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Posts in "Hill Experience"
August 26, 2014
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America.” Wise, congenial words from then-Sen. Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention. But has a post-partisan world come to Capitol Hill? Are we indeed a United House of Staffers? Not necessarily. Hill Navigator discusses when and how to switch political parties as a congressional staffer.
Q. Would it be better to reject an internship offer if it’s with a party you personally do not agree with even if it’s your only offer? I want to learn about a Senator’s office, but don’t want to be blackballed later on. What is the etiquette?
A. Generally D.C. is the land of “pick your party and stay with it.” Your personal beliefs and work history aside, it is understood that you align with the party of your boss.
But there are exceptions. And interning — particularly for a home-state member of Congress — is a common exception to that rule.
The etiquette is such: You can make a party switch once; once you change, you cannot leap back. There is no revolving door of party affiliations, only a one-way exit. Interning for the party you want to work for is helpful given that many members work closely with offices from their same party. But lots of members have strong bipartisan relationships, or work closely with their entire delegation. It’s very possible your internship can be the Hill experience you need to land a full time job with the member and party of your choice.
Another option to consider is interning in the House of Representatives. Most states have more House members than senators, and there may be someone of your desired party from your home state who is willing to bring you on board.
If you do swallow that poison pill and work for the opposing party, do your best to remain professional at all times. If you can, mention your concerns in your internship and see how they respond; you can often gauge an office’s tolerance for bipartisanship during the interview process. Remember that your personal beliefs do not factor into your boss’s policy decisions — especially at the intern and entry-level positions.
Once you arrive, impress your office by being professional and courteous at all times. It will pay dividends when your internship ends and your cross-party job search begins. And check out Hill Navigator’s Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide eBook for broader tips about acing your internship.
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.”
August 21, 2014
Looking to make a switch from law firm life? Maybe you’d like to be more of an Erin Brockovich and less of an Ally McBeal. But how does time at a law firm — especially one outside of D.C. — affect your Capitol Hill job search? Hill Navigator discusses.
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.
June 25, 2014
For some of us, that answer is “yes.” It’s a reporter’s life’s for you.
And who can blame you? You can spend your day writing. You have readers. You can break news. You can write about issues you care about. It can be incredibly rewarding. So much so, that we all keep coming back every day to do it — Hill Navigator included.
Part of maintaining an effective advice column is knowing when someone else can provide the better answer; so when a question on cub reporting came in, Hill Navigator sought counsel from one of Roll Call’s own experts: Politics Editor Shira T. Center.
June 10, 2014
In 2004, during the debate for the now-defunct Federal Marriage Amendment, tensions on Capitol Hill for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community had reached unprecedented levels. Gay staffers were being singled out in an aggressive “outing” campaign, with hostile phone calls to their homes and offices, and even personal confrontations. Four staffers decided to take action, forming the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus. ”It was imperative for the LGBT community to have a safe space,” said Jeffrey Levensaler, one of the founders of GLASS and currently deputy chief of staff to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
“People both on and off the Hill were just looking for someone to talk to,” said Lynden Armstrong, a GLASS co-founder who now works as director of communication and technology integration for the Senate sergeant-at-arms. “It was our first very public opportunity to support our community,” said Armstrong, who worked for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., at the time. Full story
June 4, 2014
Congratulations on landing the interview, but what happens when the office goes silent? Is this a convoluted game of playing hard to get? Or is no answer really a “no” answer? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I finally landed an interview for a Hill internship after many attempts (I’m a college grad but after many failed attempts at staff assistant/LC jobs, I’m willing to do anything to start a career on the Hill). I thought the interview went fairly well, and afterwards they asked when I could start if I got the job when I e-mailed a thank you note. I don’t think it went as well as it could have, partially because they didn’t interview me for the job description I applied for, but rather something that seemed oddly tailored to my work experience and policy background. However, it’s been two weeks and I have not heard from the office … What do I do?
A. You follow up.
Send a friendly email, reiterating your interest in the position, how much you enjoyed meeting the office, offering to provide them any additional materials they might need. Then you can go back to waiting.
But waiting is rough, isn’t it?
