D.C. is what you make out of it: Networking and 4 other misconceptions about Washington D.C.

Posted on Tuesday, Jul 14, 2015

When people hear that you will be interning at Washington D.C., they invariably will give you advice about how to navigate through the nation’s capital. I have heard many things about being an intern, living in D.C. and living in a big city. While advice can be helpful, bad advice based on common misconceptions about Washington D.C. can lead to setbacks on your way to flourishing as an intern.  In my time as an intern in D.C., I have discovered 5 key misconceptions that once you let go off will lead to a successful internship.

Misconception #1: Network, Network, Network! People will tell you to network in Washington D.C. and I am in no way saying you should not network. What I believe is a dangerous concept about networking is the pressure put on interns to network and network successfully. Not only does the pressure to network make networking hard but also it is not a realistic expectation that everyone will have success when networking. The main problem with going into networking with the idea that you must network and network successfully is that “Network” is a noun and a verb. Many interns forget about the noun network and only focus on networking as a verb. Of course to have a network you have to put yourself out there but you shouldn’t focus so much on getting and giving business cards that you forget to develop relationships. Having collected and given out 100 business cards will mean very little if you have not developed a relationship with anyone. Networking if done right is all about building professional relationships with people employed in fields you are interested in.  As networking is about developing professional relationships, I recommend focusing on people within 10 years of your age. People who are similar to you in age not only still remember what it was like to be in your shoes but these lower level employees are much more assessable than their busy bosses.

Misconception #2: Partisanship is unavoidable. Washington D.C. is the nation’s capital and the home of the famously partisan Congress. While partisanship in politics is common in the city, Washington D.C. is not a partisan war zone. People will not require you to identify your ideological position before talking to you. Outside of the area of politics, D.C. is just a city. How partisan your experience is as an intern depends on the choices you make. Do you want to be immersed in partisan fervor? If yes, then work for an organization with a political goal and go to events hosted by groups you identify ideologically with. If that is not your cup of tea, then stick to the historical side of Washington D.C. Go to museums, attend concerts and fairs and don’t work on the hill. The level of partisanship you experience in Washington D.C. is up to you. You decide where to work and what events you go to so make the experience yours.

Misconception #3: Interns on the hill are superior to other interns. Interns who work on Capitol Hill (or Hillterns as they are lovingly called) are what people commonly think of when they think of an intern in Washington D.C. While working on the Hill is an honor, just because you don’t work on the Hill does not mean that you are not getting the true D.C. intern experience or are missing out on opportunities. In fact, based on what you want out of the internship, interning on the Hill may not be what you want. Although Hillterns get amazing opportunities to meet people and network, from what I’ve seen so far what Off-the-Hill internships lack in networking opportunities they make up in practical knowledge. Most Hill internships involve constituent work, which is interesting and vital to democracy but may not particularly be a skill that you need. On the other hand, Off-the-Hill internships usually are more hands on and interns get to do real work in the office, learning important skills in the future. As I said earlier, D.C. is what you make of it. If you want to network within congressional offices and hope to work for a member of Congress one day, then a Hill internship is for you. If you want to learn skills in a policy field that interests you then an Off-the-Hill internship may be more your style. Both off and on the Hill internships are a great opportunity so pick which ever suits you the best, keeping in mind that one is not superior to the other.

Misconception #4: You can get anywhere by metro. The D.C. Metro is a wonderful thing. You can get almost anywhere by Metro but a word of caution, you will not be able to get everywhere using the Metro. For instance, the Metro does not go to Georgetown or Mt. Vernon. Also, Metro stops are spaced out so be prepared to walk from the Metro stop to wherever you want to go. Moreover, the Metro stops run at different times during the week and each Metro stop has its own last train time so keep that in mind if you go out late at night. Frantically running to a Metro stop to make the last train of the night is not a fun experience.

Misconception #5: D.C. is a party town. Washington D.C. is a fun, lively city but it is in no way a party town. Keep in mind that Washington D.C. is first and foremost a business city. People come to Washington D.C. to do a job and this work mentality is embedded in the culture of D.C. Sure, D.C. can be a fun city but you will be disappointed if you come to D.C. expecting a party scene to rival New York or California. D.C. is a city of business and no matter how much partying happens, people will still be at work in the morning.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: interning in D.C. is what you make it. Go into your internships with an open mind and you will succeed. Don’t let what other people tell you about Washington D.C. color your opinion before you even get here. Every person has a different experience in D.C. so avoid the aforementioned misconceptions about the city and enjoy yourself!

Bridget O’Connell
Americans for Responsible Solutions
Washington, D.C. - Summer 2015

Tags: Advice, Misconceptions, PPIP, Washington