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.  

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  1. Thuy says:

    Thanks for answering my email and for this post! I'm going to try to hit up networking events more often.

  2. Thuy says:

    Thanks for answering my email and for this post! I'm going to try to hit up networking events more often.

  3. MK says:

    Most of the Dem jobs these days are sent from Tom Manatos from the Minority Leaders' office. Directions to subscribe copied below:

    Directions to send to those who want to get on the Jobs list: To get on the jobs list, just e-mail TomManatosJobsList-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and you will get a return e-mail from Yahoo with registration instructions. Good luck!

  4. Molly says:

    Seconding Tom Manatos for Dems and Brad Traverse for everyone.

    Also worth noting that virtually all new hires, especially those without PhDs and a lot of specific experience in a policy issue area, start out as interns – including your Harvard grads, MPPs, and even lawyers. Being smart is not a substitute for having Hill experience. Don't bother trying if you're not willing to put in your time as an intern, Staff Assistant, and LC, and willing to do those jobs incredibly well even if you think it's “beneath” you.

  5. Adrienne says:

    On the Republican side, ConservativeJobs.com and the Heritage Foundation also run exceptional job banks. FYI: both organizations require you to complete a survey of your political views. If you don't align with what they want, you can't access their banks.

    If you are right-of-center or libertarian, in addition to the resources that Belle suggests, go talk to the recruitment department at the Leadership Institute, which runs Conservative Jobs. Many times Hill staff ask for help from LI and having a personal relationship there can be a huge benefit.

    My last two jobs on the right have come strictly through networking. DC is a small town, so it really is who you know.

  6. Belle says:

    I couldn't agree with Molly more.

  7. A says:

    For those on the blue side of the aisle you need to be getting Tom Manatos Jobs List. TomManatosJobsList-subscribe@yahoogroups.com . “Jobs That Are Left” used to be a good resource but they tend to get re-posted on Dem Gain and Manatos. Also- unions and trade associations often post entry level positions on their websites. I would also suggest that if there is somewhere you really want to work but they don't have a position open, ask for an informational interview. It is a great way for the employer to get a genuine sense of you, your skills and interests. When I first arrived in DC there was a hill office I really wanted to work in and felt I would be a great fit. I managed to find out that they weren't at their full staffing quota but the COS didn't feel a need to fill the role immediately. I asked for an informational interview and because of the more informal setting, he discovered that I had experience outside my resume and education that would fill a missing skill set in the office and decided to hire me. Now that I manage a budget, I will find a way to fit in a young person who has been creative and tenacious in contacting our office- it shows they can apply themselves and problem-solve. Good Luck!

  8. A says:

    Just saw there was a delay in my post going through- apologies for the repeat on the Manatos list.

  9. Thuy says:

    Thanks for answering my email and for this post! I'm going to try to hit up networking events more often.

  10. ClotureClub says:

    Thanks for the link to our website. In this tough economy unemployment is not good. So continue to spread the word on available jobs!

    https://www.ClotureClub.com

  11. Olivia says:

    http://www.POWERJobs.com is a great resource for DC jobs too –

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