- America's First Real Post-Cold War President
- Peters Keeps Lead in Michigan Senate Race
- Obama Hints He'll Delay Action in Immigration
- Baker Catches Coakley in New Poll
- Is Rick Perry Really Ready for 2016?
Posts in "Getting Promoted"
August 8, 2014
It turns out Capitol Hill isn’t without its perks, at least as observed by outsiders.
Hill Navigator received a number of responses on “I Was Told There’d Be Perks” from staffers and would-be staffers arguing that Capitol Hill does, in fact, have perks.
Hill staffers get health insurance, Metro benefits, books from the Library of Congress delivered to their door, underground parking, matching thrift savings plan contributions. There are options for student loan repayment, professional development, even staff trips to far-off places like Alaska or China.
There is a gym for staff, credit unions on both the House and Senate side, and professional organizations like the Office of Compliance that are dedicated to helping staffers out of uncomfortable situations.
So what other “perks” would be missing?
Being a congressional staffer is a great privilege with many benefits. But the traditional “perks” that one asks for — such as more time off, a bigger bonus or travel and entertainment budget — are still not part of the job culture. Rather, expanding responsibilities and knowledge is what most Hill staffers are seeking, including the questioner, and advice was given as such.
But for anyone who feels they need more out of their job on Capitol Hill, you’re right to keep pushing for more responsibilities and ways to learn. What constitutes a “perk” is a matter of perspective, and a rewarding job tends to have quite a few.
Read the original post: I Was Told There’d Be Perks
August 6, 2014
Think Capitol Hill jobs could use a few more perks? Don’t call an UberX just yet. Hill Navigator discusses the tangible benefits of working in Congress.
Q. I’ve been repeatedly asking about a pay increase in my office, but I’m running into a wall because the next most senior staffer in the office makes about the same as me and isn’t actively pursuing a raise. I got a title bump the last time I pushed for a raise, but now I can’t think of any title that I could ask for. What other perks can I ask for? The usual things from other jobs like more time off and working from home privileges seem out of place on the Hill. I want to be here constantly!
A. Never has so much advice been given in the question in which it was asked. You wanted a raise, you got a title bump. You did your homework, you found your salary isn’t likely to move. In your hunt for privileges, you found out you already love your job.
Hill Navigator has something for you: A handshake and congratulations.
You’ve already maneuvered yourself well on Capitol Hill. Your office likes you enough to give you a title change (and hopefully some more responsibilities to go along with it) and you’re now on par with the most senior staffer in your office.
You’re looking for perks and you’re missing the biggest one: Being in an office, and doing good work, in a situation where you can thrive.
But yes, yes, you already knew that. So why won’t Hill Navigator get back to telling you how to maximize your current role with perks?
Because perks aren’t part of the Capitol Hill culture. Titles, information, access to higher-ups and influence within your realm are the currency in which Hill jobs are traded. There is no AmEx or expense account, no glamorous office and private bathroom unless your name is the on the door (and even then, not all are so glamorous, nor private).
Working for the government inherently means you’re working for others, not for profit. Yes, you may get your cell phone bill reimbursed, but you’re not going to have an Delonghi espresso machine anytime soon. No one on Capitol Hill does.
My advice to you: Learn as much as you can, work diligently, and take heart that you’re in an office where you’re so thrilled to be there that more time off isn’t even something you’d enjoy.
Want more Hill Navigator? Did you know you can get Hill Navigator delivered to your inbox? Go to the right hand sidebar and sign up under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.”
July 8, 2014
Like your job? But what if there is something out there even better for you — fancier title, higher tax bracket, maybe even a MacBook Air? How do you decide when to leave a good job for something that could be better? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m working in my second Hill office and I know from experience and talking to friends that I’ve been very lucky to work in two offices with amazing bosses. My personal interests, the priorities of my boss, and the issues I work on all align, on top of me fitting in with the personality and character of our entire office. Prior to my last move I was trying to move up to a legislative director position, but fell short. A few more years on and I feel like I could try to jump to another office to become an LD, but the downside is leaving an office that I feel was designed to perfectly fit me. My current boss isn’t going away (knock on wood), and is moving up in seniority on our committees quickly. I’ve been trying to figure out the odds of people above me moving on, but I’m not sure how to bring that up without being too precocious. What’s the more dangerous career move: Sticking around in a good office too long and not moving up, or making a move to somewhere where I might not fit perfectly but at least my title and pay is moving up?
