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The Hill Life: Finding a Job, Part II

Last week, we discussed where to find classified listings for Capitol Hill.  After I posted, a reader contacted me asking me to make sense of what job she might qualify for with two years of off Hill experience.  It was then that I realized that we, on Capitol Hill, speak our own language and we forget that most people don’t know the difference between LC, LA and LD.  So, let’s clear up some of the confusion, shall we?  Here’s how to decode a Capitol Hill classified ad.

Working for Free.  One of my biggest sources of frustration when giving career advice is people who think that they are too smart/too well-educated/too qualified to intern.  You will not last very long on Capitol Hill with that kind of attitude.  

When I started my internship in 2005, I had just graduated from a top-100 university with three bachelor’s degrees, and I was working on my master’s degree at a top-50 university.  But I realized, after talking with several mentors, that the day-to-day work on Capitol Hill cannot be taught in school.  It must be learned on the job.  

Out of the nine full-time employees in my office, all but one, started off his or her career as a Hill intern.  The other started off as an intern on the campaign.  

Internships are vital because they provide training, education and a vetting process for job applicants.  And they allow the intern to decide whether the Hill Life is really the life they want to be living.  I’ve known more than a few folks who interned and decided that neither the Hill nor D.C. was where they wanted to be, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Staff Assistant.  If you’ve completed your internship or you have at least one year of other relevant job experience (slinging soft-serv at Dairy Queen is not “relevant”), you should be qualified for a Staff Assistant position.

Staff Assistant’s do all of the clerical jobs that a secretary would do, but they also supervise interns, give tours and handle other tasks as needed.  SA’s also process most of the mail that Capitol offices receive, and we get a lot of mail.

Being a Staff Assistant, you get more access to the staff than an intern. This is your opportunity to learn legislative process, about the issues and study your Boss’ positions.  And surviving the phones and the mail proves that you’re ready to talk to constituents on the Congressman’s behalf.

Legislative Correspondent (LC).  The amount of experience needed for an LC job depends on the office and the chamber.  In the House, most LC jobs are entry-level, but you need to have excellent writing skills to land this job fresh off an internship.  In the Senate, however, you should probably have completed either a full-year internship or a year at Staff Asst. before you apply to be an LC.

LC’s are responsible for writing policy letters, composing remarks for the staffers and Congressman and writing press releases.  If you don’t think your ready to be responsible for the hours of research and writing that go into this job, then you should start at Staff Asst.

Legislative Assistant (LA).  If you’ve completed eighteen months on the Hill, and you have experience working in a policy arena, then you probably have the skills to apply for an LA position.  But this is not an entry-level position, I know a lot of people on the Hill, and I only know one who started as an LA.  Always err on the side of being the rule, not the exception when applying for work.  

If you’ve worked off the Hill, either at an association, a lobbying shop or an NGO for more than a year, and you have significant experience in one area, then you are probably qualified for an LA position.  So if Senator Smith is looking for a healthcare LA and you’ve spend the last year working for a hospital association, then you’re probably in good shape.  

Legislative Director or Deputy Chief of Staff (LD or DCoS).  These jobs require significant Hill experience.  I would say that a good candidate for an LD or DCoS position has 3+ years of experience at the LA level and at least one year of experience at the LC or Staff Asst. level.  I’ve met some young Deputies and LDs in my time, but they all had one thing in common, they started working on the Hill when they were 21 or 22 years old.  So they have four or five years of experience before they become the 27-year-old wunderkind.

If you have less than two years of experience at the LA level, or you haven’t worked for a related off-Hill company for at least three years, you are not qualified for this job.  A former professor of mine recently returned to the Hill to work for a House committee, he had a freshly minted Staff Asst. apply for an LD job and actually cite her experience in student government as a qualification.  I understand that finding work can be a challenge, but if you’re not tailoring your resumes to work that you are actually qualified to do, then you’re wasting your time and someone else’s.