We’ve all been caught in the impatient waiting game of job searching — even the best of job hiring processes have lag times, which seem endless when you’re kept in the dark. Hill Navigator completely sympathizes with the confusion you’re going through, and Capitol Hill is a prime offender in slow, obfuscated hiring processes. But, in an attempt to ease your frustration, here are a few things to ponder that might give you a glimpse into the furtive world of HIRING. (But none of these, except the follow-up email, might make it go any faster.)
Sometimes, the office doesn’t know either. Maybe they want to hire you, but they don’t have the office manager’s sign-off. Maybe the chief of staff wants to do another round of interviews and her schedule isn’t open. Or maybe the congressman has instituted an arbitrary hiring freeze so he can donate money back to the Treasury. Whatever the reason, it might be just as frustrating to the staff who wants to bring you in. After all, if there’s a job opening, it means there’s work to be done, and someone’s had to pick it up until that spot is filled.
Sometimes you aren’t their first choice. Hill Navigator thinks you’re awesome, and maybe the office does too, but sometimes you aren’t their number one. Second choices do get hired. They get promoted, they get big jobs, and sometimes they need to wait a bit longer for the first choice to walk away. It happens.
And face the cold, ugly reality: It might not be your job. Maybe you aced the interview and maybe you didn’t. Maybe they want to hire someone from western North Dakota and you’re from Fargo. Whatever the reason, sometimes silence does mean rejection. Give it one more friendly follow-up before crossing the office off your list. And know this: It happens to the best of us. Securing a job on Capitol Hill is no small feat, and one recalcitrant office shouldn’t get you down.
Got a question for Hill Navigator? Email email@example.com All submissions will be treated anonymously.
May 7, 2014
Maybe it’s the spring sunshine, or the abundant cherry blossoms, but Hill Navigator has noticed an uptick in questioners who have happily landed in their dream jobs and are asking what to do next. Make more contacts? Stay in touch with old ones? How to say thank you?
(Short answers: Yes, yes and a thank-you card.)
So this column is directed toward you, happy staffers. Here are some suggestions on what you can do next.
What? Is that some sort of typo? Surely Hill Navigator’s advice credentials must be fading already. Why on earth should a happy staffer interview for a job somewhere else?
Because it is best to interview when you are happy in your job. You can come to an interview with confidence and the ability to view the job objectively, rather than with the hangdog look of “please hire me” that tends to accompany desperate staffers who need to leave their job, posthaste.
The New York Times recently wrote that employers would rather hire people who are currently employed, rather than those looking for work. Hill Navigator argues this a step further and believes offices are more inclined to hire people who are happy in their current jobs, rather than those who are unhappy.
Here is why (and brace yourself for some armchair psychology). Happy staffers ARE all alike. If you’re the content, eager to work hard, friendly co-worker who organizes the March Madness pool and refills the coffee pot, then who WOULDN’T want to work with you? Happy offices want happy employees. Even the most savvy of us can have trouble hiding our true feelings if we’re dissatisfied in our job, and during the interview process this could inadvertently hurt your chances.
Still not sure you should be interviewing when you’re happy enough as is? Hill Navigator has a few more reasons for you to ponder.
1) It’s good to get out there. Maybe more offices are hoping to hire staffers with campaign experience, or maybe the salary range for your position has gone up. The best information is gleaned firsthand, and by taking the occasional interview you will know what your position is worth and what other skills you can brush up on.
2) Things change — sometimes quickly. If the ground shifts — a boss resigns, a CEO leaves or a company gets bought out and leaves the old staff behind — you don’t want to be caught without a lure in the water. Winds (and fortunes) can change overnight — just ask Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., or Donald Sterling. Even if you’re happy where you are, know that situations change, for better and for worse, and you’d be wise to be prepared.
3) The better opportunity might be there. You might be happy in your job, but there might be something more suited to you. Maybe it’s a better location with an easier commute, maybe it’s a salary bump, or more (or less) travel. You won’t know unless you take the interview.
But take this advice to heart: Take an interview when it’s relevant to you, but if you know from the start the position is an ill fit, you can use your happy splendor of your current job to turn it down. Offices usually have a way of knowing when their star employees are interviewing elsewhere. It’s fine to keep them on their toes, but too many “afternoon doctor’s appointments” can give the wrong impression too.
And whatever you do, follow up with a thank-you note. Happy employee that you are, you probably knew that already.
