- McConnell Loans $1.8 Million to His Campaign
- What Happened to the GOP Lawsuit Against Obama?
- Begich Holds Double-Digit Lead in Alaska
- Gohmert Says Gays Getting Massages Make U.S. Vulnerable
- Perdue Signs a Woman's Body
Posts in "Leaving the Hill"
October 16, 2014
Hill press secretary: great job OR greatest job? Hill Navigator personally understands the grandeur and appeal of the communications world. So how to get there? Some suggestions below.
Q. I am a recent graduate looking for my first full-time job. I have Hill internship experience but working there isn’t my ultimate goal (which is to do communications). Would working as a Staff Assistant or Legislative Correspondent provide me with a path to getting a communications job off the Hill? What is the leap like from SA/LC to a Hill comms position?
Guess what: You can do communications on Capitol Hill! Hill Navigator is a former press secretary and communications director and thinks those are both outstanding positions with plenty of growth potential (You could become an advice columnist! Who’d have thought?).
But say you want to do communications OFF Capitol Hill — a worthy endeavor indeed. Here are some tips to go about doing that.
— Get some comms experience. What?! Doesn’t Hill Navigator realize you’re a new graduate, not someone who regularly appears on MSNBC? There are several ways to go about getting communications experience, even when you don’t have any to start. First, apply for an entry level position at any of the reputable PR/communications/consulting firms in town. Begin with informational interviews and network from there. Your Hill internship experience will be a good place to seek contacts. Even if you don’t want to work on the Hill, your former Hill colleagues might be able to help with introductions.
— Second, consider going back to the Hill. Hill Navigator is wary of suggesting anyone work on Capitol Hill if he or she doesn’t absolutely want to. But if you have an “in” with your existing office, it could be a great place to work while looking for your ultimate spot doing communications. People do make the leap from staff assistant to press assistant, or from legislative roles to communications one, but this tends to be in offices where they are working closely with the press secretary. Press secretaries have an eye for enthusiastic co-workers, especially ones likely to pitch in on time-consuming tasks, like compiling media clips. If you find yourself back in a Hill office, see how you can make yourself useful to the press team — especially if you’re keen on the daily task of collecting clips.
— Third, keep your goal in sight and realize there are many paths to get there. If you’re smart, hardworking and want to do communications, you’re in a town where that can happen. If you have an opportunity to work on the Hill, it’s a great path to just about anything else in Washington, D.C. The entry-level job search is a tough one, but you’re already in a good spot with your Hill internship, so view that as your jumping-off point for finding your next move.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
June 16, 2014
My colleague Kate Ackley reports on the 35 staffers for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who will soon be out of a job. On July 31, Cantor will go from a possible up-and-coming speaker to a rank-and-file member of Congress, until he vacates the seat at the end of the 113th Congress.
[Cantor chief of staff Steve] Stombres assured [staffers] he would do everything possible to help them land new jobs. So did Cantor the next day, when he met privately with his staff in the Capitol, according to people familiar with the session. “We’re not going to rest until everybody on this team has found a good place to land,” says Stombres, who plans to leave the Hill.
Though Cantor’s defeat was a shock and it left his staff in turmoil, such things have happened many times on Capitol Hill, where most jobs are secure only until the next election. And unlike factory workers forced to scrimp when their plant shuts down, congressional aides of the caliber found in leadership offices — who like Cantor himself typically have many opportunities to pick from — could easily end up with a significant pay raise.
It’s not just Cantor staffers who are looking for jobs after an election loss. Five other members of Congress have been defeated in primaries and/or their race for other office: Ralph M. Hall, R-Texas; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.; Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa.; and Steve Stockman, R-Texas — and election season is just getting started.
Ackley’s takeaway: Capitol Hill is accustomed to such musical chairs and having someone like Cantor or Stombres take a personal interest in a staffer’s job search is likely to yield success — for all parties involved. Pete Rouse, chief of staff to former Sen. Tom Daschle dedicated himself to finding jobs for the displaced staffers after the South Dakota Democrat’s defeat in 2004. While doing so, Rouse accepted a position as chief of staff to a freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Rouse went on to serve as a top White House adviser and co-chairman of Obama’s presidential transition team. In December, he left the White House for the private sector, which he describes as, “less adrenaline, more money.”
For Cantor staffers ruminating on their changed future, take heart. You, like Rouse, could have bigger and better things waiting at the next turn. Good luck.
- Losing an election is rough, but it happens to us all. Keep your chin up and read the Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt.
- If you hadn’t started networking before, now is a good time.
- When all is said and done, keep it classy. Even if this is your first job in politics, it probably isn’t your last.