Now that we’ve discussed the hierarchy of the Hill, we should spend a moment discussing some of the buzzwords often featured in these ads and how political beliefs play into the process.  

If you want to be happy working on Capitol Hill, you should try to find a Boss whose political beliefs closely mirror your own.  I can’t tell you the number of times that young job seekers have told me that they could work for a Republican or a Democrat, it doesn’t matter to them.  But I’m here to tell you that it should.

A person who has been a Young Democrat and interned with a Dem office is not going to be very competitive when applying for a job in a GOP office, and vice versa.  While a moderate Dem or a centrist Republican can find work in the office of a like-minded moderate, these folks are the exception not the rule.  And if you lean towards a certain persuasion (even if it is only a slight lean), you will enjoy your work more if you agree with your Boss on most things.

When reading the ads for these jobs, you’ll often see the political leanings of the Congressman or Senator described with inside baseball terms.  So, let’s define them.

Progressive or Liberal: Very Democrat.  Think Rep. Barney Frank or Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Blue Dog Democrat: Blue Dogs are typically socially liberal but fiscally conservative Members who still fall on the Democratic side.  Think Minority Whip Steny Hoyer or Rep. Dan Boren.

Moderate Republican: Middle-of-the-path GOPers are often fiscally conservative but a little more lax on the social issues.  They probably aren’t winning any accolades from the many conservative groups out there, but they are still Rs.  Think Sen. Susan Collins or Sen. Mark Kirk.  (There are more moderates in the Senate than in the House.)

Fiscal Conservative: Whenever I’ve seen a Representative or a Senator use this term it’s usually because while they vote pro-life, the social issues are not the cornerstone of their agenda.  They will also probably be outspoken on deficit and spending issues.  Rep. Ron Paul or Rep. Paul Ryan

Social Conservative: If you’re not prepared to tow the line on the pro-life position or the anti-gay marriage position, this is not the job for you.  While most GOP Members vote the pro-life position, anyone who describes themself as a social conservative is defined by that position.  Rep. Joe Pitts or Rep. Michelle Bachmann

Once you’ve decoded that job posting, you can start applying for the jobs that you find.  If the ad doesn’t specify experience, go to Legistorm and look at who for the work history of the person holding the job now.  How long have they worked there?  Where did they start out?  The best guess of what qualifications their looking for is who they’ve hired before.  If you still don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to call and ask.

If you have concerns about the Members political leanings, look at their vote history or their legislative history on Thomas.  Read through their press releases and news articles about them.  This will help you figure out their political philosophy and prepare you for your interview.

If you truly want to be competitive in this market, you need to apply for jobs that fit your qualifications and your political views.  The closer in line you are to their needs, the more likely you are to get the job.  Next week, we’ll talk about how to apply for the jobs that you find.

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    40 comments

  1. SC says:

    This post is fascinating and informative, even if I'm not interested in a Hill job personally. If any acquaintances of mine need a crash course on terms and general Hill life I'd definitely point them here.

    I've interned for a federal government agency, and in a way, these posts are giving me insight into how the people who make the policies live and work. Compared to the federal government agencies, the pacing is very different, to say the least. Then again, I have a scientific background so I'm rather limited in my knowledge of political life.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Meg says:

    indebt, I have had a lot of friends who picked up jobs waiting tables while they interned. I realize you didn't get a college degree to wait on tables, but it is a good way to soften the financial blow in the short term.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. JL says:

    I'll take a stab at the Committee rundown, because I've seen very few. There's a ton of variance between how committees are run, and even between how the different parties run the same committees in a given year, so feedback and a grain of salt would both be appreciated!

    ABOUT COMMITTEE STAFF

    For each committtee, there's a Majority staff and parallel smaller Minority staff. They have separate offices in separate buildings. If you see a posting that's just for The (Whatever) Committee, that's the majority.

