Interning on Capitol Hill for a hometown representative is a popular pastime for many GW students. In order to get the job, however, they may have to jump a few hurdles.
Internship coordinators at offices where many students hail from, such as New York and New Jersey, and for popular congressmen, are often very selective.
For most members of Congress, one has to submit a resume, cover letter and writing sample, and then wait for weeks for an interview request. Many students apply to 10 or 15 internships in hopes of getting one or two. Offers are often made late and are binding, not giving students enough time to hear back from their other choices.
To help students be better prepared for the application process, the GW Career Center offers workshops on finding internships in D.C. and resume, cover letter and interviewing tips. The center also offers “mock interviews.”
“The Career Center is here to assist students research and narrow down internships in which they may be interested,” Jeff Dagley, communications coordinator at the Career Center, wrote in an e-mail.
Regional differences can play a big role in selectivity. States such as Wyoming, where few D.C. students come from, are less selective. (Only three GW students are from Wyoming.)
Christen Petersen, office manager for Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R), said it is important that applicants to their office have a “Wyoming connection.” Almost all of the three to four interns each semester are from Wyoming, and 75 percent are University of Wyoming students who are spending a semester in D.C.
It’s a different story for Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s office. Interns for the Democratic representative are predominantly from D.C. colleges and many are from GW, said McCarthy’s legislative assistant, Michael Spira.
But it’s not easy being a Democrat from New York, said Sean Siperstein, a senior at Brown University. Siperstein, who is vice president of Brown’s College Democrats, applied to the offices of three Long Island congressmen during the summer of 2003. Neither Steve Israel, Gary Ackerman nor Carolyn McCarthy offered him an internship.
“Ackerman – they didn’t have enough slots at the time for anyone outside the district, but were trying to create more, and were going to get back to me,” Siperstein said. “Israel flat out said that they had a tiny office and could only take a few people and from only his district at that.”
Siperstein, who eventually received a highly coveted position with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said a lot of the congressmen with whom positions are in high demand want people who are focused on them, which “can be rough for people applying multiple places.”
“When I had a phone interview with Schumer’s office, they said they wanted a commitment from me to work for them if offered a spot, and to know why I wanted this more than any other internship,” Siperstein said.
Francine Blume, director of experiential education at American University, said students who have trouble finding internships with a senator or representative from their state look at lobbying firms and non-profits that subscribe to their beliefs.
She also suggested that students look in states outside their own for congressmen “who have policy issues that they have some background in.”
Blume said students who want a paid internship should also look beyond the Hill, because most internships there are not paid.
Some senators, such as Edward Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, are well known, making internships with them more coveted and selective.
But for the offices of these senators, it matters less that a student is not from their state.
Junior Joelle Franc, who is from Florida and works for Kennedy (D-Mass.), said that while she was accepted to internships for people from her state, she wanted to work for Kennedy “because he’s a really interesting, controversial figure.”
Senior Kasey Dunton, from Ohio, said few people in the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are actually from Arizona.
She said she chose to intern for McCain because she respects him and thinks he has a lot of integrity.