My Top Takeaways From An Informational Interview With A Senate Legislative Director 

April 12, 2019 Abdul Abbas

Meeting for an informational interview over coffeee

If you asked TWC students prior to their arrival in D.C. what they wanted most out of their internship, a majority of the answers would be exposure to the professional world. I say this with confidence as I was asked the same thing by my boss on my first day of work. Without a second thought I prioritized exposure. After answering his question, my boss proceeded to offer me his first piece of advice. 

“Everyone in D.C. is open to meet for a cup of coffee, always.” For a city as busy and chaotic as D.C., it is unusual for its professionals to have this trait. This local custom of “meeting for coffee” is something that the LEAD instructors place a large focus on, as one of the major projects completed by all interns in the course is the “informational interview.”

We are required to meet with two or more professionals in fields we hope to work in at some point in our career. I had the pleasure of sitting down with three professionals around town who initially agreed to meet for half an hour, but each conversation exceeded the allotted time. This speaks to how compassionate most professionals in D.C. are towards interns, as they’ve also gone through similar stages in their career. 

The House

One of these professionals was James Rice, Legislative Director to Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley of Iowa. Senator Grassley is the current President Pro Tempore, which places him third in the presidential line of succession, behind the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. 

My first question for Mr. Rice was meant to be an easy one. It related to an issue that I quickly became aware of, which was that the people here are always working, even when they’re not. I find the hustle and bustle of D.C. part of it’s charm, but it often leads to workers becoming “burnt out” and forgetting to enjoy themselves.

Me: If you had to choose the aspect of your job you enjoy the most, what would it be?
James Rice: “I’m from Iowa, I work in an Iowa office, the people I work for are Iowans. It keeps me connected with my home state, and it feels like I’m not away from home, in that sense. Also, I really respect Senator Grassley, I agree with his politics. I feel like the work I do is more than just a job. I feel like I’m accomplishing something I believe in.”

Being a finance student in D.C., I’m in a minority of students who are neither international relations or political science majors. There were times early on in my internship where I felt there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for business students to secure a successful position in D.C. I voiced this concern, and fortunately, I was very wrong. 

Me: What piece of advice could you give business students in Washington, who are looking for positions where they can apply their financial expertise? 

JR: "There's definitely a lot of policy that intersects with business, where you need people that have the financial understanding to write the policy. For instance, the senate committees focused on the banking and finance sectors. There’s also regulatory agencies like the SEC (Security Exchange Commission), who have an active role in forming policy. I’d look into those fields."

The path to success is an odd one, and is unique to each individual. I wanted to know where Mr. Rice found his success, and where it all started. 

Me: When did you start working with Senator Grassley, was politics always in the cards for you? 

James: “It dawned on my during my freshman or sophomore year, that I was a lot more political than some of the people I know, so maybe I should just go into politics. After I graduated, I sent out my resume and Senator Grassley’s office reached out and said they had an opening. It’s sort of a cliché, but my first position was in the mailroom. That was in June of 2000.” 

The summer time in D.C. is known as the “intern invasion,” where thousands of students flock to the nation’s capital as young professionals, finding their footing in the real world. The fields of study these interns are in vary wildly. However, the common factor amongst all of them is they’re trying to establish themselves professionally, as well as and launch their careers.

Abdul Abbas, Spring 2019 intern at the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO).

ME: If there was one piece of advice that you’d give to the thousands of interns that are coming to Washington, D.C. this summer, what would it be? 

JR: “Part of it is luck and timing [laughs], but there’s nothing you can do about those two. But the main one would be patience, because I was the legislative assistant for 17 years, and it took a really long time for me to get the legislative director position. But I liked the connection to Iowa, and I believed in Senator Grassley, so it was just a matter of keeping at it until that position opened up.” 

After conducting my interview with Mr. Rice and the other interviewees, I found myself reflecting on the time I’ve spent here in D.C. and the time I have remaining. And if there was one thing it taught me, it’s that this is no place to “take it easy” or “relax” because there’s opportunity around every corner here. You may be thinking, “didn’t he just say that you should relax?”, and you would be right. However, that was relevant to Mr. Rice’s position, where pacing is vital in balancing an almost two decade-long career. 

For us TWC students, we only have 15 weeks to get the most out of this opportunity and we’d be remiss if we didn’t take advantage of every interaction. But don’t take it from me, take it from the legislative director of one of the most powerful Senators in the United States Senate. 

About the Author

Abdul Abbas

Abdul studied at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada where he is majored in business administration, with a concentration in financial analysis. In Spring 2019, Abdul interned at the Turkish Heritage Organization, which lobbies for stronger U.S and Turkish bilateral relations.

More Content by Abdul Abbas
Previous Article
3 Ways to See Great Performances On a Tight Budget
3 Ways to See Great Performances On a Tight Budget

D.C. is a cultural hub with plenty of venues to catch live theater. But interns don’t have to break the ban...

Next Article
Discovering the Real Purpose of my D.C. Internship
Discovering the Real Purpose of my D.C. Internship

I’ll admit it: When I first was accepted to The Washington Center, and even when I arrived in D.C. to start...