    In some ways, committee folks may be less partisan than in personal offices, but in some cases even more so. Some Professional Staff are just hardcore experts on the widget trade, they live and breathe widget policy, and they may stay on in their position even when Congress changes hands. However, the majority staff is directed by the Chair and usually has a partisan agenda. If you're a majority staffer, you're advancing that agenda.

    Within each staff, there are staff that serve the whole committee and staff specific to certain subcommittees.

    In general, committees put slightly more of a premium on industry experience and academic credentials, and slightly less on Hill
    longevity. Still, if you're a typical DC job hunter, and you're just out of college or grad school or the non-political workforce, I'd underline the previous point: everybody interns.

    COMMITTEE TITLES

    Intern: Committee internships are still mostly unpaid, but there are a few rare magical stipended positions. They're a good place to start if you're one of those wonky older interns with a graduate degree. If you're proactive, you can get substantive projects in your field, and you can reach out to staff from a bunch of different offices.

    Staff Assistant/Research Assistant: If you're a Staff Assistant to a full committee, it's probably like a being personal office Staff Assistant but plus some. You're helping coordinate room reservations, a whole team of interns, and constant hearings and events. But, you also have a big staff you can get to know and get policy projects from.
    If you're the Staff Assistant or Research Assistant to a subcommittee, you'll have some clerical duties but you're also basically the junior researcher for that team. If you're a recent grad with good relevant work experience, this could be you.

    Professional Staff: Professional Staff are mid- to senior policy folks with expertise in the issue area. They may have moved up from Research Assistant or been LAs in other offices, or they may be recruited directly out of the field to work on a specific priority. If you're only a couple years out of undergrad, this is probably not you yet.

    Counsel, Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff: Leadership roles, significant experience.

    Communications: The Committee press positions generally require more experience than their personal office counterparts. As a Press Assistant, you'd help staff hearings and mark ups which includes some clerical work. The media you'll be working with will be trade papers and journals as well as mainstream press.

    Clerk: Committees have clerks just like the two chambers have clerks. The clerks may have administrative staff. Officially these are non-partisan positions, which makes them very distinct. Probably not you. Whole different employment track.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  4. SC says:

    This post is fascinating and informative, even if I'm not interested in a Hill job personally. If any acquaintances of mine need a crash course on terms and general Hill life I'd definitely point them here.

    I've interned for a federal government agency, and in a way, these posts are giving me insight into how the people who make the policies live and work. Compared to the federal government agencies, the pacing is very different, to say the least. Then again, I have a scientific background so I'm rather limited in my knowledge of political life.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  5. Meg says:

    indebt, I have had a lot of friends who picked up jobs waiting tables while they interned. I realize you didn't get a college degree to wait on tables, but it is a good way to soften the financial blow in the short term.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  6. JL says:

    I'll take a stab at the Committee rundown, because I've seen very few. There's a ton of variance between how committees are run, and even between how the different parties run the same committees in a given year, so feedback and a grain of salt would both be appreciated!

    ABOUT COMMITTEE STAFF

    For each committtee, there's a Majority staff and parallel smaller Minority staff. They have separate offices in separate buildings. If you see a posting that's just for The (Whatever) Committee, that's the majority.

    In some ways, committee folks may be less partisan than in personal offices, but in some cases even more so. Some Professional Staff are just hardcore experts on the widget trade, they live and breathe widget policy, and they may stay on in their position even when Congress changes hands. However, the majority staff is directed by the Chair and usually has a partisan agenda. If you're a majority staffer, you're advancing that agenda.

    Within each staff, there are staff that serve the whole committee and staff specific to certain subcommittees.

    In general, committees put slightly more of a premium on industry experience and academic credentials, and slightly less on Hill
    longevity. Still, if you're a typical DC job hunter, and you're just out of college or grad school or the non-political workforce, I'd underline the previous point: everybody interns.

    COMMITTEE TITLES

    Intern: Committee internships are still mostly unpaid, but there are a few rare magical stipended positions. They're a good place to start if you're one of those wonky older interns with a graduate degree. If you're proactive, you can get substantive projects in your field, and you can reach out to staff from a bunch of different offices.

