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Hill Climbers: Unconventional Paths to the Hill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Amber Aviles, legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Baca, worked as a voice-over actor and stand-up comedian before coming to the Hill.

At first, d’Annibale admitted, the transition seemed odd. “Jack’s doing a Kal Penn,” he said his friends would joke, referring to actor Kal Penn, who has crossed back and forth between working in television and film and working in the White House.

But d’Annibale knew he had a skill that translated well from entertainment to politics. “What I really loved to do is tell stories,” he said, “and in a political capacity, that means being a press guy and/or writing speeches.”

He said the biggest reason for his success was the clear path that he envisioned for himself. “What helped is that I had a specific vision of what I could do and how I could contribute to my country,” he said.

D’Annibale encourages others considering a similar career change to take the leap.

 

A Sharks Survivor

For some, making the switch to Hill staffer is a result of other circumstances. “My family’s move from California to D.C. allowed me the chance to finally work on the Hill,” explained Laura Sisemore, press secretary for Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

Before she was writing press releases for Quigley, Sisemore was working in community outreach for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Even though she knew her experiences in the hockey world made her well-suited for a job on the Hill, she was prepared to prove that to potential employers.

“Even if you bring years of off-Hill experience, employers might see it as taking a risk on you if you’ve worked in a nontraditional sector, which in my case was sports and entertainment,” Sisemore said. “You have to know how your skill set and experience translates to working in a Congressional office.”

One of the things Sisemore said she had to adjust to was the work environment of the Hill. “The Hill is 24/7,” she said, “especially if you’re in a communications role, and I’ve officially become that person who puts two cellphones, my personal and my BlackBerry, on the table when I’m out at dinner after hours.”

If there’s one thing Sisemore wishes she had known coming in, it was how much time she would spend at happy hours and other after-work events. “I might have tried to put some more time in at the gym,” she joked.

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