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 29, 2014
Hill Navigator has long lauded the benefits of internships. But even the best of internships have their limits. How do you know when you’ve reached the end of the intern trail? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m a college senior who will be graduating in May. I have interned in two congressional offices and my ultimate goal is to be back on the Hill. I have a couple of questions. Firstly, when is it appropriate to start applying to staff assistant positions such as those listed on job banks? Secondly, I know that both of the office[s] I have interned for would consider me if they had a staff assistant opening, but that doesn’t seem likely at the moment. I know there are many ways to get to a job on the Hill, but do you think I should cut to the chase and intern again in an office in hopes of it turning into a paid position? If so, is it best to wait until the fall?
A. Hill Navigator has written on this countless times before: Interning on Capitol Hill is one of the best ways to find a paid position. But you already knew this, which explains why you’ve interned twice already, putting yourself in a very good position to be hired. You have Hill experience and you have some foresight to start applying soon.
But Capitol Hill will not fit neatly into many timelines, and even the strongest powers of prognostication cannot tell you how long until you find a paid position. What Hill Navigator can tell you is how to maximize your opportunities to do so.
Stay in Touch: Those offices that you interned for are your best resource for additional informational interviews, recommendations for offices to contact and potential future employment. They should know that you are looking and it’s your job to keep them informed of your progress. If you are applying somewhere, let them know. If you are looking for an introduction to a particular office (perhaps your home state senator or member from a nearby district), then see if they can help arrange. Be gracious, be patient and follow up with a “thank you” each time they help you. Staff members are less likely to turn away an applicant that has been recommended to them by another office. You might not get the job, but you’re more likely to land an interview.
Evaluate Your Prospects: What does a third internship get you? Are you angling to work on a particular committee or in a particular chamber but lack the requisite experience? If so, a third internship homing in on your interests could help. But if you’re just adding another office experience that is largely indistinguishable from the previous two, you may be better off finding temporary paid work while focusing on your Hill search.
Seek Selective Guidance: Hill Navigator thinks you’re great, though we haven’t actually met so I can’t give you the personal assessment you need on how long your job search might take. Seek out one or two trusted individuals for their input; they may have insight on how long you’ll be waiting for a job. Perhaps you’re from a region that is likely to be hiring someone local, or people are getting ready to depart for midterm election campaign trails. Or, perhaps you’re angling for a position that could take months (or a blue moon) to become available. Not all resumes and job opportunities are created equal, and someone who is closer to you and the process can give you a more realistic assessment of how long your wait might be.
March 31, 2014
It seems like nearly every time you open Roll Call, there’s a story about someone who is leaving the Hill. Gone are the government-issued BlackBerrys, the cheap suits and the metal detectors; say hello to the company-issued iPad mini, monogrammed cufflinks and personal office baristas.
The lobbying world does look shiny from the outside, especially when populated by former Hill staffers who’ve swapped the Capitol Lounge for Capital Grille. But is that true for every staffer who leaves Capitol Hill? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I keep reading articles about the big pay bumps for senior Hill staff who become lobbyists. But what’s the lobbying world like for the rest of us that aren’t already making $100K when we leave the Hill? I’m content as a senior LA in my second Hill office, and with multiple years of experience I’m able to help lower staff like interns and staff assistants find new jobs. I know I’ll leave eventually, but I’m not sure what my payout would be now compared to waiting to rise more.
A. Hill Navigator likes you already: You’re happy in your day job, mentoring younger staffers and still looking ahead to your future.
The “lobbying world” has desks and salaries in all shapes and sizes. Nonprofits hire lobbyists — so do law firms — and some government affairs positions are the de facto lobbying arm of an organization, even if the GA team doesn’t register as official lobbyists. Compensation can vary widely; some lobbyists are paid based on how much business they bring in, a boom-or-bust model that can lead to high paychecks or high turnover.
Hill offices also have a great deal of salary discrepancy. A press secretary two years out of college is likely to make much less than a communications director with a decade of Hill experience. If both people were to simultaneously leave Capitol Hill, they would be beginning their salary negotiations at very different points.
The Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that studies Congress, did research on congressional staff salaries for more than 20 years and compared the numbers to the private sector. “As a general rule, staff are paid 20 [percent to] 25 percent lower than their private sector counterparts with comparable experience and education. However, that is just the average,” said Bradford Fitch, the CMF’s president and CEO. “A 50-year old Senate chief of staff can easily see a 100 percent increase in a move to the private sector, where a 23-year old staff assistant may see only a 10 percent raise.”
