An Intern's Guide to Navigating D.C.'s Professional World

November 20, 2019 Noah Hammes

An Intern's Guide to Navigating D.C.'s Professional World

In Washington D.C., nothing is constant. Every day, new legislation is proposed and amended, businesses emerge and grow, and one event can entirely change an economic or political landscape.

Always Be Learning

This is a city where government meets private enterprise, and as an intern, you will get an opportunity to play a part within this space. To help you make the most of this opportunity, I offer you the following advice:

1. Always be learning

On any given day, the city hosts think tank talks, briefings on the Hill, nonprofit sponsored presentations, and public government committee hearings. On top of all this, you have access to hundreds of other individuals working within several different sectors, almost all of which would be happy to talk to you about what they do. This is not a time to show how much you already know; this is a time to absorb as much of what others can teach you as possible. Make sure when you attend these sorts of events, you always take notes. You don’t need to do a formal write up on every event you attend, but the more you’re able to really absorb what you’re hearing the better.

Try and see every issue from all sides 

2. Try to see every issue from all sides 

Understand that most things aren’t as black and white as they may seem in the classroom or on a college campus. Not all corporations are purely evil, bipartisanship is incredibly common, and some non-profits do incredibly damaging work. Don’t limit yourself through being narrow-minded. Actively challenge your world views by engaging with people who hold different opinions than your own, and go to events hosted by organizations that represent a diverse spectrum of viewpoints. Learning how to argue from every side is important, and when collecting information you want to know the whole story, not just a few chapters.

Don't Give Up in Washington, D.C.

3. Don’t give up

It’s easy to get frustrated when working within a place where consistency is hard to find, especially as an intern. When there isn’t always a tangible product, or it seems like something you’ve worked on fell through for no discernable reason, roll with it and keep pushing forward. Remember that the beauty of D.C.’s professional world is that it’s constantly changing, and there will always be chances for you - even as an intern - to continue to interact with it.

When I began as an intern at a healthcare policy firm, my first assignments were to summarize a series of hearings, track a certain group of legislative pieces, and summarize various articles on the daily. At the time, I couldn’t understand the importance of such seemingly small tasks, as they weren’t tied to a specific client, and didn’t seem to act as any means to an end. Nevertheless, I did what I was told and as the summer continued, I began to understand more and more how these seemingly small tasks contributed to the bigger picture. 

So, as you push forward into this new and exciting chapter in your life, remember that you’re here to learn and grow, and that no matter what, if you do your best here, you’re going to find success. D.C. runs on a market of information, and armed with a professional semester experience, you’re one step closer to navigating it like a seasoned Washingtonian. 

About the Author

Noah Hammes

Noah is a senior public health major at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. He was a Fall 2019 intern at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

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