A. Hill Navigator admires your ambition: You’re in a good job now and you’re looking for something even better. But what you’re asking is akin to reading tea leaves. Will an amazing opportunity come in your current office or is there a better one someplace else?
The answer, sadly, is no one knows. Your boss could get nominated to the president’s cabinet or resign in scandal. Even the most established member of Congress could decide to run for Senate, or suddenly retire for a better gig on K street. (They — like you — are curious about what a better job might offer.) Opportunities such as these have promoted (and befallen) many Hill staffers. The problem is you don’t know when your next job is going to strike platinum, so let’s focus on what you do know.
1) You like your job. Always a good place to start. Presumably, with a good job comes good people, ones you can talk to about your future and find ways in which you can expand your responsibilities, which will help your hirability well into the future.
2) You will never fit perfectly. Even if there is a new great office that brings in bagels every Friday or is closed the entire month of August, it will never be the perfect fit. Don’t focus too intently on the small fissures in your job. There will always be a foolish co-worker, nagging boss, or micromanaging scheduler who bothers you. Stick to the big picture when evaluating how well a job works.
3) It’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can enjoy and thrive in your current job while still keeping your ear to the ground for other possibilities. Informational interviews are always effective, even if you aren’t looking to make an immediate move. Having coffee with contacts is far better than reading about their life changes on Facebook. Things change quickly. Good bosses leave and bad ones get promoted. The goal is to get as much out of your current job as you can but have a few tethers out in case you decide (or someone decides for you) that you need to leave.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will be treated anonymously.
May 6, 2014
“You gotta network to get work.” Wise words from Dan Egan, fictional Hill staffer turned vice presidential confidante on HBO’s “Veep,” which Hill Navigator finds more palatable than its flashier counterpart, “House of Cards” (but that’s another topic altogether.) The broader point is, once you’ve landed your dream job, how do you stay in touch with all those oh-so-valuable contacts who helped along the way? Hill Navigator answers.
Q. Just wanted to hear your thoughts on how to best network after you get the job. After doing tons of informational interviews that helped me land the dream job, how often should I remain in contact with those individuals who were crucial to helping me get that job? And what tone to use?
Q. After interning for a little while, I was able to obtain my current position as a staff assistant in a Member’s office several months ago (though I have remained ready to move up the ladder since my first week). During my internship, I had informational interviews with many people on the Hill, and some of those people were instrumental in helping me land my job, but all of the people I met with were helpful in some way. Sometimes I randomly see them around the Hill and I always regret not staying in touch with them. However, I don’t really know how to go about doing it, unless I just email them about seemingly nothing from time to time. Even if I did that, it would seem painfully obvious as to why I was doing it, and I barely know them. I added most of them on LinkedIn long ago, but that’s always a one and done sort of thing.
What is the best way to stay in touch with those I met during my job search, especially those directly responsible for helping me secure my current job, and also people I meet going forward with whom I will want to maintain a connection?
A. Congrats on getting your dream job. And you’re wise to start thinking about how to stay in touch with those key contacts who helped you along the way.
Start by offering to return the favor.
If they helped you get a job, you should be a resource for them in your related field. If they aren’t trying to make a move, they likely know other junior staffers who are. Volunteer to take informational interviews or meet with someone who wants to learn more about working in D.C. Take those meetings unfailingly. They will be grateful and you can use each interaction as an excuse to check in.
As for what tone to use, try a graciousness-humility hybrid, with a touch of personal warmth. Your contacts likely won’t want to hear about your personal dating woes or the list of injuries on your fantasy baseball team. They’d be more inclined to hear you’re enjoying the work, learning a lot and are still grateful to them for helping you get there. And if you haven’t already, be sure to let them know that you landed in your dream job. Much better to learn it directly from you than to see your name pop up in Roll Call’s Downtown Moves.
But what about those whom you just happen to see in the hall? Go with a quick “hello,” with a brief introduction (even the best of us forget names from time to time) and a happy line about how cozily you’re ensconced in your new office. And then add the kicker about how you’re thankful for the help and you’ll always appreciate it. Hill staffers might be busy, but few are too busy for a round of praise. Particularly from a staffer like you, who is genuinely appreciative of their good work.
