Style + Ask The Edit

The Hill Life: Ask Belle Roundup

Belle,

First of all, I have to tell you how much I love your blog. I live and work in the D.C. area, and I struggle with finding stylish yet appropriate work and casual attire. I also love reading your non-fashion posts. I don’t always agree with you, but I admire your courage in putting out your thoughts to the world. My question for you is not a style question but a professional question. I am 26, and I work at a trade association. When I first moved to DC, I interned in the Senate before finding employment off the Hill. After a few so-so jobs, I know that I want to work on the Hill. I wanted your opinion regarding whether I will be at a disadvantage at my age trying to find an entry-level job in the House or Senate. I know how busy you are, but I appreciate any input. Thank you!

Liz

While the average age of a Hill staffer is quite young, since most people start work here straight out of college, there are no hard and fast rules about age.  Because I worked off of the Hill for a few years after college, I was 25 when I started in an entry-level position.  So I speak from personal experience when I say that this is not a big deal.
That being said, you need to understand that some of the mid-level or even upper-level staffers will be your age or younger.  If you don’t have a problem with that, I don’t see why a hiring manager would pass on you because you’re a couple of years older than the other applicants.  If anything, previous experience in your sector might be a good thing.

Dear Belle,

I work for a new Representative, and I enjoy my new job.  Last month, several of my supervisors left the office in rapid succession and now their replacements are changing all of our job descriptions.  I was a Staff Assistant/Mail Manager and now I’m being demoted to Front Office Coordinator and they’re hiring someone else to handle the mail.  Is it wrong to ask for more responsibility or ask why I wasn’t considered for the mail position?

Anonymous
This happens every Congress, Freshman staff-up their offices and by the Independence Day Recess half the office has turned over.  So don’t think that your office is unique, this happens all the time.  
No, I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for more responsibility.  If anything, it shows that you’re committed to the office and you want to play an active role in the work that needs to be done.  However, if the reason isn’t obvious (more experience, more education, etc.), I would ask why I wasn’t considered for the mail position and how I can improve to earn that promotion should I spot come open.  
One of my mentors, The Princess (seriously, that’s what she’s called), always says, “You get these because you ask for them.  Don’t expect your Boss to read your mind.”  So go to your new bosses and speak up for yourself in a respectful and diplomatic manner.
Belle~
I am about to graduate from college in May, and I’ve been applying for jobs on Capitol Hill.  Your blog is a big help, but I need to ask a strange question.  I was offered a job as a Staff Assistant but I turned it down because the salary they offered was too low ($21,000).  What should an entry-level staffer with internship experience be making?
Celia
While salaries on the Hill are not high, that seems low to me.  If I were to pick a number, I would say that there is no reason why a college graduate with a Hill internship should be making less than $25k.  If you want to have a better idea of what a Member will pay you before you apply, you should check out Legistorm.  
The site posts the publicly available salary data for Congressmen and Senators.  Two caveats: 1)This will not help with new Members since the numbers are not updated for several months, 2) While you may know the person’s job title and be able to discern the amount of Hill experience they have, you need to remember that they may have other qualifications that exceed yours.  But Legistorm can give you a ballpark estimate of where you belong.

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  1. C says:

    21K is criminal! Even for the Hill, that's outrageously low.

    April 20, 2011/Reply
  2. S says:

    Agree with C. I hope that office is embarrassed.

    That being said, there are a couple of additional benefits available on the House side (and maybe in the Senate?) that can boost a salary. These include up to $800 monthly in federal student loan repayment and Smartrip benefits for the cost of your commute to-and-from the office. Each office chooses whether or not to participate but it could total an extra $10,000/year on top of your salary. As you negotiate in the future (and good luck to all who do!), knowing to ask about additional benefits could make a big difference.

    April 20, 2011/Reply
  3. EG says:

    21 is ridiculous.

    As for being older than your office as a SA– definitely agree with Belle that many people higher up than you will be younger. But it shouldn't be a problem; staffers on the hill are generally very young compared to people in management in the private sector or even other areas of the government (largely due to lovely salaries like the aforementioned). You also will likely move up quickly, and many offices would rather hire someone with previous office experience (especially for a SA job, where you are the face of the office) than a just-out-of-college 22 year old who may not have as much experience in an office setting.

    And yes I realize many 22 year olds are fully capable of working on the Hill; I was an SA when I was 22. That being said, I have seen a lot of incompetent SAs who could have dearly used some previous experience.

    April 20, 2011/Reply