advice: This is a great job if you want to live in DC and need an internship to justify being here. If you really feel strongly about a specific campaign it is probably better to stay somewhere where you can knock doors and help set up events.
The fourth estate is an exciting and fast-paced industry to intern with. A lot of other internships revolve around reading news stories and sending them along but in this one you get a more front row seat to see how the sausage is made.
Pro: Not particularly political, but essential to our political system. Plus you get great experience you can use as a journalist, communications professional, or a press secretary down the line.
Con: It’s a very tough industry that will likely keep you very busy throughout the workday.
Advice: Brace yourself for “fake news” jokes. Whenever you talk to your friends about your internship they will probably make one.
This list is not at all exhaustive, and every experience is a bit different, but you will come away from this experience with a tolerance for humidity, a mastery of Google and spreadsheets, and a horrifying realization that interns and young staffers run the federal government. And who knows, broadening your network may help you find a real job one day!