And a final request from Hill Navigator: Print out (or bookmark) this column and keep it tucked away with your stash of business cards. Because one day your dream job might seem a little less rosy, or those junior staffers with requests for coffee dates might seem a little more needy. Jobs change, bosses leave, people outgrow positions — Hill Navigator doesn’t expect you to still be in the same spot a few years from now. But remember the hard work and good people it took to land you there. Keeping that in mind will serve you well, far into the future.
April 30, 2014
It’s not unusual to disagree with your party platform on some issues. But what happens when the disagreement includes your personal life? Even with recent sweeping policy changes — which Hill Navigator strongly endorses — not all gay staffers may feel at home on Capitol Hill. Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I am a gay Republican staffer. I am quite comfortable with who I am and live my personal life openly, but am afraid to do the same with my professional life as I fear it may hold me back as I continue to advance my career on the Hill working for Republicans. Do you have any advice for my situation?
A. Republicans and Democrats alike have wide disparities in their political beliefs and subsequent expectations for their staffers. And LGBT issues have evolved rapidly; there are many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, for whom your personal life would not be any issue whatsoever.
My advice to you is to speak to someone who has been in your shoes. Hill staffers are nothing if not resourceful, and in anticipation of questions like these (and before the days of Hill Navigator), staffers created the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus in 2004, during the now-defunct debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment. GLASS celebrated its 10-year anniversary this week; it is a bipartisan organization with a focus on professional development and mentoring. This is the ideal place to start delving into how you can maximize your chances of professional success as you climb the party ladder.
But perhaps this is an issue that is a bit closer to home and you are unsure how your current office would react. If there is a co-worker you trust, consider being open and honest with him or her. If given a reason to believe your office will be accepting, then perhaps that is the cue you need.
And if this trusted person doesn’t give such an indication — though I hope very much that it is provided — then take the time to think about what it means to work in an office where you cannot be fully honest with your boss. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 provides some protection for Hill staffers from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation*, but even that might not be enough to maximize your growth and promotion opportunities. Every staffer disagrees with the boss on some issues, but sometimes there are deal-breakers. I hope, for your sake, that this is not it.
*But not all protections. Per the Office of Compliance, it is judged case by case until Congress passes legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
March 25, 2014
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. That’s why Hill Navigator has put together “The Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt.” 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. Which brings me to the next item on the list …
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 whoever asks. But be smart about whom you tell about job woes to. 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.
*Hill Navigator acknowledges there may be an exception whose résumé has always shined a bit brighter, or whose luck has never strayed. Congrats to you, a true prime number among staffers. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume your long and storied career has a few more bumps, hurdles and peaks.
**It’s Santa Fe, though you probably knew that.
March 18, 2014
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? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m an intern in a Senate office, and I truly love my job. Lately my office has been experiencing a lot of turnover: LA’s and LC’s 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 interns 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.
A. 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 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.)
And take the time to work closely with your friend in his new post. At the rate the office turnover is happening, he could move up much faster than either of you anticipate. And then there will be another staff assistant opening, one you are well suited to be selected for.
March 12, 2014
Capitol Hill got you down? Maybe you didn’t get the press secretary position you were so qualified for. Maybe your merit raise hardly amounted to a cost-of-living adjustment? Or perhaps the boss that loved you is retiring, or caught in some embarrassing scandal, and you’re done listening to people scream at you over the telephone.
Whatever it is, it’s not your day. Or week. Or year.
Hill Navigator has some advice for you, world-weary staffer. Hang in there. All careers have ups and downs. Even Barack Obama lost an election once. But he rebounded in due time, as you will. Hill Navigator has some tips to help you weather the storm, all the while maintaining your cool, calm facade.
Do good work: All the time. Even if you are in a job you hate, do the job as well as you can. All of your co-workers are witnesses to your awesomeness; if they see you sulking or playing Candy Crush, that’s what they’ll remember. These people are the core of your soon-to-be-expanding network, so make sure they think you’re outstanding. Remember that being a stellar employee is easy to do in your dream job, but how you operate in the dire circumstances says more about your work ethic and professionalism.
