By now, summer interns coming to Capitol Hill have gotten plenty of advice on what to do in Washington. Visit the monuments! Watch a debate on the House floor! Marvel at the majesty of it all!
But perhaps it’s time to discuss a more important topic: what not to do. As an author of Roll Call’s gossip column, Heard on the Hill, I’ve written plenty about interns and young staffers gone wild. Puking on one’s boss, e-mailing inappropriate messages and getting embarrassingly lost are among the sins committed by young Hill denizens that have landed them the dubious distinction of a mention in the column. I suppose this makes me an expert on what not to do.
The best advice I can give interns is simple. Don’t wind up in HOH.
But that advice benefits the interns, sparing them from shame, ridicule and possibly getting fired in disgrace. What would actually benefit me, as a journalist and chronicler of poor behavior, would be for more interns to behave badly, making for juicier fodder for the column.
Better yet, if I were truly an evil gossip columnist, I would urge the college-age set invading the Capitol this summer to make sure that their antics are grander and more public. (Why not cc the entire committee staff on that e-mail screed? Why not announce which Member of Congress you work for while doing drunken karaoke?)
But I take no delight (OK maybe just a little) in seeing well-meaning young people publicly eat crow.
To that end, here is a nonexhaustive list of things not to do:
Don’t hit “reply all” to an e-mail without thinking. Hard. Better yet, don’t put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want your boss — or your mother — to see. Phone conversations might be sooo 2002, but at least they don’t leave a paper trail.
Don’t think your badge is magic. That flimsy intern badge might get you into a hearing room or even lobbyist-thrown receptions where you can inhale mini-quiches for free. But it doesn’t entitle you to cut in line, get faster service or get special treatment.
Don’t wear said badge outside the Capitol complex. Ever. It doesn’t make your navy blazer look any cooler.
Don’t believe the maxim, “There are no dumb questions.” There are loads of dumb questions. Show how resourceful you are (a trait that always impresses on Capitol Hill) before asking a question by doing a little research of your own, even if that’s just a quick Google scan. That way, you’ll avoid the embarrassment of asking a chief of staff what “reconciliation” means.
Don’t start your job before reading the Spotted: DC [Summer] Interns blog (dcinterns.blogspot.com). Consider all the stories to be cautionary tales. And remember, that could easily be you.
And lastly, don’t forget for a second that there is no more mockable figure in Washington than the lowly intern. Sorry, kids, that’s just the way it is. Sure, it might not be entirely fair, since I’ve written about plenty of Members of Congress behaving poorly, too. Someday, you might graduate from wearing an intern badge to wearing a Members’ pin.
And HOH will still be watching.