    Staff Assistant/Research Assistant: If you're a Staff Assistant to a full committee, it's probably like a being personal office Staff Assistant but plus some. You're helping coordinate room reservations, a whole team of interns, and constant hearings and events. But, you also have a big staff you can get to know and get policy projects from.
    If you're the Staff Assistant or Research Assistant to a subcommittee, you'll have some clerical duties but you're also basically the junior researcher for that team. If you're a recent grad with good relevant work experience, this could be you.

    Professional Staff: Professional Staff are mid- to senior policy folks with expertise in the issue area. They may have moved up from Research Assistant or been LAs in other offices, or they may be recruited directly out of the field to work on a specific priority. If you're only a couple years out of undergrad, this is probably not you yet.

    Counsel, Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff: Leadership roles, significant experience.

    Communications: The Committee press positions generally require more experience than their personal office counterparts. As a Press Assistant, you'd help staff hearings and mark ups which includes some clerical work. The media you'll be working with will be trade papers and journals as well as mainstream press.

    Clerk: Committees have clerks just like the two chambers have clerks. The clerks may have administrative staff. Officially these are non-partisan positions, which makes them very distinct. Probably not you. Whole different employment track.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  7. Good post, but... says:

    … you skipped the Communications and Committee side of things…

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    If you'd like add something about either, feel free. Or you can just criticize. Dealer's choice.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  9. AD says:

    If the legislative track, as Belle so thoroughly outlined in her post, isn't for you – there are also the communications positions and the scheduler position. (Unfortunately, I have no committee experience, so someone else will need to pick up that area of Hill work.)

    Scheduler/Executive Assistant – This person is responsible for managing the Member's schedule. It's one of the toughest jobs in the office, because you are under constant pressure to make zero mistakes. A NW instead of a SW in the address box in an Outlook calendar entry can mean sending your boss to the wrong side of town, making him late for an event, and inevitably infuriating your Chief of Staff (CoS). If you've interned (campaign or congressional) and develop a good relationship with your CoS (or the member's spouse) you have a good shot at going from intern to Scheduler/EA. However, the intern to SA to Scheduler track is typical. Scheduling for a Member is a helluva lot different from scheduling for a state legislator, state cabinet member, CEO, etc – but having that experience can help if you have no Hill experience. Sometimes a Scheduler can move to LC and begin the Legislative Track or pick up some communications duties and move into the Communications Track. Also – a lot of CoSs were once Schedulers….. something to think about.

    Press Assistant – If as an intern or a staff assistant you take an interest in the communications aspects of the office, you could make the move into a Press Assistant In some offices, Press Assistant can be entry-level and is sometimes combined with another job. I've seen Scheduler/Press Assistant and LC/Press Assistants. The Press Assistant typically manages the distribution list, compiles morning press clips and generally assists the Press Secretary or Communications Director. If you have several months to a year of communications experience at an NGO or a trade organization, you can usually go straight into a Press Assistant position.

    Social Media Coordinator – This position is becoming more and more common in offices with the explosion of facebook, twitter, foursquare, youtube, etc etc. Some offices may have a SMC in lieu of a Press Assistant, and some offices may combine this position with others (LC/Social Media or Scheduler/Social Media). Social Media Coordinator is responsible for the obvious – managing the Member's facebook page, twitter account and any other social media outlets the office is using. SMC works closely with the Press Secretary/Communications Director. If you have off-the-Hill social media experience you could probably easily get this job, but just don't expect to waltz in and say “I have 1,299 facebook friends” and get the job. Most offices are looking for someone who can track the interaction data (there's a fancy word for this that I can't remember, but I bet Belle knows) and actually make use of the data to increase the Member's visibility.