Keep your standards: Do not be tempted by a quick fix, a few bucks, or even a snazzy title if you know this is not going to be what suits you long term. If you are not going to rock the job, then wait and find one that you will. Hill Navigator understands that sometimes we take jobs because we need — not want — them. But come up with some standards and do your best to stick to them. Whether it’s working for a member you feel invested in or getting a salary you feel suits your talents, take your job search slow rather than jumping into anything that waves a dollar or fancy title in front of your face.
Don’t make financial decisions on an empty stomach: Do not make any work-life-money decisions while caught up in the moment. Take time to think about what your options are — preferably in a situation outside of work when you’re well-rested and with a clear head.
Avoid the drama: You’re probably never going to get the “Jerry Maguire” “Who’s coming with me?” moment. You probably won’t even get the Bridget Jones or “Half Baked” versions either. Real job departures are quieter, more complicated and don’t involve goldfish. If you’re departing, there are loose ends to tie up, vacation days to cash out and health insurance to figure out. You don’t want to leave with a flourish; you want to leave with a plan.
Don’t let one represent all: Say you like your job and work, but there just happens to be one person whose vision/actions/attitudes are making you want to bolt. Think hard before considering making a drastic move on the basis of one person. If it’s a toxic office, yes, try and get out of there post-haste. But if it’s one person who is too big for her or his britches in an otherwise pleasant environment, see if you can thrive despite him or her. Connect with the co-workers you do get along with; find ways to collaborate on projects with those whose work style best complements your own. You’ll always have an oddball co-worker. Focus on steering your energy away from that person and toward more productive and effective people.
Recognize this is all part of the ups and downs of a career: You’ll kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince, just as you’ll have stellar and dire moments in your long career. (Unless you’re Sheryl Sandberg, but most of us aren’t.) There will be a job well-suited to you, even if it’s not the one you have now. The bad doesn’t last, but the good doesn’t, either. Think of this as a test for how well you handle rough transitions. You’ll be glad you kept your wits about you.
March 4, 2014
Each of us has a short list tucked away someplace: the handful of people who say nice things about us and are willing to serve as recommendations. By their very nature, recommendations are favorably biased–we’re more likely to provide the names of the people who view us as successes, rather than failures, so this is a less a scientific examination and more of a praise-a-thon. But what if you want to use your member of Congress’ office on your short list, even if your internship was back in the days of Speaker Dennis Hastert? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I used to intern on the Hill. What is proper etiquette on using my recommendation letter from the Member’s office once he or she is out of office?
A. Hmm, Hill Navigator is not sure if you mean a “recommendation” — like having a former co-worker attest to your stellar interpersonal skills — or an actual letter, which once upon a time people would produce as validations of their good character. Full story
January 29, 2014
Internships can lead to great things. But what if you’re interning with an organization that you’d rather not attach your name to? Just how damaging might a Google search be? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q: As a recent college graduate, I’m recently on the hunt for a full-time job, but in the meanwhile I plan on continuing to intern. I have an offer on the table to work for an unnamed advocacy group that works with privacy/censorship issues. Without getting too specific, they’re very much of the anti-NSA surveillance, pro-Snowden persuasion. This position would entail writing public pieces that my name would be attached to.
While I don’t disagree with most of their positions, I wonder if this job would be a poison pill, given that my primary interest is national security. If I try to get a position later on, say with the House Committee on Homeland Security, (or a governmental agency) would I get blackballed based on my association with this group?
A. Blackballed, no. But any prospective employer is likely to ask about your previous work, and if you’re attaching your name to something that any Google search can turn up, you want to make sure it’s representing you well.
Likely a future employer in the same field would have some understanding of this group’s policies and positions. Civil policy disagreements are part of the nature of working in Washington. But if it’s a fringe or extreme organization, you’re correct that a governmental agency might raise eyebrows at your association. If you want to take the temperature of such a group, ask people currently in the field how the group is regarded. They can give you an answer as to how your future employers might regard this line on your résumé.
Given the language of your question (“poison pill” and “blackballed”) I’m inclined to think this group might not be the best fit for you. But ultimately that is for you to decide. Part of the internship experience is finding out what suits you best. If it’s not the right fit for you, learn what you can and move on. One internship need not define the rest of your career.
January 14, 2014
Is there no end to the joys of being a staff assistant? Apparently not, for the entry-level job soon wears out its welcome, even for the most patient and loyal of staffers. So how do you decide when it’s time to leave? And how do you go about making that leap as smoothly as possible?
