The cafeteria in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building is an unlikely setting for a high-powered job search. Fluorescent lights cast an unflattering glow, the oily scent of fast food fills the air and laughter from tables of pimply Congressional pages wearing polyester jackets makes conversation difficult.
But the Longworth Cafeteria has become the epicenter of hobnobbing for out-of-work (or soon to be jobless) Democratic staffers.
“It’s the spot for networking,” says Jonathan Lipman, communications director for Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), who was defeated in November. Lipman is one of the luckier of his cohorts. He recently landed a job with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H).
“You actually have to switch to water every now and then, or else, by the time you’re on your fourth coffee, you’re trying to tell people how cool you are under pressure,” he says, mimicking an overcaffeinated shake.
One former high-ranking Democratic staffer who is mounting an intense job hunt describes a recent morning in the cafeteria: “I had a coffee from 9:30 to 10, then just ran into people I knew and chatted with them until my next coffee at 11. Then I ran into a few more people and talked until I had to leave for lunch.”
That’s a typical day for the new class of job searchers. Mornings are a parade of coffees. Afternoons are for lunches with old colleagues and contacts, and evenings bring the happy hours. You always have crisp copies of your résumé tucked in your bag. And you never leave the house in sweats. After all, you might run into your next boss in the produce aisle of the grocery store.
The 24-hour hustle for a job is a must, with the odds of finding another Hill job slim: Sixty-plus Democrats were knocked off Congressional rolls, which, combined with trimmed committee staff, translates into hundreds of unemployed, qualified workers all on the chase.
Although it is typical for Republicans and Democrats alike to pull together to find jobs for staffers laid off after elections, this year is different for Democrats. The sheer number of ousted staffers — and the collective sting of the midterms, in which Democrats lost the House majority and saw their numbers dwindle in the Senate — seems to have inspired Democrats around town to mount a particularly enthusiastic effort to help their “fallen” comrades.
Liz Jurinka and Meredith Swan, Bean’s legislative assistant and executive assistant/scheduler, respectively, recently launched a networking group for out-of-work staffers, called the Losers Are Winners Association/List Serve/Drinking Club, that is part joke, part public service.
To gain admittance to the group’s inaugural happy hour, held before Thanksgiving at the Capitol Hill bar Molly Malone’s, staffers had to send a copy of their résumé to the listserv. The event featured dramatic readings of select résumés.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.