    Press Secretary/Communications Director – The Press Secretary/Communications Director is responsible for all media relations on behalf of the Member (press releases, speeches, op-eds, letters to the editor, etc etc) and typically coordinates Direct Mail pieces. He or she works closely with Legislative Staff because let's be honest – the typical PS/CD's knowledge of policy issues is an inch deep and a mile wide and he or she needs to be able to translate “wonkese” to the constituents in the district in English. On the House side, a few years of Press Assistant experience, or experience managing communications in an off-the-Hill job could land you in the Press Secretary/Comms Director spot. On the Senate side, several years of communications experience is needed to get this job.

    Comms people/Schedulers/anyone – please add anything that I missed. 🙂

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  10. indebt says:

    I completely understand needing to intern, however, what advice would you give to someone who incurred $60,000 in student loan debt just from earning a bachelor's degree. It will be completely impossible for me to accept any unpaid positions when i have to pay $600 per month in loans and I can't afford to take out more loans to go to grad school. I completed three summer internships in my home state during college and also worked several other jobs during each semester – so I have some professional experience, just not hill experience. I need to find a job that doesnt require much education/experience but also has a decent salary.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  11. Rachel says:

    Unfortunately it's hard to make a “great” salary on the Hill. My numbers might be behind the times as I left the Hill five years ago. I don't know a lot of Staff Assistants who break $30k, or a lot of LCs who break $35k or $40k. Once you get up into the LA or LD levels there are more opportunities to make a higher salary, but it completely depends on the office. For the non-leg side of things (Scheduler, EA, Press) salaries can be even lower. I always thought that was ridiculous because scheduling a Member is one of the hardest jobs in the universe. Again, it all depends on the office, and how they set their priorities.

    It's a fact of life that a lot of people are on the Hill because they love it, not because they are making gobs of money. But if you can handle living frugally for a couple of years, working for Congress will open doors to other amazing jobs. I consider my time on the Hill as a sort of second Masters degree.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  12. Katie says:

    indebt – You and me both, I'm regretting not going into a technical field now…

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  13. BlueFish says:

    Belle – Thank you so much for these posts. I can't wait to read the next one. Can you advise (along with any others) how to approach the job search for those of us who are coming from the private sector (non-lobbying and not located in DC)? Besides matching the skill set, are there specific jobs I should be targeting that I could leverage my corporate experience more effectively? I'd be coming from a Fortune 500 technology company with about 5 years of experience. Your insights would be appreciated!

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  14. VA says:

    indebt, as Belle said in her post, you can gain sometimes relevant experience for Hill positions with work in other fields. For example, if you're really interested in environmental issues and that's what you'd eventually like to work on in a Hill job, see if you can find a paying, entry-level position at an environmental non-profit, put in a couple years, and then try to transition over to the Hill. DC has nonprofits and trade organizations for every imaginable issue and niche audience.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  15. BlueFish says:

    I should add, this wouldn't be a long-term move but rather a one to two-year stint to understand how Congress works before moving back into the private sector (either consulting or lobbying).

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  16. Claire says:

    indebt, I had an identical situation when I graduated. I joined an association that was politically active and gained Hill knowledge and closely related experience that way before finally landing on the Hill at a salary on which I could live. While not ideal, it did work out in the end and my outside experience and connections made me an asset to the offices that have employed me.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  17. Belle says:

    Indebt-I had 50k in student loans. Luckily, you don't have to start paying right away after graduation. I took my 6month deferment and interned. You'll meet a lot of interns in the same boat.

    Staff Asst's make 30k or less. LC's upper 20s to mid 30s. LAs mid thirties to mid 50s depending on experience. If you're an LA and you're not making 35k, you should ask for a raise. LDs 50-100k depending on experience. And of course, this all depends on the office. Schedulers can make as little as Staff Assts or as much as LDs. Most COSs clear 100k+ and press guys are in the same boat as schedulers. They can be paid like an LC or like a COS.

