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Posts in "Campaigns"
June 11, 2014
For most of Capitol Hill, summer means intern season is just beginning. But what if you’re on a different timetable, and your internship is ending without a paid job yet? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. My internship ends this Friday. However, I haven’t found a job yet and I plan on staying here in D.C. What can I do to stay in the job loop on the Hill after, besides staying in touch with the contacts I’ve made?
A. Congrats on interning, it’s one of the best ways to land a paying job on Capitol Hill. And you are right; staying in touch with the contacts you’ve made is a great way to keep your job search active. But “active” doesn’t always cut it — you want a job soon, and not one waiting tables at Rock Bottom Brewery. So here are a few ways to hasten that along:
Ask your contacts for more contacts. These guys already know you’re stellar, so ask if they can introduce you to staffers in other offices for informational interviews. Assuming you were a strong intern, they’re likely going to be happy to help. And even if your internship wasn’t as outstanding as you would have liked it to be, your office can still point you in a good direction.
It’s opportunity season. Otherwise known as election season. Midterms are just around the corner and both sides should be staffing up soon. Working on a campaign isn’t always a direct route to Capitol Hill, but if you’re connected to a state with a challenger who has a decent chance to knock off an incumbent, or an incumbent who could use some help defending his or her seat, it could be worth exploring the option. And if you want to travel to far-off exotic spots, whether it be New Orleans or Scranton, Pa., a few months on the campaign trail could be a good fit.
Offer to help. Maybe your old office has a tough re-election, or maybe they’re actively supporting a challenger from a neighboring district. Nothing says “team player” like volunteering to canvas, stuff envelopes or shuttle volunteers. And if your old office has been lukewarm about recommending you on the internship alone, they’re likely to have much more glowing things to say if you’ve proved you can go the extra mile.
Put together a game plan and consider a second internship. Depending on how well your contacts are faring and how your job search is going, you may want to consider looking for a second internship. So many factors go into this — your résumé and experience, the hiring process, your state connections and sheer dumb luck — so Hill Navigator can’t say one way or another if you need to rush ahead on applying for more intern experience. But sit down with someone who does know you well and get their feedback.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will be treated anonymously.
May 1, 2014
My colleague Nathan Gonzales has a must-read out today for any Capitol Hill or campaign flack looking to set up interviews for their boss/candidate: How to Ruin Your Interview With Stu Rothenberg.
Over the course of the past 25 years, Stu has garnered somewhat of a reputation of being a “hard” interview. And some party strategists and consultants probably have more colorful adjectives than that. Those are also probably the same folks who prepare their candidates for the alleged onslaught they will face when stepping into The Rothenberg Political Report offices.
But I’ll be honest with you, Stu is more bark than bite, and if candidates come in and act and talk like normal human beings, the vast majority come out on the other side unscathed. But there are a few ways that a candidate can virtually guarantee a less than ideal outcome.
Hill Navigator agrees on all of Gonzales’ points, but wants to add one more à la Barry Sanders: Act like you’ve been there before. Because to Stu, you (and your story) probably have. Stu has been in this business long enough to see it all: your fundraising numbers, your campaign team, your home-state newspaper endorsements — it’s not news to him. And he’s impervious to spin, so what can you do?
Play the role of the experienced candidate. The one who hired a credible, experienced campaign team and understands the nuances of poll numbers. It may be less interesting or gossip-worthy, but those are the candidates more likely to reap the rewards come Election Day.
And while you’re at it, take a few of Nathan’s lessons to heart. Particularly the one about the student council nostalgia.
March 27, 2014
Hill Navigator is a little late to the game on this one, but was recently handed a copy of Mark Leibovich’s New York Times Magazine article, “All is Fair in the Fog of Fake Outrage” (March 9). Leibovich dissects what he terms “completely inappropriate drama” behind the Kentucky Senate race between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Hill Navigator agrees on the drama — what are campaigns, if not concocted sporting events with histrionic teams, winners and losers, reminiscent more of an any-given-Sunday NFL matchup, rather than a Lincoln-Douglas debate? But Leibovich makes his point by honing in on the exuberance of two young candidate flacks: Charly Norton and Kelsey Cooper, who are, “25 and 23 respectively.”
The [campaign press secretary] job now requires no special education or experience, no roots to a state and no affiliation with a candidate. The prized skill set is merely the ability to get your noise heard above the rest of the cacophony, which, of course, just creates more noise.
Hill Navigator disagrees. Full story
December 26, 2013
How has it been one year since Hill Navigator started giving workplace advice? It seems like not that long ago that we started asking for submissions about the concerns and questions Hill staffers have about their jobs. Sure enough, questions came in. People want to get on the Hill or get off the Hill. Staffers want more money or a date or a title change. And sometimes they just want to vent.
