- LePage Appoints Himself as Education Commissioner
- Trump Leads in South Carolina
- Can Clinton Win Back the Youth Vote?
- The Map Looks Pretty Good for Ted Cruz
- Webb Won’t Make Independent Bid
Ah, the joys of working in a personal office: those unexpected “drop-by” visitors, a daily interaction with an elected official, even the chance to learn the legislative ropes vis-a-vis writing stacks of constituent mail. But what happens when a staffer wants to tackle a particular legislative issue and make the leap to become a committee staffer? Hill Navigator discusses.
Working on Capitol Hill may be a dream job for some, but others may find the esoteric workplace a hard place in which to succeed. So what do you do if you decide Capitol Hill is not for you, and how long should you wait it out? Hill Navigator discusses.
I’ve been working as a Staff Assistant/Scheduler on the Hill for almost 9 months, and was an intern for 4 [months] before that. As great as this opportunity has been, it is abundantly clear that there’s no room for advancement in my current office and I hesitate to search for LC positions in other offices. After these past few months, I’ve realized that I’m not the type of person who can really do well here. I have good connections off the Hill but I also hesitate to leave so soon. How long should I remain in my current position before I seek work elsewhere?
Good things come to those who wait — except on Capitol Hill, where good things come to those who pounce immediately at the opportunity. Passivity has a time and place, but it’s not likely to serve you well in the competitive job hunt. Hill Navigator discusses how and when to speak up. Full story
Best job ever? Maybe, but how valuable could a job be without a promotion in sight? And what happens if another office comes a-courting, with a hefty raise attached? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I have a job I love with a wonderful member and great co-workers that I get along with. I feel secure in my position, but I don’t see room for moving up any time soon. I’m being considered for a higher-up job in another office that would offer far more pay than what my office pays my immediate boss for that same position. But that member isn’t as focused and driven as mine is, and the issue portfolio isn’t what I want to do long term. Do I take the title and pay and hope to find a way long term to get back into the issue area I want to pursue? How do I stay current and keep my résumé focused for that field while working elsewhere?
If “chief of staff” sits atop the apex of the congressional staffer pyramid, there are typically two expertise areas that lead to it: policy or communications. But how do you decide if you’re meant to be a legislative assistant or press secretary, which lead down distinct career paths? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I am currently a Staff Assistant/Legislative Correspondent wanting to take the next step up the Hill career advancement ladder and maybe become a Chief of Staff one day. I am also an institutionalist and like politics more than policy. That being said, no matter how much I analyze this, talk it over with friends, and seek advice, I cannot decide if I want to take the legislative staffer route or the communications staffer route. Though it may seem like a clear choice between night and day for some people, I have been able to dangle my feet in the waters of both and still cannot make a decision as to which way to go. The pros and cons of each seem to be about equal. I realize it is not unheard of for legislative staffers to switch to the communications side of things, but less so the other way around. Either way, I am bothered by the fact that I cannot get this matter settled in my head so that I can actually go about trying to advance along one of the two career paths at the only place I want to work, the United States Congress (just not my current office).
Happy members of Congress are all alike (and great to work for); unhappy members are each unhappy in their own way. Wise — paraphrased — words from Tolstoy ring true about the Capitol Hill workplace: Difficult bosses come in all stripes. What do you do if you land in one of the many (many, many) offices with a difficult boss at the helm? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m relatively new to the Hill. I’m excited about the issues that I work on and my boss’s position on them. I get along well with other people in my office. The only problem is my boss. I can’t seem to develop rapport and establish a good working relationship because, quite frankly, he’s difficult to manage. What advice do you have for staff that have a demanding boss, or a boss that sometimes treat staff callously?
You can’t go a week without getting one of those “Moving on…” emails from staffers detailing their latest job switch, usually something more glamorous than their last position (which they will bemoan leaving behind, along with an outstanding boss and set of co-workers, as any good staffer should). But how many emails can you read without questioning whether YOU should make the job hop as well? Hill Navigator discusses.
Forget the sunrise diner special, or candlelit, white tablecloth dinners. If you’re going to eat one meal properly in Washington, D.C., it should be the power lunch. The power lunch is the ideal midday break, a mini-vacation to the day, a chance to hear the lobby pitches while nibbling on veal tagliatelle or steak frites, perhaps eyeing the room to see nearby diners who would warrant a quick tip to Heard on the Hill.
Even the hard-work, long-hours culture of Capitol Hill is willing to take a brief midday break for a meal, albeit often to Dirksen or Longworth. But on the the occasion that a lunch invitation arrives, and ethics rules are cleared, it’s an opportunity to network, build a relationship, and likely enjoy some delicious food. But even the best of us can falter over an intimidating wine list, mispronounce a multisyllabic entree or feel an afternoon deadline loom before the coffee has been served. So, if you’re fortunate to be on the receiving (or inviting) end to a power lunch, what can you do to ensure smooth sailing?
What is it about staff assistants? Such a highly coveted job, but once a person is in, established and able to navigate the Cannon tunnels, then — all of a sudden — “Oh please don’t let me be a staff assistant much longer.”
Good news for you: Most staff assistants are merely a one- to two-year stopover on a long and rewarding career. But rather than wax poetic about the joys of entry-level work, Hill Navigator has some actual advice for people looking to move up and on to better things.
Q. I have been working as a staff assistant for a few months now. I have a one-year contract and am very happy to fulfill that, I really like my job and understand what a privilege it is to have. That said I do not want to become a two-year staff assistant. Many staff assistants from my office have moved up into administrative roles, I would really prefer a legislative role and I was wondering if you had advice on how to pursue the legislative ladder over the administrative one.
A. You’re already in a good place. You’re a staff assistant, and you’re working in an office with a one-year contract, so the office also believes that keeping staff assistants on for long periods of time isn’t good for either party involved.
Since your office is keeping you on a one-year contract (unconventional on Capitol Hill, but not necessarily a bad idea), it might have some idea where you’re likely to go once that contract ends. Your question sounds like previous staff assistants have been funneled into administrative roles. But “many” is not the same as “all.” Are there legislative staffers in your office who started out in the staff assistant role? Seek them out, see how they made the transition and what advice they have for you in trying to do the same thing.
Next, use your current role to prepare yourself as best as possible for the future role you want. If legislative issues are your passion, pick a few areas and learn as much as you can and follow the relevant issues. Offer to write constituent mail (a dreaded task but one highly conducive to learning a member’s position) or update the policy tabs on the office website (ditto). Many offices want to promote from within, but they want to see a readiness and sophisticated understanding of the Capitol Hill process before they do.
Finally, make your goals known — wisely. As with any position, there is a proper time and place for feedback. During your evaluation, share your goals with your supervisor and see if there is additional work or training you can take on now to better prepare yourself for a legislative position. (If there is not a formal evaluation, request one.)
If there is not an immediate opening, see if there is another opportunity that you’d find valuable. Your office might be willing to help you land someplace that is a better fit. Good staff assistants have a way of sticking around offices for the long haul. The position is designed to be entry level for a reason: Get smart people in the door, then teach and train them for bigger and better things.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email email@example.com or use our submission form. All queries will be treated anonymously. Follow Hill Navigator on Twitter, Facebook, and get it delivered to your inbox by signing up on the right hand sidebar under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.”
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
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.