    This isn't like a regular gov't job, your Boss has wide berth to decide what to pay you. If you want guaranteed increases and higher wages, this isn't the job for you. I make a small town teacher's salary in a city with a 33% higher cost of living. You do this because you love it, not because it pays well. I have friends in their 30s living with roommates in group houses. It's not for everyone.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  18. Belle says:

    Oh, and indebt, maybe your experience interning in the state is valuable, but I don't think I would weight it the same as a person who interned on the Hill, if I were your interviewer. It's better than being fresh out of school though.

    March 9, 2011/Reply
  19. SC says:

    This post is fascinating and informative, even if I'm not interested in a Hill job personally. If any acquaintances of mine need a crash course on terms and general Hill life I'd definitely point them here.

    I've interned for a federal government agency, and in a way, these posts are giving me insight into how the people who make the policies live and work. Compared to the federal government agencies, the pacing is very different, to say the least. Then again, I have a scientific background so I'm rather limited in my knowledge of political life.

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  20. Meg says:

    indebt, I have had a lot of friends who picked up jobs waiting tables while they interned. I realize you didn't get a college degree to wait on tables, but it is a good way to soften the financial blow in the short term.

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  21. Jessica says:

    Even Staff Assistants and LCs wait tables and bartending on nights and weekends. It is far from unheard of. We all do what we have to to make rent in this crazy town 🙂

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  22. Stephanie says:

    I am currently in my 5th internship – three at the state level, one campaign, and now in a House office – and would like to work at an NGO or a think tank. Does anyone have any tips about breaking into this sphere with only a Bachelor's degree (for the moment), without going through the unpaid internship cycle for the sixth time (which is not an option financially), and/or selling myself to potential employers in that market?

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  23. Jessica says:

    Stephanie, while in undergrad I did 5 internships in DC, with only one paid (very little..). I chose to go to law school but a huge majority of my peers ended up working on the Hill or in nonprofits/think tanks around DC immediately after graduation. In my opinion, the most valuable resource (other than experience) from completing so many internships are the connections you gain. If your internships don't have an alumni network setup for sharing job openings, try asking some of your previous co-interns. These people will probably have a good understanding of your skills and work goals and may share openings in their offices or pass along opportunities they hear about through their new networks. Think tanks in DC definitely communicate with each other and have past employees in common. Use this to your advantage!

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  24. Jessica says:

    If you're looking to work at a think tank in any substantial capacity, a graduate degree is going to be your biggest asset, and now is as good a time as any to get one. So if that's really where your heart is at, get back in school.

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  25. Belle says:

    Meg is right about the part time job. I was a hostess while I interned. And then when I was a Staff Asst, I worked at a tanning salon. Sure nobody goes to college to wait tables or clean tanning booths (ick) BUT once you realize that your degree doesn't buy you a pass from doing the things you need to do to get by while you're building a career, the better off you'll be.

    It was hard to intern and work and go to school, but I pulled it off. You can too.

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  26. KC says:

    Does anyone have any good tips for finding a roommate or housing connections? I recently graduated with a Bachelors and have had a Hill internship and could not find a job! I am hoping to get an internship for the summer or possibly next fall and am going to need to find roommates. Anyone have any tips???

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  27. A says:

    Stephanie- is there one policy issue you have dealt with consistently in all those internships? I was research director for a non-profit dealing with a policy area where state/federal responsibilities were murky. Honestly, unless someone could show substantial work experience in the area, the only time I would hire a policy track person without a masters was if they could show a proficient grasp of all the complex agency/legislator/external advocates that would define our ability to move any policy. Normally that person would come in initially to coordinate all the policy work- however, most directors get that people don't do think tank work (except for the one or two with sophisticated funding programs) for the salary so if I had a strong candidate who was passionate about our issue, I was always willing to look at ways they could do a policy support role so that they learned the craft but also go back to school. A number of local grad programs will work with your think tank supervisor to make sure you are able to plan a program that gives credit for research needed for work.

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  28. Ellee says:

    Thanks for all of the great info Belle!

