Five tips for interns, from an intern

Published: January 11, 2023 Author: Staff reports

Ohio University junior Ian Kirby recently completed a fall 2022 internship in the office of Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in Washington, DC.  His internship was part of the Scripps Semester in DC program that combines classroom instruction, networking and real-world experience. Kirby majors in information graphics and publication design in the School of Visual Communication in the Scripps College of Communication.

When he finished his 12-week internship, Kirby compiled five tips to share with future interns in congressional offices or elsewhere.

1. Attitude over aptitude

You will stand out more with a positive attitude, I promise you.

Washington, DC is filled with interns. Positivity and enthusiasm make an impression. Yes, you will interact with people who frustrate you, and you will be assigned tasks that you may not want. Keep smiling, to boost serotonin levels and your reputation.

2. Don’t underestimate the small things

All jobs have mundane components.

As an intern, you’ll be asked to complete tasks that seem insignificant or monotonous. Treat them as a test. Your attitude and ability to complete small things serves as a launchpad to larger, more important tasks and responsibilities. For me, examples included:

  • Trips for office supplies turned into trips to the House Democratic Cloakroom to deliver speech materials to Congresswoman Kaptur. On the way back from the cloakroom, I had a wonderful conversation with Congresswoman Lois Frankel of Florida. She let me ride with her in the “Members Only” elevator.
  • Compiling contact information about other congressional offices turned into updating lists directly for Congresswoman Kaptur.
  • Handling constituent phone calls turned into handling constituent tours. 
3. Make connections, early and often

Cultivating personal relationships greatly impacts your experience. 

Reach out to your co-workers early in your internship to introduce yourself and learn about what they do and how you can fit in. Ask them to join you for coffee or lunch, which shows your initiative.  This increases your opportunities for interesting assignments/projects and to build relationships that last beyond your internship.

Ian Kirby
Ian Kirby at rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC. Photo by Agnieszka Wójick.
4. Communication is key

Clear and concise communication with staff is vital.

Congressional offices, like newsrooms and other intern settings, are staffed by busy people who cannot read your mind. My communication tips:

  • Keep co-workers up to date about your progress on assignments, which builds trust and expands your role.
  • Tell your supervisor/co-workers what you like working on.
  • Comment on what impresses you about visitors to the office, presentations, constituents and colleagues.
5. Explore your surroundings

Most internship settings are unfamiliar at first. The Capitol complex — with three separate House office buildings, three Senate offices and the Capitol in the middle — is connected by tunnels. 

Office numbers in the Rayburn and Longworth House Office Buildings have four digits but office numbers at the Cannon House Office Building are three digits. Yes . . . confusing.

Explore to get your bearings:

  • Eat lunch in various places.
  • Running errands teaches logistics.

Rory Ball contributed to this article.