The Hill Life: Finding a Job, Part I
Mar 2, 2011
By far and away, the most common question that I receive from readers (after, which shoes to wear to work) is how to get a job/internship on Capitol Hill. As you might imagine, the competition for jobs on the Hill is fierce, and there are several reasons for this competitiveness.
While you might hear the media discuss the ballooning federal workforce from time to time, the number of employees in each chamber is determined individually by the House and Senate, and this number has stayed fairly stable over the past few years.
In the House, a Congressman may only have 22 employees divided between his District and his Capitol offices. So whether the Representative has the largest district (1 million constituents, Montana) or the smallest (500,000 constituents, Wyoming), he has the same number of employees as the Congressman next door. This greatly limits the number of jobs that are available.
Additionally, while many offices post job listings on the Internet (more on this later) or advertise them in local and D.C. publications, many jobs are filled by word of mouth. This means that the jobs that are advertised are bombarded with applicants.
Lastly, the competition for jobs is high because the pool of people who move to D.C. looking to work for Congress is HUGE. And the pool gets even deeper during the Summer (post-graduation) and following an election. One of my graduate school professors used to say that your odds of getting into Harvard are better than your odds of getting a job on the Hill.
So where should your job search start? And what can you do to give yourself a leg up? And when you get an interview, how should you dress? How should you speak to the interviewer? These are some of the questions that we’re going to focus on during this series. First off, let’s talk about how to look for a Capitol Hill job.
Jobseekers, stop what you’re doing and go to the Brad Traverse job listing service. Brad (aka genius) compiles every advertised Hill, Administration and public sector job that he can find into one D.C. jobs superlist. He also receives some listings that are exclusive to his site. For just $5 per month, you have access to the greatest classified job advertising service in the D.C. It’s as close to being well-connected as a newbie can get.
Beyond Brad Traverse, there are a wealth of Capitol Hill-centric newspapers that offer classified listings. Roll Call, The Hill, and Politico just to name a few. The local website Cloture Club also aggregates a bipartisan job list.
If you’re a Republican, you can visit the Craig Roberts List (free) and Rep. Carter also operates a GOP job listing. The RCA also maintains a list just for communications professionals. And the Republican Study Committee (House only) hosts a resume bank for prospective staffers.
On the Democratic side, the main purveyor of job listings seems to be Democratic Gain. But since I’ve never applied for a job on the bluer side of the aisle, I’ll let the Dem commenters fill in the specialized listings.
Once you’ve taken a look at what’s available on the Internet, it’s time to start making some calls. First, call your Congressman/Senator’s office and ask for the intern coordinator’s email. Even if they don’t have an opening, the intern coordinator probably knows where you can start looking. Be respectful, ask a few questions, and ask if you can come by just to meet even if they don’t have anything available. If you’re flexible enough to come by on a Friday or when the staffer is free, most of us will be happy to meet with you.
After that, call you need to work any connections that you might have. Think you don’t have any? You’re probably wrong.
Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to find friends and acquaintances who work in D.C. or who know someone who does. Odds are someone knows someone who you can call or e-mail. I once found a job because my Dad’s friend had worked for a Senator in the 1970s and still knew a state staffer who forwarded my resume. Think of it as playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
You should also contact your university or college. Many schools have alumni associations (formal or informal) in D.C. and these can be a great resource for jobseekers. You should also call your school’s political science department and ask one of the professors for the names of graduates who are working in D.C.
Lastly, if you’re a woman, LadiesDC is a Yahoo group that covers a lot of topics including job listings. They also host events where you can network with other D.C. professionals.
When starting a job search, you first have to know where to find the jobs. Next week, we’ll talk about how you can make yourself as competitive as possible when applying for work.