    I was wondering if any of the readers had any advice for getting a job in the legal field in D.C. I will be graduating from law school next year, and I am hoping to move to D.C. I have applied (and am still waiting to hear about) an internship for this summer with the Senate Committee for the Judicatory, so I hope that will help get me in the door. Does anyone have any general knowledge of the kinds of legal jobs available in D.C. (other than firms, of course), and how to go about getting them? Any advice would be great!

    March 10, 2011/Reply
  29. Meaghan says:

    Hi, I am wondering the same thing as Ellee. I will be entering law school (possibly in the DC area…but possibly not) and would love to know if anyone has advice or anything about summer recruitment for legal internships in DC or legal jobs for after graduation. Thanks!

    March 15, 2011/Reply
  30. DC says:

    Can anyone share information on the best “track” to working (Staff Assistant) on Senate oo House committees? IS the experience similar to working in a member's office?

    March 27, 2011/Reply
  31. Belle says:

    DC-Every committee handles hiring differently, but most of the folks I know who work for committees worked for a Member of that committee first. As for the work being done, committee work is more specialized than most House LA jobs, for instance. But it's the same pool of people, so you get the same credibility.

    March 28, 2011/Reply
  32. Annie says:

    I have a question about political affiliation. I have done all of my interning on capitol hill with a certain party and have received a job offer from one of those places. However, I find that I am personally not totally of the same persuasion. How do you suggest handling something like this? I don't want to turn this job down, because I feel that it would make me seem ungrateful and unprofessional, not to mention it's a foot in the door that I don't have otherwise. However, I don't want to do them a disservice by switching parties sometime down the road. Should I go ahead and take this job and try to transition to a personal office of a moderate member of the opposite party sometime later, or should I turn this down and take my chances elsewhere? Will accepting this job hurt me if I ever do try to switch parties, even though it's a non-political position?

    What is the general consensus on switching parties?

    April 13, 2011/Reply
  33. Belle says:

    Annie-Once you're in a basket, 99% of the time, you're in that basket for your whole career. Most Ds don't hire people with an R resume and vice versa. Sometimes you can find yourself in a moderate office but it's extremely rare. Most people are looking for party credentials right off the bat because they need loyalty and like mindedness (for the most part) whenever possible. I don't agree with my Boss all the time, and he's fine with that, so you might not need to change parties.

    April 13, 2011/Reply
  34. HillG24 says:

    Unfortunately, finding a job on the Hill has already become competitive to the point of being ridiculous that the concept of “working for free” has been exploited. The process consisting of a couple months of interning before finally progressing into a low-paying yet highly-desired staff assistant or LC slot has now morphed into an endurance competition of who can work for free the longest. Rich kids who can work for free longer than everyone else ultimately win this competition.

    If you're trying to get relevant experience off the Hill, competition for lobbying firms, non-profits, trade associations and similar offices are almost just as bad. My advice to all you idealist young recent college grads out there: save yourself from the rat race of interning part-time while waiting tables under the constant threat of having to move back home because you're already living hand-to-mouth.

    And remember: if you have a political science degree, there's always, ALWAYS, marketing and sales!

    May 11, 2011/Reply
  35. Big Tentin' says:

    Hey, I know this post is wicked old but I have to point out that Belle has the definition of Blue Dog pretty far off.

    “Fiscally conservative/socially liberal” sounds neat, but that's not accurate. The Blue Dogs' platform is strictly about fiscal responsibility, national security and bipartisanship. They caucus around some big-picture budget measures, but they don't have an agenda on social issues. Members' views range, but “socially liberal” would describe very few. Most are moderate to very conservative. So a better quick definition is just “Fiscally hawkish centrist Democrats.”

    Also Rep. Hoyer is not one, if he ever was then he hasn't been for a while.

    May 24, 2012/Reply
  36. JL says:

    I'll take a stab at the Committee rundown, because I've seen very few. There's a ton of variance between how committees are run, and even between how the different parties run the same committees in a given year, so feedback and a grain of salt would both be appreciated!

