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There’s something to be said for gumption: the go-get-’em attitude that shrinks the power distance between junior staffers and the far senior authorities. But how does one bridge that divide and advance a career in the process? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. What do you put in a cold e-mail to someone you want to make a connection to but have absolutely no ties to whatsoever?
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?
Welcome to the holiday season! It’s full of receptions, cocktail parties and Christmas cards, all things Hill Navigator endorses (in moderation, of course). But how do you go about sending cards to your workplace contacts? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. Everyone keeps telling me I should send out Christmas cards as a good way to keep a strong network. I have met dozens of people in the past year who have been helpful in finding me new opportunities on the Hill and who I think will be friends or contacts going forward. Most of them I only have their work address. Can I just send them Christmas cards to their work address? Does the Senate/House mail system make this a futile exercise? Is it better ask them for your home address even though that might be a tad awkward for professional contacts? What’s an aspiring networker supposed to do?
A. You are absolutely correct: Staying in touch with contacts is wise, and holiday cards are a great way to go about it. So for you, the aspiring, networking staffer, here is a guide to sending awesome holiday cards.
Real Mail is Underrated. Sure, a Paperless Post invite might be great for a night of birthday drinks, but for holiday greetings, paper trumps all. Buy a real card, find an envelope, buy a stamp and write a short personalized message. It doesn’t need to be thank-you card length — just a line or two wishing them a happy new year, or reminding them of your lovely chat at Cups and Co. just a few weeks back. Without that personalization, the holiday card is just a shiny flyer dressed up in a card stock envelope. Which is OK, too, but remember that you’re networking, and you want to be memorable.
Aim for Inclusive Language. If you’re sending to business colleagues — especially in a place such as D.C., where people celebrate all sorts of festivities — it can be easier to cast a wide net with “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” But you know your audience, so decide what’s best for you.
No Need to Track Down Home Addresses. Sending a holiday card to a workplace is de rigueur for work contacts, particularly those with whom you have not socialized with outside of an office setting. For your recipients in the House or Senate office buildings, feel free to stretch your legs with a hand delivery and a quick excuse to say “hello” (without overstaying your welcome). As long as the card is of de minimis value, nothing in the rules would prohibit sending a Christmas card to a member or staffer, says Roll Call ethics columnist C. Simon Davidson.
Although, when you think of it, the true cost of a well written card may be invaluable.
And if you’re feeling particularly generous, don’t forget to include Hill Navigator on your list: 77 K St. NE, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20002.
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
“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.
Arnie Thomas, a former senior vice president at CQ Roll Call, former director of LEGI-SLATE at The Washington Post, president of the A Thomas Group and mentor to scores of co-workers over the years, died of a heart attack on April 12. He was 66 years old.
Thomas was an advocate for his colleagues and believed that the best way for them to do great things was to encourage them to be authentic. In an interview with CQ Roll Call, he said, “To be authentic, you will never need to take off your masks and reinvent yourself. It takes so much time and energy to put the masks on and so much drama to take them off. Integrity defines you as a person of trust, and trust will continue to open the doors to opportunities.”
He had a host of professional accomplishments at both CQ Roll Call and the Post. He helped build the client base for the D.C. office of Gallery Watch. He served on the board of directors for Running Start, an organization dedicated to inspiring and promoting young women to positions of leadership. He authored Everyday Mentor, a newsletter and column for the D.C. website Cloture Club.
But Thomas was most effusive about mentoring others. “I often encourage my clients to mentor others,” he wrote in Everyday Mentor. “Mentoring not only helps the mentee to grow personally and professionally but it also creates an opportunity for the mentor to gain fulfillment through the development of others, personal rejuvenation, a larger support community and an opportunity of greater self-awareness. Plus, frankly it just feels good!”
“I worked with him for 23 years,” said Lisa McAvoy, a product development manager at CQ Roll Call.” I saw him through so many professional and personal highs and lows. He never lost his integrity or his zest for living. He took people for where they were and moved them forward. It was a remarkable gift. He was the youngest 66 I ever met.”
Thomas is survived by his wife, Mary Crow of Linthicum, Md.; sister Gertrude Barnes; son Matthew Thomas, daughter-in-law Andrea and grandson Raphael of Sao Paulo. He spoke fondly of Brazil, and had recently visited his family there in March.
“Arnie taught me that even in a digital age, relationships matter,” said Kenny Ames, a former director of client services for CQ Roll Call who considered Arnie his mentor. “He became the ‘best kept secret’ in Washington through his experiences and his outlook on life.”
There are many unforgettable lessons from Arnie Thomas; he touched all of those who knew him well. In a world where people change jobs frequently and co-workers don’t always take the time to know one another, he was the rare find who invested time and energy in others. He believed in mentoring and often said that mentoring produced some of his finest work, and he was proud when he could help guide others toward greater success.
Arnie, you will be missed.
Wouldn’t it be great if David Axelrod decided to meet you for coffee? Or how about if Sheryl Sandberg or Theo Epstein emailed to see if you were free for lunch in Longworth, to, you know, talk about your future?
For most of us, that isn’t happening. But there are a lot of superstars to-be on Capitol Hill, many of whom have advice to offer. So how to turn their goodwill into a mentorship? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. How do you turn a key relationship into a mentorship? Thanks!
A. Good news for you: You already have.
If you have a “key relationship” with someone whom you receive feedback and insight from, therein lies your mentorship. You do not need to bestow the “mentor” title upon them; all you need to do is reiterate how much you appreciate their time and advice and soak up as much of their wisdom as possible.
And here are a few ways to continue to do that:
Take their advice. Are you bemoaning your lack of promotion options, but then refusing to go on the handful of informational interviews that your mentor suggests? If you can’t take her advice, don’t take up too much of her time. Hill Navigator acknowledges there are times to agree to disagree, but if you want this to be a relationship that lasts through your next job, make sure it’s someone who is simpatico with your worldview. From her end, it is much more gratifying to spend time with someone who values the advice she doles out.
Give the good news and the bad. Don’t just seek the mentor out when you need help. Be sure to keep him apprised of the good in your world, especially if you can do so as a credit to his help. Even if all he did was refer to you read Hill Navigator, thank him for the advice and say how much it helped.
Give thanks. Most key relationships don’t need a Starbucks gift card, but she will appreciate a hand-written thank-you note. Particularly if she goes above and beyond in giving you time and consideration, put pen to paper and say “thanks.” Then put a stamp on it. Don’t take the easy way out with email.
Help the mentor, too. He might not need your words of wisdom, but might need a Capitol Tour for a family friend, or an informational interview for an aspiring intern. The more receptive you are to requests, the more incentive there is to to keep advising you to reach your goals.
Don’t be a cheater. Once you pick your mentor, don’t start shopping around for another one. Yes, you can have more than one confidante and adviser, but your inner circle should be small, without many overlaps. One of the greatest gifts you can give another colleague is respect for her time; if you can do so for your mentor, then you are likely to have a productive relationship for years to come.