By Marina Eastham
Editor's Note: Marina Eastham is President of the Connecticut Association of Blind Students.
Partially as a result of my involvement with the National Federation of the Blind, I've had the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for the last two summers. During the summer of 1997, I interned with Senator Christopher Dodd from Connecticut. Last summer, I worked in the offices of the Republican National Committee. Both of my summers were very rewarding and I highly recommend the Capitol Hill experience to all blind students.
One of the most important things that we do in the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as our own advocates. What better way to polish advocacy skills could there be, than to be a first-hand participant in the legislative process where so many of the decisions that affect us are made?
Working on Capitol Hill has two other benefits as well. First, for legislators and Capitol Hill staffers to see blind people functioning confidently and competently on a day-to-day basis is the most eloquent testimony we can offer to the doctrine of equality that we are attempting to teach. Second, working on Capitol Hill is a great resume builder and helps prepare us for bigger and better things, both as individuals and as representatives of the blindness community.
I was able to obtain my initial internship with Senator Dodd through participating in the Federations' Washington Seminar that occurs each February. Every year, Federationists from around the country travel to Washington and meet with our Congressmen regarding important national issues that affect the lives of blind people. In February of 1997, I was part of a delegation from the NFB of Connecticut that met with Senator Dodd. After the meeting, I remained behind in the conference room. I told Senator Dodd of my interest in working as an intern, and handed him a copy of my resume. He reviewed it right there, and offered me the internship on the spot. I was stunned!
Since then, I've helped two friends from the NFB obtain congressional internships which they also have found very rewarding. Here are a few suggestions that you might find helpful if you decide to take a crack at working on Capitol Hill as well.
Build, build, build your credentials. Before you apply for a congressional internship, do something to build a resume and set yourself apart: get a job somewhere significant, do an internship, do community service, or get good grades. Speaking of resumes, go to your college career counseling office or have a professional advise you on writing the resume and cover letter. There are also books on the subject that you can consult. One thing to remember, though, don't ever leave the job up to someone else. You should write, proofread, and rewrite the resume and cover letter until it is perfect. I have seen staff members at the Senator's make fun of applicants' resumes. It is not a pretty sight.
Learn about your congressman's background and find out about his/her views on issues. Go to the homepage of the congressman you have in mind via the internet at the address: http://www.house.gov/ or http://www.senate.gov/. Hopefully the congressman's homepage will talk about bills and issues he/she supports. In addition, the congressman's homepage should have a link where you can go to find out details regarding internships and the application process.
If you know anyone in the office to which you are applying or know someone who knows someone in the office, have them speak to the congressman or to the intern coordinator on your behalf. Capitol Hill is known for filling jobs based on connections. Networking is an important tool that you will use throughout your career. There's no time like the present to begin mastering the essential techniques.
Assuming that all goes well, and you are able to get your foot in the door at the congressman's office, the key is to present the image of someone who would be an asset to the office. Whether your first introduction to the congressman is by means of the NFB's Washington Seminar, or comes after going through the more conventional internship application process, be prepared to make the most of your opportunity.
When you are going into the office for an interview, dress in professional business attire. Think ahead of time of the types of questions you likely will encounter and prepare various responses. Generally consider the impression with which you would like to leave the congressman or the staff member conducting the interview, and act consistently with this goal.
If you follow these steps, your odds of obtaining a Capitol Hill internship should be quite high. It takes hard work and perseverance, but it's worth it. Good luck!
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