Many young people with their newly printed political science, public policy and law degrees set their sights on Capitol Hill as a place to get their feet wet in the national political scene. They dream of working long nights crafting legislation, talking points, and press releases. They can’t wait to get neck-deep in Washington politics and policymaking.
But these people don’t start in the thick of political drama. First, they have to master making coffee and copies. And only after performing well on menial tasks do they get to start taking on tasks they’ve daydreamed about since they decided they wanted to work on Capitol Hill.
Earning a job in a congressional office is not easy. The competition is stiff. Hundreds of well-qualified twenty- and thirty-somethings apply to the lowliest of jobs. So how do you emerge from such strong applicant pools? Here are five strategies you can employ to help you land a job on Capitol Hill.
The best way to make your name more than just another collection of letters at the top of a resume is to meet people on Capitol Hill. Most applicant pools for congressional office jobs are loaded with people who had the quintessential college careers for work on Capitol Hill, but if you can be the one person who is a known commodity, you have an edge.
And it doesn’t have to be a huge advantage to pay off. It can be as simple as being the person who made an appointment to talk with the legislative director and then made a good impression.
Think about who you know who knows someone important in politics. The connection can be a family friend, a professor, a former employer... anyone! The trick is to find one or more paths from you to the person hiring entry-level staff in a congressional office.
If you have no idea where to start, see if you can get a meeting with the district director for your congressman. Consider it both a learning experience and job interview. You probably won’t get the job at the first meeting, but you definitely can lose it. Prepare well, and make yourself look good.
Volunteer for Campaign Work
To the victor go the spoils. No doubt you’ve heard the saying. In American politics, it means elected officials can help those who helped him or her get elected. And when a Republican ousts a Democrat or vice-versa, there is a considerable amount of churning among congressional staffers. Sure, the campaign manager is going to have his or her pick of choice jobs like the chief of staff, legislative director or communications officer, but there are many jobs to be handed out.
Now, not every person working on a campaign can get a job right away, but if you prove yourself as dedicated and hardworking, you stand a good chance of at least getting a bit of help in moving your career forward.
It may take working on a few campaigns before you get your opportunity at a Capitol Hill job, but keep doing good work, and good things will happen eventually.
Move to Washington, DC
Moving to a city -- especially an expensive city like Washington, DC -- is a risky move when you don’t have a job. But doing so can give you an edge when it comes to Capitol Hill jobs.
First, living in DC gives you more opportunities to meet people who can help you in your career. You can introduce yourself to people you meet, ask them about their jobs and tell them about your career aspirations. Who knows? They might be able to help you. And if you run into enough people, you’re bound to get some help.
The second reason to move to DC is hiring managers in congressional offices are more likely to interview people who already live in the area. You’re already in town, and that gives you more flexibility in scheduling. After all, hopping on the DC Metro will get you to an interview much more quickly than booking a flight to Dulles, Reagan or Baltimore. Plus, you won’t incur travel expenses each time you have an interview.
Sure, you’re going to have to find roommates, and you’re probably going to live in an apartment that is way too small for the number of people living there. But you’re pursuing your dream, and it’s going to require some sacrifices. And you’re going to have the same living situation once you land a low-paying entry-level job on Capitol Hill.
Use the Senate Placement Office
Each congressional office is its own employing entity. There is no central human resources office supporting members of Congress. However, they do have some help. In the Senate, help comes from the Senate Placement Office.
The Senate Placement Office performs two key functions for senators’ offices and committees. One, they advertise vacant jobs. They do this through Senate Employment Bulletin. Each job posting has information about the employing senator or committee, job duties and how to apply.
The other main function of the Senate Placement Office is maintaining a resume bank. Hiring managers in senators’ offices can ask the Senate Placement Office to refer qualified candidates.
It only takes three steps to put yourself in the mix. First, you create an online profile. Second, you input your resume. Third, you participate in an informational interview. Remember, this only gets your resume into a big pile of others, so this can’t be your only strategy for getting a Capitol Hill job.
Use the House Vacancy Announcement and Placement Service
Much like the Senate Placement Office serves particular human resources needs for Senate offices and committees, the House Vacancy Announcement and Placement Service supports House offices and committees. This placement office publishes the House Employment Bulletin and keeps a resume bank.
Again, signing up to receive the House Employment Bulletin and putting your resume in the bank cannot be your only steps toward your internship or congressional staffer job. Work as many angles as you can. You never know which ones will pay off.