But none of these stipulations answers your question directly, so let’s come up with a few ways to find out what your next salary move might be.
1. Talk to people. Find someone who has a job you think you’d be interested in doing in the near future. Ask how they found it — and if you can establish a trusted relationship — ask about the starting salary range. People balk at blunt money talk, so it’s important to explain that you’re interested in knowing what your options are without trying to needle your colleague on how much money he is making.
2. Evaluate your skill set. What is your next step on Capitol Hill? Might you be up for a legislative director or chief of staff spot? Is there a bill coming through committee that you’ll want to have worked on? (Think reauthorization or overhaul of any major policy; once that passes — or stalls — you’ll be valued for having worked on it.) Or perhaps there is a chance your boss becomes that long-awaited chairman, or member of leadership, and then you’d have that experience to boot. Such aforementioned opportunities are likely to increase your attractiveness as a candidate to outside entities. Evaluate how far you are from achieving any of those before deciding when to jump.
3. Interview. The best way to learn the market price for your skills is to interview for another job. If you’re a top candidate for a job with your goal salary, then you know you’re on track. If your resume keeps finding itself languishing in an unattended email inbox, it might be time to retool your expectations.
There are lots of compelling reasons to be a Hill staffer: public service, rewarding work, even the histrionic drama of an election cycle that some people enjoy (you know who they are). Working on Capitol Hill can also lead to more lucrative opportunities down the road. Just be sure you’re ready to take the leap. The sparkly allure of the lobbying world might glitter from afar, but up close it has the same ups and downs that accompany any other job.
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 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 15, 2014
“This is a business. And we keep punishing ourselves by eliminating the tools necessary to run our businesses properly.”
Such is the quote from a senior manager on Capitol Hill, responding to a survey by the Congressional Management Foundation as quoted in Wednesday’s Roll Call.
It turns out that salary freezes, health care benefit transitions and threats of additional cuts aren’t just bad for morale, they’re bad for business, too.
From the Guest Observer column written by CMF President Brad Fitch:
In a survey conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation, 81 percent of senior managers felt they would lose staffers as a result of the salary freezes, and 79 percent said staff would leave because of the health care benefit transition. Equally unsettling, when asked if they would look for another job in the next 12 months, four in 10 chiefs of staff and state/district directors said yes.
Fitch offers some advice to improve the situation on Capitol Hill: Engage the staff, give raises and bonuses, and maximize efficiency. But even the optimistic Fitch acknowledges the situation on Capitol Hill can be tough to change without buy-in from the boss:
Finally, the biggest obstacle to employing these strategies will be the toughest to overcome: the member. Politicians hate saying no, and have high expectations for themselves and the people they hire. But having that uncomfortable conversation with the legislator, asking what the office will not do, is the most critical component to adapting to these major changes to the office environment.
Here’s hoping for a better 2014 on and off Capitol Hill.
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.
January 13, 2014
My colleague Hannah Hess has the story in Tuesday’s Roll Call: According to the Congressional Management Foundation, the recent changes to the health care benefits are taking such a toll on senior staffers that many want to leave. “Anywhere but here” seems to be echoing through the halls of the Capitol. Nearly 4 in 10 of the chiefs of staff and district directors surveyed expect to look for a job outside the office in the next 12 months.
From the story:
“I found out in September that I have breast cancer,” one senior-level staffer responded. “I’m losing my health care coverage in the middle of my radiation treatment. Getting insured through the D.C. exchange is not helpful — my choices are very limited and costs are high. As a result, I’ve gone on my husband’s plan. My staff don’t necessarily have that option.”
Regardless of your views on Obamacare, the idea that staffers with the most experience are considering leaving the Hill should give anyone pause. Veteran staffers are the calm sailors in the political hand-wringing storms.
They’ve been through shutdowns, party overhauls and presidential changes and they know that the show must go on. They’ve sat through State of the Union speeches, constituent meetings and late-night votes. These are the experienced hands you want guiding your ship. As much as Hill Navigator encourages young people to get a job on Capitol Hill, it’s the seasoned staffers that can teach you the most.
The silver lining? More Capitol Hill job openings …
Read the full story here.