Graduation approaches and you’re freaking out about landing that first job. Just remember, your frantic self is not alone.
American University’s Career Center counseled more than 5,000 students in their job searches last year — a bulk of them political science undergraduates or policy wonks hoping to work on Capitol Hill. In a recent interview, Chris Hughes, career adviser for students in the School of Public Affairs, offered some tips on résumés and securing a Hill gig.
Rumor has it that most Washington human resources departments ignore the applications of people living outside the Beltway. Do résumés really need a D.C. address to be considered?
For Capitol Hill jobs, probably not. To government recruiters, it’s not a big deal that applicants have D.C. addresses as maybe it would be to the private sector in this city.
What’s most valuable is having relevant experience: completing an internship on the Hill or working on campaigns or for advocacy groups.
More so than living in D.C., these experiences are viable assets. For the most part, Members hire staffers who have interned or had some other experience working in Congressional offices previously.
One- or two-page résumé?
If you’ve spent years working in the legislative field, you can get by with a two-page résumé, but recent graduates should only have a one-page résumé. They can still have solid, substantive information on just one page.
What are the best websites to find Congressional jobs?
• The Brad Traverse Group at bradtraverse.com
• Tom Manatos’ Job List (primarily for Democrats/progressives) at groups.yahoo.com/group/TomManatosJobsList/
• Senate Employment Bulletin at senate.gov/employment/po/positions.htm
• Hill Zoo at hillzoo.com
• Craig Roberts’ Jobs Distribution List (includes Manatos’ list and House Republican lists) at craigrobertsjobslist.blogspot.com
How early (before or after graduation) should upcoming graduates start applying for jobs?
There are instances where employers are looking for someone to start immediately and can’t wait for students to finish school to fill the vacancy, but students definitely should start applications before graduating. They should start exploring their options during the beginning of their last semester of college (at the latest) because it’s not unrealistic to say the job-search process takes months.
What’s your best advice for someone looking to work on the Hill?
Get Hill experience. Period. Do an internship with your Member or for a committee. That’s a necessity not only for experience — it also allows students to establish a network even before they start their job searches.
Studies show that 70 percent of all jobs (not just Hill positions) are never actually posted online. People find them through networking. That’s why I also encourage students to not only complete internships on the Hill but to network and conduct informational interviews with people on the Hill. And maintain those contacts even after the internship is over.
These people will be more helpful in finding jobs than websites.
Is it better to tackle an unpaid or poorly paid internship at your dream employer or take the paid job at a less ideal office?
I think people should pick the job where they know they’ll be happy, but sometimes it’s important to be realistic. On a short-term basis, though it might not be palatable to do so, taking an unpaid internship might be necessary to reach a long-term goal of working on the Hill.
This happened with hopeful Republican staffers when the Democrats were in control of both chambers — there were few full-time job opportunities with Republicans. Students at the time had to take internships in Republican offices to get their foot in the door until things got better.
Now, it’s the opposite — there are fewer paid positions for students looking to work for Democrats, so some post-graduates are now doing internships in Democratic offices to build their résumés in the hope that there are increased Democratic job opportunities after the 2012 elections.
I think a lot of this can be sidestepped by early planning with internships during college. Internships with any Member on Capitol Hill or with lobbying groups or other government agencies can build your résumé to jump-start the job search.