    ABOUT COMMITTEE STAFF

    For each committtee, there's a Majority staff and parallel smaller Minority staff. They have separate offices in separate buildings. If you see a posting that's just for The (Whatever) Committee, that's the majority.

    In some ways, committee folks may be less partisan than in personal offices, but in some cases even more so. Some Professional Staff are just hardcore experts on the widget trade, they live and breathe widget policy, and they may stay on in their position even when Congress changes hands. However, the majority staff is directed by the Chair and usually has a partisan agenda. If you're a majority staffer, you're advancing that agenda.

    Within each staff, there are staff that serve the whole committee and staff specific to certain subcommittees.

    In general, committees put slightly more of a premium on industry experience and academic credentials, and slightly less on Hill
    longevity. Still, if you're a typical DC job hunter, and you're just out of college or grad school or the non-political workforce, I'd underline the previous point: everybody interns.

    COMMITTEE TITLES

    Intern: Committee internships are still mostly unpaid, but there are a few rare magical stipended positions. They're a good place to start if you're one of those wonky older interns with a graduate degree. If you're proactive, you can get substantive projects in your field, and you can reach out to staff from a bunch of different offices.

    Staff Assistant/Research Assistant: If you're a Staff Assistant to a full committee, it's probably like a being personal office Staff Assistant but plus some. You're helping coordinate room reservations, a whole team of interns, and constant hearings and events. But, you also have a big staff you can get to know and get policy projects from.
    If you're the Staff Assistant or Research Assistant to a subcommittee, you'll have some clerical duties but you're also basically the junior researcher for that team. If you're a recent grad with good relevant work experience, this could be you.

    Professional Staff: Professional Staff are mid- to senior policy folks with expertise in the issue area. They may have moved up from Research Assistant or been LAs in other offices, or they may be recruited directly out of the field to work on a specific priority. If you're only a couple years out of undergrad, this is probably not you yet.

    Counsel, Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff: Leadership roles, significant experience.

    Communications: The Committee press positions generally require more experience than their personal office counterparts. As a Press Assistant, you'd help staff hearings and mark ups which includes some clerical work. The media you'll be working with will be trade papers and journals as well as mainstream press.

    Clerk: Committees have clerks just like the two chambers have clerks. The clerks may have administrative staff. Officially these are non-partisan positions, which makes them very distinct. Probably not you. Whole different employment track.

    May 25, 2012/Reply
  37. Belle says:

    Big Tentin': Steny is often cited as the leader of the blue dog caucus, see here from an article last month. https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2012/04/17/Blue-Dog-Dems-scrap-to-keep-members/UPI-42051334676422/

    In other articles he is cited as a Blue Dog ally. Mike Ross or Jim Matheson might have been a better example, but since most articles mention Hoyer and the BDs, he was the first one who leapt to mind.

    May 25, 2012/Reply
  38. Big Tentin' says:

    Hey all, by the way I just thought I'd point out we should all probably be careful when posting our personal experiences, as tempting as it is to talk it out.

    “Annie” up there probably didn't give her real name, but she did give some pretty narrow specifics about her job offer. If her boss happened to be a Capitol Hill Style fan, she could probably have recognized her, and it could have been an issue.

    (Not to single Annie out! Hope everything worked out well for her.)

    May 29, 2012/Reply
  39. BT says:

    Belle–

    Just to defend my fact check: Ally, sure. Example, no. Hoyer has defended the Blue Dogs' interests from his leadership position sometimes, but he isn't a member. The press does mix this up sometimes. The UPI article is inaccurate.

    https://ross.house.gov/BlueDog/Members/

    May 29, 2012/Reply
  40. Big Tentin' says:

    Hey Belle–Hoyer is an ally in some ways but not a member of the Blue Dogs and not a leader. The media gets that wrong sometimes. That UPI post got it wrong. They're an official caucus with an official membership roll. Just had to defend my fact-check! (Tried to post something a couple days ago and it didn't take.)

    June 1, 2012/Reply