The Hill Life: A Few Dos and Don'ts for Jobseekers

When Applying

Don’t write the person looking for an unpaid intern and ask if they have any paid positions available.  And definitely don’t write the office of the Congressman looking for an unpaid intern and ask the staffer to forward your resume on to the Congressman’s committee so that you can be considered for a paid gig there. 

This is presumptuous and deeply annoying and will result (99% of the time) in your resume being tossed into the ‘Deleted Items’ bin.  If you really want to know about paid jobs, wait a couple of days and then forward your resume on, and don’t mention the internship that you don’t want.

Do call the office and ask the front desk person to whom your e-mail/cover letter should be addressed.  If the contact name is not listed in the job posting, an applicant who takes the extra step of finding out sets herself apart from the horde of people who addressed their letter “To Whom it May Concern.”

Don’t call or drop by if the posting specifically says not to call or drop-in.  Failure to follow this directive does not make you look like a go-getter, it makes you look like a person who cannot follow directions.

Do double check the spelling of the Congressman’s name, his district number and his committees.  Writing “in the office of Rep. John Smith” if his name is spelled J-o-n, is a giant faux pas.  So is getting a state abbreviation, a district number or a committee/bill name wrong.  Not getting this basic information correct makes it look like you really don’t care about the job at all.

Don’t apply for two jobs in the same office at the same time.  A few months ago, a friend in a Dem Senate office was looking for a Communications Director and a Legislative Aide at the same time, she received 17 duplicate resumes.  None of the duplicators was hired for either position.

Do choose the job that you are most qualified for, and apply for that one only.  You’re not increasing your odds of finding a job by applying for both.  You can’t tailor a resume to one job and then turn around and tailor it for another job without muddying the waters for yourself.

Don’t call or e-mail a hiring manager more than twice to check on your resume.  There is a fine line between being interested and over-eager and an even finer line between being over-eager and harassing.  If you don’t hear back, there’s a reason.  Unfortunately, some HR people just aren’t good about letting candidates know that they’re out of the running. 

 When Interviewing

Don’t play calendar hopscotch with the hiring manager.  When I was working off the Hill, I had prospective employee who had conflicts during my first three suggested interview times, who then rescheduled the appointment, twice.  When she called the second time, I told her the position had been filled and selected another applicant from the pile.

If you’re applying for a job, you need to make yourself available for the interview.  You are not the only person that is being considered for the position, so it is not the HR person’s job to make time for you.  Reasonable accommodations can always be made for a qualified candidate, but you need to be flexible because you are the applicant not the employer.

Do bring extra copies of your resume, writing samples and references to the interview with you.  Even if you don’t need them, it’s good to have them handy. 

Don’t show up to your interview late.  And by George, if you are going to be late, call and let them know.  But that being said, just don’t be late.


Do wear a suit to the interview.  Even if it’s during recess, showing up for an interview with slacks and a polo or other casual attire is not okay.  And if you’re a man, you need to wear a tie.  Even if you are never going to wear one again, you’re trying to impress someone here, so dress for the occasion.

Don’t talk smack about your last employer.  Even if you separated under less-than-ideal circumstances, you don’t want your interview to turn into a litany of complaints against your old boss.  Someone who would speak ill of a previous employer during an interview is someone who will speak ill of any employer at any time.

Do send a thank you note to EVERY person who was in the meeting.  Bring a stack with you to the interview, then go to a coffee shop or somewhere nearby, fill them out and return them to the office or immediately mail them.  Even a short thank you, received in a timely manner is helpful. 

Don’t wait more than one business day to send the thank you note, esp. if you’re using snail mail.  I once received a thank you note six days after I had filled the position and 10 days after the interview took place.  It didn’t do the applicant much good then.

Do have a firm handshake.  Nothing leaves a lasting negative impression quite like a weak or sweaty or limp-wristed handshake.  Even if you’re a woman, you need a good, firm handshake.  Practice on your friends.

Don’t get so caught up about what to wear that you forget to practice your answers and develop sample questions.  You need to spend at least twice as much time learning about the company and coming up with insightful questions to ask the employer as you do picking out something to wear.



  1. J says:

    Do: Have your current (or former, if relevant) boss email or call the potential employer to recommend they pay attention to your resume. This is only really useful if you currently hold a Hill (or similar government) job or internship. My first boss on the Hill told me that without the call from my boss at my Senate internship when she was wading through 600 resumes, I wouldn't have been hired.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  2. Belle says:

    That's a good tip.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  3. CMac says:

    Any suggestions for responding to job postings where the announcement does not reveal the office to which you are applying- i.e. only says something like a “moderate Republican from Southern state seeks intern….”

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  4. Kim says:

    Any advice on a pant suit vs. a skirt suit? I only wear pants on extremely rare occasions, so for me it's a skirt suit, but I have a friend who swears she would never wear a skirt suit in an interview because it makes you appear less authoritative. Alternately, I have friends who would never wear pant suits in interviews because they view them as less formal. I'm of the general mind that one isn't really better than the other; I'm just curious if you feel the same way.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
    • Vanessa says:

      I think the best advice is to go with whatever you’re more comfortable in. When you’re confident in your appearance, it shows. I prefer myself in skirts or dresses over pants, so for interviews I always go with a skirt suit.

      March 20, 2013/Reply
  5. b says:

    cmac- if there is a fax number they ask to have it sent to, you can check what fax number is listed online by google-ing it. otherwise, when i was looking for my job on the hill, i would ask any of my friends with jobs on the hill already to check around and see if they would find out who it is. if that's not an option, you can usually narrow it down to a couple of different offices and call them to check which one is hiring.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  6. Caitlin says:

    I've had a similar problem to cmac. A lot of the time you cannot figure out what office it is, especially if you're new to the Hill. This makes the event of applying to the same office for different positions an unfortunate likelihood.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  7. Belle says:

    Kim- I don't think it really matters. A suit is a suit, this isn't 1950.

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  8. H says:

    In my opinion, the best way to find a job on the Hill is to get in touch with anyone you know there and do an informational interview (or have a friend, family member, professor, dogwalker, whatever make the connection for you). Meet them in their building's cafeteria at a time that's convenient for them for 20 minutes or so, wear business attire (unless it's Recess, and then still look nice and no jeans), bring a pad of paper with questions like, how did you get this job, what advice do you have for me, what do you like about your job, etc. It can feel awkward and intrusive, but people are generally very willing to pay it forward and give you advice, as long as you're not asking for anything from them. At the end of the meeting, thank them for their time, and ask if they know anyone else you should talk to. Afterward, shoot them an email and thank them, and in a polite way, ask for them to send any appropriate job listings they see your way. It really works! Personal connections make the Hill go round!

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  9. K says:

    About the thank you letters, I was always a little confused on this when it comes to Hill jobs. I seem to remember from my internship on the Hill that mail was delayed getting to the office because it has to be scanned or something for security. Wouldn't that take a while for the letter to get there? Is an email more appropriate because it would be immediate?

    March 23, 2011/Reply
  10. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    FWIW, my general rule of thumb is this. Conservative, more official business offices=skirt suit. Liberal or less dressy offices=pant suit

    March 24, 2011/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    K-This is why you bring the thank you notes with you. Go down to the cafeteria, write it up, bring it back up and drop it off.

    March 24, 2011/Reply