It’s tough to pick favorites, so consider this is a list of Hill Navigator columns that are worth a second read. And if you feel differently, let me know. Feedback from readers is one of the best parts of the job (though strangely, I have yet to receive the question about how to find work in a newsroom …)
1. The campaign vs. office debate. There are two sides to every political tale: the campaign and the office. Hill Navigator listed out some ways the congressional office is NOT the campaign trail, and some ways that the campaign trail is NOT your congressional office. Best bet for long-term happiness in congressional politics? Spend some time in both worlds. Just not simultaneously.
2. Interns! Hill Navigator might not have a column if not for people clamoring to work on Capitol Hill or interns trying to find their way to a fully paid position. And should interns be paid? The debate continues.
3. Best Flack Ever. I’ve been lucky enough to play for both sides of the reporter/flack ballgame. All too often, I receive pitches from people who haven’t done their due diligence to research my beat or newspaper. A little intelligence goes a long way toward getting your newsworthy item noticed.
4. You’re Not that Busy. At least, you shouldn’t be. I was inspired to write this after speaking with a dear friend who lamented not being able to get all of her work done. Hill staffers are hard-wired to say “yes” to any assignment, but putting some limits on what you can and can’t do might be the answer to finding time to relax and unwind — which, in turn, can make you more productive.
5. Maternity Leave. How is there not more written on the topic of the inconsistent and often abysmal leave policies for new parents? Hill Navigator explored what Capitol Hill offers for maternity and paternity leave. Spoiler alert: Hill Navigator is not yet done proselytizing on this topic. Expect a few more working-parent columns next year. And a baby picture thrown in for good measure.
Hill Navigator wishes you a wonderful holiday season. See you in January.
December 18, 2013
If you’ve been reading Hill Navigator long enough, you may find some overarching themes. One of them is a fervent defense of the staff assistant position. Hill Navigator was once a staff assistant — answering phones, ordering sandwiches from the Rayburn Special Orders deli (old timers may remember that one) and greeting every visitor with a big smile and an offer to make fresh coffee. Such skills may be deemed entry-level, but they have served me well in every job I’ve had since. By the time I’d become weary with the job, a promotion — to the coveted back office — was in the wings.
And so it goes, a tale common for many Hill staffers. The lesson? Don’t overlook what the staff assistant does. It’s important. It’s necessary. It keeps the offices functioning and smiling. And — I’ll put this in bold — it’s a great job to have. Just not for too long a stretch of time.
Q. I will [soon be a] graduate of a small liberal arts college (in May), and I will be working as the campaign manager for a congressman during the 2014 cycle. I do not have any direct Hill experience, but I will have three election cycles under my belt (including the 2014 cycle). I do not want to be stuck as the campaign junkie and my short term goal is to work on the Hill. When is a good time to start looking for jobs on the Hill? What level of positions should I be looking to apply for? Am I stuck at the staff assistant level because of the lack of experience?
A. “Stuck at the staff assistant level?” Stuck??
It sounds like you are a promising, eager college-graduate-to-be who wants to work on Capitol Hill. And you’ve got campaign experience, so you’re likely someone who knows how to work hard for little pay. The one hitch in your question? The idea that you’d be “stuck at the staff assistant level.”
The staff assistant job is not quicksand. It is a launching pad. A caterpillar. Insert any metaphor for things that start small before getting big.
Staff assistant is the common point of entry for Capitol Hill jobs for recent graduates. According to the 2010 House Compensation Study, the D.C. staff assistant position has an average tenure of less than two years. Less than two years. And where do these staff assistants go? They get promoted. Or they get a better job. And wherever they go, they take that Hill experience with them.
So I’ll take the liberty of reframing your question: When is a good time to start looking for a job and what level should you seek out?
If you know you want to work on the Hill, start now. You don’t have to be a college grad to go on informational interviews. Start with your local and state delegations and any offices that are closely connected to the campaign you are working on. Meet with them in earnest. Say that you’re hoping you can join a congressional office once the campaign ends. Be willing to take any position, though given your lack of Hill experience and your recent college degree, you’d be wise to look for entry-level spots and then work your way up. Your campaign experience isn’t all for naught. The same work ethic and political smarts that serve you well on the campaign trail will translate to a congressional office. Even at the staff assistant level.
Have a question? Let us know. Hill Navigator wants to hear from you.
October 22, 2013
Did the government shutdown leave a bad taste in your mouth? Maybe it was the final straw in your Capitol Hill career. But there’s the delicate issue of timing, and a member of Congress with a tough re-election bid can be extra sensitive to staff departures. Hill Navigator has some thoughts on how to leave on the best terms possible — even during a tough re-election.
Q. With the government shutdown, [it] seemed like a great time to leave the Hill! My boss is up for re-election next year, and I don’t want to leave in the middle of a campaign. Is there a cut-off date for leaving the office of a member in cycle? Thank you!
