Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide: When the Job Does Not Work Out

Posted July 13, 2014 at 2:24pm

Looking for a Hill internship? Trying to parlay your current internship into a full-time staffer position? Got interns you’re managing?

Roll Call’s “Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide,” written by former eight-year Hill staffer and current Hill Navigator columnist Rebecca Gale, levels with you about what you need to know to ace your Capitol Hill internship.

Below is Part 3 of that guide: “It Happens to the Best of Us: When the Job Does Not Work Out”

Part 3 of the Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide: When the Job Does Not Work Out

The Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt

Hill Navigator has yet to meet a person in Washington, D.C., who has never been turned down for a job. On both sides of the aisle, in each branch of government, there are staffers that — like you — were not picked for a job they wanted.*
But talk is cheap; you don’t want company in your zero-batting-average job hunt, you want success. All of us — Hill Navigator included — have been on the wrong side of that awkward email. Here are some tips on how to take the rejection in stride.
1. Write back. You know that terrible email you’re about to get, with some vague line about how they’re go­ing in a different direction or have found someone else, or really liked meeting you. It may pain you to read it, but chances are that it pained the author to write it. It’s never fun having to reject people, especially in the Capitol Hill world, where everyone is qualified and more than one person would make a stellar co-worker. Even just a few lines — “Thanks, I appreciate it, would love to stay in touch, etc.” — can go a long way toward leaving a good last impression. And it shows that you’re a pretty upstanding person who won’t hold a grudge.
2. Stay in touch. This was not the last job you’ll ever apply for, and it’s possible that another one could ex­ist that is an even better fit. Capitol Hill offices usually want to fill jobs quickly; make sure they know you’re still interested in working in their office should another position become available, because it may happen sooner than you think.
3. Don’t take it personally. Easier said than done, of course, but don’t take a job rejection as a referendum on your personality or capabilities. This bears repeating: This happens to all of us, for myriad reasons.
4. Don’t obsess over the myriad reasons. Maybe you misspelled Tucson on your cover letter, or thought the state capital of New Mexico was Albuquerque.** Perhaps the boss wanted to hire someone from a cer­tain part of the state, or with a rural health background or a grass-roots organizer. Maybe the office had one too many extroverts and preferred someone laid back. Whatever it is, you’re unlikely to find out the real reason. Save your energy for bigger and better things.
5. Keep your confidential circle small. Yes, when you’re feeling glum it can be tempting to hang out by the Nespresso machine and spill your troubles to passersby. But be smart about sharing your job woes. If someone you trust is close to the application process, you can ask them for their feedback. Perhaps they can offer useful insight, either on what the job required or areas of improvement for your résumé. If noth­ing else, they can be a sympathetic ear for you. Because like everyone else in this town, they are familiar with what you’re going through.

And the Winner of the Staff Assistant Job Is…

We’ve all been there — qualified, hopeful, ready to hit the ground running but ultimately not the one picked for the job. But what happens when you aren’t even given a chance to apply?


“I’m an intern in a Senate office, and I truly love my job. Lately my office has been experiencing a lot of turnover: [Legislative assistants] and [legislative correspondents are] moving on, and one of our old staff assistants moved back to the state to work in the state office. Instead of hiring a new staff assistant, the chief of staff and HR person decided to pick an interim from within the intern pool. They just decided to go with the oldest, (not me), and I was a little frustrated with the situation. If it would have been an interview process and I lost I would be fine with that, but the fact it was just a pick seems unfair.
I also got stuck with all of the other intern’s tasks, which I am going to nail because I want to prove they made a mistake in not hiring me. I don’t really want to mention it to anyone in the office, because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who complains about not getting the job. The other intern is a good friend, but I would have killed for that job as a way to further prove myself and I just don’t know what to do now.”


Keep doing what you’re doing.  

Hill Navigator has heard of a lot of unusual hiring practices — picking someone who is the “oldest” might be a new one. It is not unusual to give a promotion based on length of tenure or seniority, if that is what you’re referring to. But let’s assume this was an arbitrary hiring decision, and had you been born in January and not July, the job could have been yours.
You’re correct — don’t be “that guy” who complains. But do take the time to connect with your direct super­visor about more ways you can position yourself for a full-time, paid job. It is no secret, nor is it unusual, that someone who interns on Capitol Hill will want to work permanently on Capitol Hill. That pipeline exists for a reason.
Pick a time to talk with your supervisor and frame the conversation about your goals and the best way for you to get there. As you said, you don’t need to lambast the office for its unusual hiring practices. It’s also possible there are forces at work behind the scenes that helped your friend get the job. He might have earned it through sheer hard work, or the senator could have taken a particular liking to him, or his father could be a major cam­paign donor back home. (Don’t look so shocked. It happens.)

Suggested Further Reading

Just when you thought Hill Navigator was done giving, we give even more. Below are suggested reads that are all about getting Hill jobs and transitioning in between Hill jobs:

Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide, Part 2: Getting a Job

Have a question or comment about working on Capitol Hill?
Email hillnavigator@rollcall.com.
(All submissions will be treated anonymously.)