Q. I’m a Staff Assistant who is approaching a year in my office. I love my office and would love to stay, but I don’t think I can do much more time as a Staff Assistant. It’s time for me to move onto work that teaches me new skills and doesn’t require me getting screamed at multiple times a day.
What is your advice about whether I should share that I am looking for new work? As you have said yourself many times, finding a job in D.C. requires asking your friends and colleagues to keep their ears open for positions and to put in kind words for you when you have an application in somewhere.
My best contacts are the people in my current office. What is the polite/wise way to ask for their help in my job search? Is it appropriate to do so? Should I ask just one or two people, or make it widely known?
A. There are a few universal truths to being a staff assistant. The first: You aren’t expected to have the job forever (According to the Congressional Management Foundation, the average staff assistant tenure is under two years). The second: If you’ve done your job well, your office will help you find a bigger and better job — either a promotion in-office or a position elsewhere.
Let’s assume for argument’s sake that you’ve done a good job. Your bosses are pleased, you’ve cheerily greeted everyone who graces your front door and the back-room staff finds you indispensable. Let’s also assume that you’ve been there a reasonable amount of time, somewhere between six months and a year. How do you get to the next step?
You talk to your office. Bring it up during your annual review. If your office does not do staff evaluations, ask to schedule one. Reiterate that you want to stay in your current office but you want to expand your role. See if there are side projects you can take on that will broaden your area of expertise. Every single Hill office needs some help writing constituent mail; perhaps you can pitch in. Or if it’s the press secretary or scheduler position you’re after, develop a relationship with the people holding those roles. Tell them of your interest and see if they need help with their work. Be willing to do menial tasks. If you can make the lives of your co-workers easier, they have a vested interest in getting you to hang around — preferably in an expanded role.
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.
November 19, 2013
For every reader question about trying to find a job on Capitol Hill, there seems to be someone anxious to depart. The Hill is, if nothing else, a whirling turnstile for staff. But how do you leave on the best of terms? Hill Navigator discusses below.
Q. I work on Capitol Hill, have a decent position and even recently got a promotion. Maybe it’s the writing on the wall with budget cuts and sequestration that I am facing a few more years with low pay before moving up, or my own impatience and ambition, but I feel like I am ready to make a move and more money. If I were to leave, I would want to do so on best terms with the office as they have been very good to me over the years. Should I discuss with my supervisors that I am thinking about looking around or is that a good way to lose the job I have already? Does it look bad to potential employers that you are firing off résumés without consulting your management, or is that just the way of the world? Or am I getting ahead of myself and should bide my time and continue to work my way up the ladder? I know loyalty is pretty much everything in politics, so I don’t want my office to think I am ungrateful for what they have done for me or lose my job because I am getting ahead of myself. Thanks, from a regular reader.
A. Rarely does Hill Navigator receive a question and answer in the same email, but it seems you’ve hit the nail on the head: In any transition, leave your office on the best terms possible and remember that loyalty is, indeed, “pretty much everything.”
But how to do that? There are a few ways to go about it, though you know your office and supervisors best, so you should determine which is best for your transition. And proceed cautiously.
Find an old hand: Before you talk to your bosses, talk to someone who’s already left your office on good terms. How did they do it? What would they recommend? Was there a reaction they hadn’t anticipated? Nearly everyone in D.C. has changed jobs a time or two (or 12), so they will understand the need for confidentiality and smiles all around.
Timing is everything: Depending on your timeline, bring up the idea of a transition in a neutral zone. Wait for a performance review, or a particularly calm time in the office to talk about your future. Don’t pick a bad week, when the boss is screaming and the chief of staff cancels Christmas break, to say you’re feeling less than pleased. By choosing a time when talking about your future is already part of the conversation, you won’t be upsetting anyone.
Use broad brushstrokes: When you have the conversation, frame the future broadly. You want to grow and expand. Can you do this in your current role or will you outgrow the position soon? No office expects you to write mail forever, but if they don’t have a plan for another promotion for you, they may be able to discuss your timeline as adults and even help you with your job search.
