A letter to bottom of the food chain

Posted on Thursday, Nov 12, 2015

This is a letter, to all future interns as they make their way towards Capitol Hill with questions and concerns. The culture and routine of the Hill is unique and each staffer has their own place. The position of an intern inside the office is no different. Here are some observations I have collected and things that I have learned and want to share so that future interns can look and feel as a part of the hill as any other staffer.
  • Looking like an intern: You’re proud to tell everyone back home your position (and don’t get me wrong, it’s a GREAT job) but no one up here is impressed by your internship status. You can shade your level of power while still talking about your position but even more importantly your aspirations while working for Congress and asking others about themselves.
    • When at a reception, meeting someone new tell them “I work for Congressman ____” if you’re feeling the need to add more you can say you work in the front office!
    • Don’t show off your badge, keep it hooked on your pants or inside your jacket. You can pull it out for security but it is not a requirement to be on display ( it is more or less obvious you’re an intern based on the color of your badge).  
    • Walk with your phone, you’ll learn quickly most permanent staffers in Congress walk with two phones; their work and personal
      • You’ll look more like you know what you’re doing
      • You will find yourself needing it to ask your boss questions and they will need to contact you in-between tasks outside the office!
  • Confidently turning the opposite direction in a hallway
    • You laugh, but you WILL get lost in the congressional hallways, moving from building to building I repeat you will! And when you do and finally realize you are going the wrong way there will be a point in time when you will successfully master making a smooth transition into the opposite direction
    • Each building in the House of Representatives (Longworth, Rayburn, and Cannon) is different in structure as well as how its rooms and floors are numbered. Learn how each is set up outside of work and you’ll save yourself lots of time (people may even ask you for directions!).
  • Recognizing the RIGHT timing: There is a fine line between being friendly with staff and the members and talking too much. You want the office to know who you are as a person but you also want to make sure you’re not getting in anyone’s way.
    • There is a time to talk in the office and a time to be quiet
    • A time to share a story about yourself and a time to learn about a staffer
    • A moment to have a conversation with the Congressman, and then the moment is gone
    • A time to ask the Chief a question and then many times NOT to ask the Chief a question
    • Make sure the opportunity is right, but don’t wait too long!
  • Always saying YES
    • “Can you give another office a tour today?”
    • “Do you want to go to this lunch briefing today?”
    • “Would you like to take extra snacks for your office?”
    • “Someone is asking for extra help setting up a briefing, do you mind going?”
Yes, yes, yes the answer is always yes because at the end of the day helping others helps you. Other offices will remember the favor, they repay in snacks (something coveted on the Hill) and other favors when your office desperately needs it! Your own office staff will be ecstatic for those extra chick-fil-a lunches you picked up at the briefing you said yes to volunteer at. Although your efforts may seem small, they are recognized and an intern is always desperately needed in the office. The more helpful and attentive you can be the better. Saying yes helps you build relationships in and outside the office, creating more opportunities for you and your future. I said yes to a last minute tour that came into the office. The tour was especially long with crowds in the capitol but that gave me an opportunity to learn about some wonderful constituents from Tennessee who originally came from Australia and two of which still live there now. I heard stories from their many other travels and found out that one was an avid sailor like one day I would like to be! At the end of the tour I was given business cards and invites to both sail with one of the women in Tennessee and a place to stay if I even visit Melbourne! The office heard the good feedback from our guests making my staff happy and providing me with a wonderful day, just by saying yes.

Every day will be different while in Washington, D.C. and nothing less than exciting. I hope that all future Hill-terns reading this letter will feel more comfortable and confident headed to the east coast. There are so many opportunities that will come your way, all you have to do is say yes!

KC Biehler
Office of Congresswoman Diane Black
Washington, D.C. - Fall 2015White-House-Grass.jpg

Tags: Congressmen, DC, Future, Interns, Letter, to, Washington