A. I certainly don’t have an exact date for you — though the concept of a cut-off date is a clever one. Perhaps this is something for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or National Republican Congressional Committee to take up in their next campaign training institutes.
While I can’t give you an exact date, I can provide some guidance. Leaving an office — especially the office of a member facing a tough re-election — is more about how you leave than when you leave. It’s possible to leave on wonderful terms just a few weeks shy of the primary. And it’s also possible to stay until the dogged end without so much as a friendly “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
So ask yourself: How fundamental is your role to the re-election?*
Yes, Hill staffers are all essential in their own ways, but the foreign policy legislative assistant and office scheduler have very different functions in day-to-day campaign operations. If your boss depends on your position for the campaign (scheduler, press secretary, chief of staff among them) then you should leave with ample time to train someone else to replace you. Bosses in tough re-elections tend to bring staff on board who understand this is part of their job. If you’re weeks shy of a tough primary and an attractive job offer comes through, try to delay the start date. You’ll need more than two weeks to hire and train your replacement.
If your role is not directly connected to the campaign function (as many policy positions are) then time your transition to avoid interfering or detracting from the boss’s focus. If you need to leave before the big race, go ahead — but it would be wise to take the weekend to go canvassing and garner some goodwill. And remember, the tone in which you leave the office is how they will remember you, long after you (and your shining accomplishments) are gone.
*Hill Navigator knows that official government business does not include campaign work. There are rules for specific positions that have leeway, though most offices expect official business to be separate from campaign actions. But this question is answered in the spirit in which it was asked. If you’re smart enough to work on Capitol Hill, you’d be wise to stay mindful of tough re-elections and adjust your actions accordingly.
October 1, 2013
Previously, Hill Navigator wrote about the ways your campaign office is not Capitol Hill. But just as there are Capitol Hill staffers who make their way to the campaign trail, there are campaign staffers who come to Congress. And it can be a world of difference.
To help ease the transition, Hill Navigator has put together a list of five ways in which your day job on Capitol Hill is radically different from the campaign trail:
1. You go home after work. At the end of the day, your co-workers are not your best friends/social life/only people your age for miles. This means that, in a congressional office, social etiquette rules are of a different nature. Sure, some offices are close, and many a romantic relationship has formed in a Capitol Hill setting (see previous dating columns rehashed here, here and here). But keep in mind, unlike a campaign, the close working quarters do not translate to instant friendship.
2. You need to dress the part. Time to retire the flip-flop and jean combo from the campaign trail. No longer is your uniform the neon candidate T-shirt and matching hat. On Capitol Hill, suits and blazers still dominate. It’s business attire every day that Congress is in session, so make the necessary wardrobe upgrade. You might feel the financial squeeze, but hey, at least you get health care and a 401(k).
3. Enjoy the perks. Get ready for some upscale living. Being a Hill staffer means you’ll have access to all the wine-and-cheese receptions you can handle. This usually beats eating campaign grease-ball food at 2 in the morning. Even better — the reception food is free.
4. Use your indoor voice. Goodbye to county fairs and canvassing; hello to a desk job and the ups and downs that come with it. Desk work is a different beast, and unlike the drama and flair of a campaign, it can be monotonous and sometimes dull. Get ready for some workdays when you wish you were outside with a trunk full of yard signs.
5. Do your homework. One of the biggest differences between Capitol Hill and the campaign trail is the speed at which things move. Capitol Hill has more nuances and subtleties than the rough-and-tumble nature of the campaign trail, where an event can take shape and be executed within a 24-hour period.
If you’re new to Capitol Hill, take time to better familiarize yourself with procedures and policies. Figure out how to use the tunnels to get to the Capitol, and learn the difference between a motion to recommit and motion to adjourn. The Congressional Research Service offers formal courses on legislative policies. But you can learn a lot just by taking the time to understand the various aspects of your office — from how to answer the phones to how to write a legislative memo. Your campaign background might prepare you for the politics, as Hill Navigator has written before, but it’s worth taking the time to brush up and understand the policies, too.
September 17, 2013
It’s inevitable for most Capitol Hill staffers: At some point, you will be on a campaign. Maybe it’s by choice, or maybe it’s coerced; it could be three days or three weeks.
You might move across the country, and you might be sleeping in your parents’ guest bedroom. Whatever the circumstances, a time will come when you leave the marble halls of Congress for the brave outdoors of the campaign trail.
Despite the twin nature of campaigns and Congress, the workplace environments have little resemblance. Before the culture shock sets in (and since this is a nonelection year, you have a little time), here are six tips on how your campaign job might differ from your Hill job. And here’s hoping that the better prepared you are, the better experience you’ll have.
- On a campaign, there’s no line between work and home. Often this is because you don’t have a home, as many campaign staffers rely on supporter housing. This means you’re in someone’s basement or guest bedroom or fold-out futon. When you’re on a campaign, the blurry line between work and home is eliminated. You’re there to win. And winners work all the time.