June 11, 2014
Hill Navigator has long extolled the circuitous fortunes of power in Washington, D.C. — sometimes you have it, sometimes you lose it.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss Tuesday was a stunner, even for those who cover politics closely.
And while his political future may be in question, there are many staffers wondering what might come next. Hill Navigator has some advice for you — hang in there — it happens to the best of us. You, too, will be on the winning side of an election once more. In the meantime, here is a quick list of Hill Navigator’s recommended reading for a quick bounce back.
- Losing an election is rough, but it happens to us all. Keep your chin up and read the Loser’s Guide to the Job Hunt.
- If you hadn’t started networking before, now is a good time.
- Midterms are coming. There are opportunities. And if you do go on the campaign trail, keep it mind it is very different from your congressional office.
- An election loss means someone else’s gain. To all those celebrating, whatever the reasons may be, keep in mind that your dream job could also be short lived.
- When all is said and done, keep it classy. Even if this is your first job in politics, it probably isn’t your last.
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.
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 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 5, 2014
Has the Capitol Dome dimmed just a bit? Does the thought of constituent mail turn your stomach? Re-election leaving you glum? Perhaps Capitol Hill is not for you. But how to approach those contacts that helped you land that coveted job in the first place? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. After lots of networking, many coffees and asking friends for favors, I landed a great new job. But turns out the Hill isn’t for me. How long can I wait before asking the same people for help again? And how do I explain that what I thought I wanted isn’t what I want anymore?
A. The Hill isn’t for you?
Hill Navigator would not have a column if working on Capitol Hill were like any other government job. It’s not. And while the experience is valuable, fascinating and rewarding, it’s also time limited.
And it’s not for everyone.
Kudos for acknowledging that this might not be the right job for you. As to where to go from here, let’s explore a few options:
If you’ve got a new itch. Cross Capitol Hill off your bucket list, you’re ready for something else. Maybe it’s the administration, or maybe it’s the campaign trail or grad school. Assuming your contacts helped you find your current position, you owe it to them (and your boss) to do the best job possible while you search for a new one.
If you want to stay in the political and policy world of D.C., your best bet is to start with your existing contacts. Reiterate your gratitude and take the extra step to volunteer to do any informational interviews with people they know who are looking for Capitol Hill work. Even if it wasn’t your dream job, it’s still likely someone else’s, and you can return the favor that way before asking for additional help.
Also, use your current position to create new contacts. As you meet more people in your newly desired field, you can expand your network. These people will have firsthand experience working with you. And they can attest to what a stellar staffer you are.
If you’re in a hurry. Perhaps the Hill has been a total bust and you’re in a rush to get out. Before going back to your contacts, come up with a compelling narrative that validates their effort to help you with the job search. Perhaps you have new responsibilities in your life that makes Capitol Hill’s hectic schedule a poor fit. Perhaps the boss’s personality changes behind closed doors. However you approach it, lead with gratitude for their initial help. No one wants to feel like their effort is wasted.
If you’ve got no idea. You don’t know where you want to go, but you know it’s anywhere but here. Take the time to figure that out. This is where your contacts can help; rather than meeting to ask about a new job, ask them how they found their ideal place of work. What do they value most? Do they have thoughts on what might be the best fit for you? Such conversations are productive to have in any field, at any level. If your contacts were willing to chat with you once before, they’re likely willing to talk again.
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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.
January 7, 2014
It happens to the best of us: Sometime, somewhere, you’ll leave a job under less than ideal circumstances. Some people may call this being “fired.” Other euphemisms include: layoff, downsize, time off for family reasons and “I quit.”
But there is an art to getting fired. No, this is not a list of destructive habits that will earn you the ire of your bosses. Rather, this is a column dedicated to the idea that most people, during their long and multi-storied careers, will have a job that does not work out.
Many reasons account for this: the job could be the wrong fit, you’ve got an odd duck of a boss or bad hours without coffee breaks. Maybe you’ve lost passion for the press releases and constituent mail you’re churning out. Maybe you had your ideal job but then you outgrew the position. Or maybe leadership reshuffled and the new boss thinks you’d be better somewhere else. Somewhere far away.
Hill Navigator does not endorse “firing” as a word. It’s pejorative; it implies wrongdoing; it leaves everyone (employee and employer) in an awkward situation where the past is tainted and good work is forgotten. Sometimes jobs don’t work out and people can part on good terms as adults. But it’s not easy to be the one packing up your desk and still be brimming with goodwill. So Hill Navigator has a few tips on how to make the process go as smoothly as possible: Full story
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.