by Nicole Chacin
Students from high school to college across the country seek the opportunity to intern for a Member of Congress. As a former intern for both the House of Representatives and the Senate, I have a personal understanding of the process to apply and the factors that make a candidate desirable. To prepare for the application process I have outlined four key steps to stand out amongst the applicant pool that can easily consist of hundreds of students for any one internship.
1) SPEAK TO AN ADVISOR
In high school and in college your advisor is of key importance. This individual will get to know you better as you arrange your school schedule with their assistance and will come to see how your interests translate into student activities and accomplishments.
Advisors are also able to recommend certain steps like getting involved in student government, which they know have proven to be valuable in gaining experience and maturity while standing out amongst other candidates also applying for a political internship. In addition, certain colleges allow for interns to receive college credit, so it’s good to check in with your advisor about that. Advisors certainly will also be able to work with you in making a plan to raise your GPA if this is something you need work on. Having a good academic record speaks volume about a candidate.
2) ASK FOR A REFERENCE
Knowing a professor, teacher, or professional who can contribute a good word about you is crucial. More than 50% of your application consists of your own testimony regarding your candidacy for a political office. While you may find that you are the best candidate for the position (and very well may be), the office wants to know you have the respect and trust of others who can attest to your good qualities as well.
The reference you obtain for your application is also important, because this individual could very well notice attributes about yourself that you did not notice or were too bashful to convey. The reference is really a necessary personal touch which summarizes the very best of you as a candidate in a sincere, relatable way for the reader of your application.
3) CONVEY INTEREST
Whether you are a high school or college student, you need to demonstrate in your application a serious interest in politics or the political process. Demonstrate knowledge about the member of Congress you wish to Intern for, namely their stance on issues and the work they began since taking office. Being able to discuss this individual’s achievements and efforts really makes a difference when trying to choose between candidates.
The first office I interned in gave a questionnaire with content that ranged from questions about the Majority and Minority Leaders to requirements for office and term limits.
Having taken political science courses and being an avid reader of American History, I was prepared and gave a good first impression to my colleagues and supervisor. Depending on the environment of the office whether it is a District or DC Office, the expectations might be higher of interns, so understand there might be some curveballs.
Also important when applying for these positions is to show your ambition and how such an internship can both advance your academic and professional goals as well as be of assistance to the Office providing the opportunity. In the same way that you as a candidate want to benefit from your time interning, so do the Staff of that political office want to know that your presence will be helpful and positive as they will be the ones to train and spend time guiding you throughout the internship.
4) PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW
Provided the chance to interview with that desired political office (a good sign), it is always good to review the application you submitted and run through key points beforehand. This strategy is a good re-fresher and ensures that in person, you are prepared for any questions and can easily expand upon something if asked.
On the day of the interview be sure to arrive on time and be dressed appropriately either in business casual or business formal, depending on what is more appropriate. In a political office, less is more - in other words, the key focus should not be your attire, hair, or makeup, but rather the qualities you bring and are willing to improve upon during the internship.
Overall, you want to leave your interviewer with the impression of your serious, genuine interest in that particular political office as well as your ability to contribute and willingness to learn.
Following such an interview, also be prepared if your interviewer asks if you have any questions. The worst thing is to say nothing, because it usually translates to lack of preparation or disinterest.
Oftentimes, you will find that your interviewer will be the key person you go to throughout your internship, it is nice to show a respectful, but formal interest in that person’s role in the office. If you really have no questions to ask your interviewer about the internship or the office, you might convey a polite sense of gratitude for their consideration and express you are looking forward to hearing of their decision.
I wish you the utmost success in applying. As I am sure you will discover, if you take such an internship, it a sheer privilege and irreplaceable learning experience that a select percentage of the country have been able to take part in.
Nicole Chacin is a Chicago native and student at the George Washington University where she studies business administration. Nicole aims to obtain a dual masters degree in Law and Business Administration by 2017 and ultimately dreams of working in health policy and administration. This is Nicole’s 2nd year writing for Forté as she had the opportunity to learn about the organization through the first Forté C2B Leadership Conference.