- It’s you vs. the elements. Gone are the heating and cooling systems that keep the House and Senate office buildings at a perfect room temperature all year round. Gone are the days of sitting in an ergonomically appropriate chair, working on a computer with a 24-inch screen, and calling IT when your BlackBerry breaks. You’re in campaign mode now: You’re lucky to get a folding chair and card table with an outlet for your laptop. You’re also going to be doing outdoor events — from county fairs to Election Day canvassing. Dress appropriately.
- It’s you and your co-workers. Unless you are working on the hometown campaign where your family and friends live, your campaign team is your new social life. This environment has made for many friendships, romances, weddings and plenty of delicious drama to rehash on your campaign reunion nights. But unlike when you’re at your House or Senate office, there is no external group of friends. So keep the at-work behavior extra cordial. You don’t want to be the one left out when everyone goes across the street to the bar.
- Your boss is a real person. On Capitol Hill, they might be larger than life — that shiny voting pin, the “yes, sir; no, sir,” the metal detector walk-around. But in their state or district, your bosses are on a first-name basis with voters. And they have families, sometimes kids, in tow. And that thrice-weekly newspaper’s endorsement is a big deal. Campaigns can be a great time to see a human element to an otherwise distant boss, but it can bring some new challenges. Maybe you didn’t want to split a funnel cake with the boss, or maybe you didn’t need to see him in khaki shorts and Tevas. Whatever the situation, be prepared to see the boss in a very different light.
- You’re not working for Uncle Sam anymore. This particularly applies to the full-time campaign staffers (as opposed to Hill employees who take a temporary leave or use vacation time). Working for the government has significant benefits: health insurance, thrift savings plan, access to myriad services provided by the House and Senate. Campaign workers have yet to receive such benefits, so you could be in a health insurance lurch and wind up with big tax bills when you get your 1099 forms. Do your best to negotiate a strong compensation package before you start, but keep in mind that most campaigns are on a shoestring budget, and even making the same dollar amount might fall short of what you’re used to in a Capitol Hill office.
- It only matters if you win or lose. Sadly, campaigns are often evaluated in terms of winning and losing sides, whether you were a field organizer or the campaign manager. It all boils down to the Election Day results, so try to soak up as much of the experience while you can. You’ll make contacts and gain experience either way, but it’s a much sweeter end if you’re on the winning team. And a better election night party, too.
July 15, 2013
Hill staffers are an ambitious bunch. That same call to public service sometimes includes the drive to run for elected office.
In today’s Roll Call, I interviewed several former Capitol Hill staffers who are running for local office. While these races won’t be decided until 2014, each of the people I spoke with believed their Hill experience was a positive attribute, and they found ways to bring their work ethic, understanding of policy, and love for politics to their own campaigns.
From the article:
Marc Korman has gained a new appreciation for his old bosses.
“Many Hill staffers joke about their bosses’ stock answers to questions or stump speeches, but as a candidate, you start to see that you are meeting with so many different people so often, that you cannot be original every time,” said Korman, who is running for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 16, which includes portions of Friendship Heights, Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac.
Korman is just one of a long list of former staffers who attempt to make the transition to elected office. According to CQ Roll Call Member Information and Research, 76 of the current House and Senate members previously served as congressional staff, though those numbers do not include state and local offices, such as the one Korman is running for.
May 21, 2013
What’s worse than working in a dysfunctional Capitol Hill office? Not having the opportunity to work in one at all. And for a number of wannabe staffers, the road to Capitol Hill is paved with obstacles. Today’s question comes from a spirited campaign worker who wonders why his or her skills on the trail haven’t earned a congressional ID badge.
Q. I need to vent a little bit. I have spent the last 10 years, a HUGE chunk of my adult life, on campaigns helping getting congressmen, state reps. and governors elected to their office. However, now I want to transition from campaigns.
March 19, 2013
Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: the ex-boss who wants to hang around.
Q. One of my first jobs on the Hill was working for a member who was great; he represented his district well, and we had a great working relationship.
Unfortunately, he lost his seat a few years ago. Meanwhile, my career has moved forward.
Since losing, every two years he talks about running again for Congress or putting his name out for statewide office in his home state.
While he is wistfully talking about making another run for office, he hasn’t been doing much to get himself there — not raising money, not making political connections, not even spending a lot of time in his home district. (He seems to be in D.C. more now than he was when he was a member.)
Every time he decides to float his name, though, he calls me or wants to meet with me, leading up to his asking me to set up meetings for him around the Hill.
Don’t get me wrong, I love him and I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me, but I just don’t think he’s doing what he needs to do to win. And now he’s asking me to spend my own capital to help him, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it — but I don’t know how to tell him.