How do I get Capitol Hill experience?
April 20, 2007 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I have been toying with the idea (just the idea) of possibly doing some work on Capitol Hill while I figure out graduate school. How do I do this?

I live and work close to Capitol Hill and interact with people there on a daily basis. I work long hours and enjoy social interaction as much as hunkering down for deadlines. I also think Capitol Hill experience would be great while I study for the GRE and GMAT for graduate school. However, many people I see going for these jobs are either right out of college or are connected.

>How should I sell myself now that I am a little older (27) and have media and PR experience but not legislative experience?

>Where do people look for these jobs?
posted by parmanparman to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not too many of us started off with connections, but instead had to slum it with internships and craptacular work for no/low pay. It'd probably easier to move to political media/pr work and then on to the Hill, rather than straight in.

In all seriousness, you look for these jobs at Cap Lounge, Dubliner, &c.
posted by sockpoppet at 8:28 AM on April 20, 2007

I get the impression that finding paying work on Capitol Hill is harder than it looks. Your milage may vary, but a friend of mine moved there in '05 with the objective of saving the world, and moved back a year later completely defeated. She's sharp, outgoing and exceedingly capable, and rocking a Philosophy Masters, but wasn't able to land even a decent volunteer position.

Since you're already in the area, my suggestion would be to push your contacts, even distant ones. That was the one thing my friend didn't have. Good luck.
posted by tsmo at 8:35 AM on April 20, 2007

If you don't have legislative or campaign experience, you'll probably be relying on personal and professional connections, or at least an ability to sweet-talk your way into things.

There are also lists of openings that circulate through the Hill. I'll send you one that also includes job postings from Congressional Quarterly, which is a good source if you know someone with a subscription to their "action reports".
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:35 AM on April 20, 2007

Roll Call and The Hill both have employment classifieds that list a wide range of jobs. But sockpuppet is right. The best way to get a job in DC is to know people who work at the organization/office you want to work at. That means going to a lot of talks and panel discussions and happy hours and chatting people up and giving them your business card and mentioning that you're looking for a new job. You also may want to consider calling the office of your congressperson (or any members you admire) and asking whether there's any campaign related volunteer work you could help out with. That could help put you on someone's radar screen as a hardworking, helpful type.

Also, you may not want to rule out non-profits that do public policy-type work. They have media relations staff, so your experience might translate better to their needs, giving you a better in there.

People in DC, although they are political and some of them can be backstabbing jerks sometimes, also often genuinely like to help people, especially because most of them can remember a time when someone really helped them. Jobs do become available, and you just have to be the person who comes to mind when they need someone to fill a position.
posted by decathecting at 8:48 AM on April 20, 2007

I worked on the hill in 2003 and 2004, came there totally cold, knowing nobody, and managed to make some money on the hill for a year and a half or so before leaving to go work on a campaign in 2004.

The Senate and House each have job bulletins available, which you should look at, but I'll say that those postings are often not the most effective way of finding and landing jobs. I would echo what others have said about networking and knowing people. I would also add that sometimes you just have to pound the pavement on the hill, and drop off a resume at every office you could see yourself working in. Even if they aren't hiring, they might be in the near future. People move around a LOT on the hill.

Good luck with your search, and email me (in the profile) if you have any other questions.
posted by Inkoate at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2007

The House and Senate have job listings pages. I know a lot of folks who work on the Hill, and most like it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2007

When I worked in a congressional office, I would see a constant stream of young, capable, qualified people walking the halls, dropping off resumes in every single member's office. We would get people with doctorates, masters, JDs dropping off resumes and asking if there were any entry-level openings which typically pay in the high $20,000s and very low $30s. Usually, there aren't any. If there are, good interns are usually the first to get offered a position. There is a lot of turnover on the Hill, which can work in your favor. And newly elected members are always needing staff.

It is awfully competitive. Many people know that working for a member of congress will open doors for them in the future, so they only see it as a way to make contacts and gain experience. Of course, they are correct for the most part. But that's why you get lots of people with stellar credentials willing to work for $27,000. There's a lot of foot work involved in looking for a Hill job, so prepare yourself. Good luck to you. You'll need it.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:22 AM on April 20, 2007

You'll have a much better chance of getting a job as a scheduler, executive assistant, "staff assistant" or legislative correspondent than as a legislative assistant. Most of the people I know started out in one of the lower jobs and were promoted to a legislative position after gaining trust and experience. Consider: if you are planning on attending grad school, you may not have enough time to work your way up.

You can see Hill salaries on this site.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2007

I tried last summer in a similar situation to find a position on the Hill, so to speak, and failed miserably, but not without getting one or two close calls (based on the thin connections I had). I tried representatives and senators from my home state, and then any state that I felt I had a viable connection to (graduate of state college). My best success was meeting with the chief of staffs of two senatorial offices.

I learned this from them. One, the hiring process for positions works like so. They have resumes separated by those who have worked in salaried positions in one spot, those who interned in another, and walk ins (like me), in a third. Naturally, the walk ins with a connection to the state had priority over those without. They look to the resumes in the first spot first and then move down the list.

Two, hit the concrete. I was advised to scan publications like the Roll Call for news on speeches, events, and to attend them, seek out the assistants to the folks speaking/attending them. Get to know them. Exchange business cards. Basically, network.

It was my estimation that its incredibly a lot more difficult to get a job if you're walking in cold turkey without connections, short of having super amazing skills and background to offer.

I agree with the basic suggestions on seeking out volunteer or unpaid internships if you have trouble finding a salaried job. They'll help get you the connections to land the paying jobs later. I ended up at a non-paying internship, which had I not altered my job path, I think probably would have worked to land me a position that paid somewhere else later on.

I did end up working on the Hill, but as a Capitol Guide, not as a staffer. :)

There's also It lists jobs on the Hill.

posted by Atreides at 11:50 AM on April 20, 2007

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