Be sure before sending out résumés: The Hill is a small place. If there is a job you’re particularly angling for but can’t have a conversation with your office yet, ask for confidentiality. If you can’t ask for confidentiality directly, consider holding off on applying until you speak with someone. D.C. is so, so small. The fastest way to get off to a bad start is to have your boss learn from someone else that you’re applying elsewhere. Bosses are territorial. Even the ones who seem not to care about their staffs much will be peeved when they find out they’ve been poached. Many a rom-com has been made with this kind of wanting-what-you-can’t-have love triangle. Congress, it seems, is no different.
Beware the lame duck: And finally, know that when you have the conversation about leaving, whenever you do, that you’ll become a lame-duck staffer. You might have four weeks or you might have a year — but once your office knows that your future is elsewhere, you should take their assistance and move quickly. They’re likely already thinking about your replacement.
November 4, 2013
Hill Navigator has long believed one needs to network both on and off Capitol Hill. Particularly if you’re contemplating a job switch, having a contact put your résumé on top of the (metaphorical) pile can do wonders for getting that initial interview. But what if you don’t know people who can help? And just how do you meet those elusive “lobbyists” everyone talks about but no one claims to be? Hill Navigator discusses below.
Q. I work on the Hill and after the recent shutdown, I am more than ready to leave. I am a junior staffer and do not meet many lobbyists on the job. Are there restaurants/bars you can recommend where I may run into more lobbyists? All the Hill bars are overrun with just staffers. Thanks!
A. Back in the day, the Hill bars would be overrun with lobbyists as well — they’d be the ones in the nice suits and silk ties, picking up the tab for just about everyone. But then new ethics rules rolled in and everyone began paying for their own drinks. The back rooms of Hawk ‘n’ Dove were never the same.
But there are plenty of ways to meet and connect with lobbyists that do not involve free drinks, or free lunch for that matter. You work on Capitol Hill. Lobbyists are eager to meet you and talk to you, even if it just gives them another excuse to camp out in the Longworth cafeteria.
Even as a junior staffer, you surely have some legislative issues you are connected to, even if it’s a distant connection. Constituent mail counts!
Pick several issues you’d like to know more about and contact the relevant organizations. Ask to set up a meeting to learn more. A lobbyist worth a shred of his or her expense account will jump at the opportunity to meet with a curious staffer. Even if the big-wig lobbyist is too busy, he can send one of his minions. And don’t be turned off by the junior lobbyist; they are in the same position as you: looking to connect, talk about the issues and do the job. And like you, the once-junior staffers have a tendency to move up. No one stays a staff assistant forever.
October 7, 2013
Even as government employees are stuck at home in furlough mode, there are still people willing to work in Congress. Because — and Hill Navigator firmly believes it — it’s one of the greatest places to work. Today’s question is from someone who, government shutdown aside, still wants to be a Capitol Hill staffer again.
Q. Do you have any advice for folks who are looking to do a second stint as a congressional staffer?
I worked on the Hill as a legislative assistant about five years ago. It was unquestionably the best job I’ve ever had. I left (reluctantly) for what I thought would be an amazing private sector opportunity outside of D.C., which has, shall we say, turned out to be less than amazing.
I would really love to return to the Hill, and I’ve begun networking with colleagues from my old office and elsewhere. Do you have any special tips for this situation? My long term goal would be to find a legislative director or chief of staff position.
A. First, I agree with you. Working on the Hill is stimulating, exciting and rewarding. Sure, it has its downsides — long hours, less-than-stellar pay, unpredictable government antics that can leave you scrambling for the rent. But all that aside, it can be a fantastic place to grow as a professional.
Second, you are wise to identify your goals — short- and long-term. If you have experience as a policy aide, you are more likely to transition to a similar policy role. Your long-term goal of chief of staff or legislative director is good to keep in mind, but traditionally members of Congress hire people they are close to for those roles, often a longtime staffer. There are exceptions to this, but an office is more likely to bring an outsider in for a particular policy area rather than for an office leadership position.
So when you network with your contacts, take time to highlight your legislative role. Your private sector experience — assuming you can connect it with your policy experience — should enhance your credentials. Rather than telling colleagues you want to “return to the Hill,” be specific. Say you want to work in energy policy or you want to help with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Then they can introduce you to people who are directly connected to those positions. Once you’re back on the Hill, you can continue to network and grow professionally in your role so that when the legislative director or chief of staff position does open up, you’ll have a good shot.
Have a question? Let us know. Hill Navigator wants to hear from you.