Ursula Lauriston is an internship legend. Eager to please and ready to make it happen, she spent her first morning as a senate intern on the Hill watering the plants. What had actually been a joke ended up proving something else – Ursula was dedicated, hardworking and humble. She might have just been an intern, but she “got it.”
And that experience was the foundation to her idea for the Capitol Standard. A lifestyle magazine that tells the stories of DC’s young and powerful, Capitol Standard “unveils how readers can build their networks, trust their guts, banish mediocrity and take brilliant risks.” It’s a go-to resource for interns, Washington newbies and young professionals looking to make their mark on a city that thrives on ambition and connections.
Tapped into the heart of the city, Ursula knows what it takes to get ahead in a place that can be more than a little intimidating. Her biggest Washington advice, (besides never being too proud to water the plants): Focus on your title and perks instead of just money,” she says. “Money follows power.”
We are excited to feature a Leading Lady working on the Hill! How did you start your career in D.C.?
I had no intention of ever working in Washington. My twin sister told me about a prestigious internship (the CBCF Emerging Leaders Program) that was opening up positions for communications majors.
The CBCF internship places about two dozen students of color from around the country in internships in Congress and the Administration. I applied and was placed in the Office of Senator Roland Burris (he took President Obama’s Senate seat).
A few months into the internship, I was offered a position as a staff assistant and I accepted on one condition—I was willing to do staff assistant work as long as I had the title of press assistant. Titles are everything in D.C. And I knew if my title didn’t match what I wanted to do, I’d never have the opportunity to do it.
You have an incredible resume, including stops as a Deputy Press Secretary for a U.S. Senator, Writer for the Department of State and many more. Could you share key experiences and lessons learned along the way?
On my very first day as an intern on the Hill I asked the office manager what she needed me to do. Her response was “water the plants.” I guess it was a joke, but before she could say another word, I enthusiastically yelled “absolutely!” I found a few cups and ran off to the bathroom to fill them with water and proceeded to water the plants.
The office manager was stunned. Apparently most kids who land these internships come from privilege and have a sense of entitlement. I come from a giant immigrant family and was just happy to be there.
I honestly didn’t think the whole circumstance was that big of a deal, but it’s a story intern coordinators continue to tell their new interns to this day. I realized a lot of people have incredibly powerful jobs in this city, but nothing makes someone more powerful than being humble and willing to put in the work.
Are we correct in that you are making it happen with a full day job as a consultant and night job as editor-in-chief? How do you balance both to be successful?
I have the support of my husband, my family and my friends, and that is the only way I am able to forge ahead. I’m not superhuman, and this work is time-consuming and hard.
How did you get the idea to start Capitol Standard?
I was working as a writer/editor at the U.S. Department of State and had a handful of ‘green’ interns. I thought it would be beneficial to create a place for job advice, specifically for Washington, that people who are new to the city could relate to.
Why do you believe D.C. is one of the best places to launch a career? Is it possible for experienced professionals looking to make a career change to jump in?
Coming to this city is like attending an Ivy League university. You get to be among the best and the brightest. There are people here from all over the world, doing incredibly exciting things.
Experienced professionals can absolutely make a career change, as experts are always needed here. I personally think anyone with any level of education can work in politics. You just have to have the right disposition. You have to make good decisions and have a backbone.
What is the key to making it happen in D.C.?
You may have already guessed it, but this city thrives on networking. There are a lot of private clubs and groups that are a great place to start and meet the right people. I’m a member of the National Press Club, DC Web Women and Dem Press Secretaries, among other professional groups. Also, the entrepreneur scene is booming. Co-working spaces like 1776 and WeWork have plenty of free resources and networking opportunities where you can do everything from find a potential co-founder to land your next job or client.
Where do you see D.C. careers heading in the next three years?
Different administrations definitely have an effect on jobs. Our next president will certainly set the tone for a lot of companies. But I think entrepreneurship will continue to sweep the city. Even employers are more open to hiring entrepreneurs. Companies across the city are looking for go-getters, people who bootstrapped their own ideas and made things happen.
What are three pieces of career advice you’re willing to share with our readers?
All of these come with first-hand experience:
- When you’re looking to get promoted, especially early on in your career, focus on your title and perks instead of just money. Money follows power.
- Being a jack-of-all-trades is great, but expertise is still highly regarded and rewarded.
- You first always. Never let your boss (or anyone for that matter) degrade you or belittle you. Jobs come and go, but your dignity stays with you.
What is a book you would recommend to our readers? Why?
How to be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I just picked it up from the library this week and read it in a day. It’s a great reminder of how to live well. We all need to be reminded of that every once in a while. But if you’re looking for something a little more D.C., read The 48 Laws of Power.
I’d love to grab coffee with:
Oprah, of course!
My favorite purse is:
My yellow BCBG clutch.
My go-to outfit is:
A sheath dress and jacket. I love dresses and skirts, and wear them 99% of the time.
My favorite dinner spot is:
Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan.
I can’t live without:
My adorable husband.
My favorite way to unwind is:
Visiting my family in Massachusetts. My parents live in the woods and there’s no cell service out there. It’s like going back in time.
I feel my best when:
I’ve crossed something off of my to-do list.
Nothing makes someone more powerful than being humble and willing to put in the work.