Amber Aviles, legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Baca, worked as a voice-over actor and stand-up comedian before coming to the Hill.
There’s typically an established path for Capitol Hill staffers. Start interning for the office as a bright-eyed college student and get hired as a staff assistant after graduating. Then work on either the policy side by being promoted to legislative assistant or on the communications side by being promoted to press assistant. From there, it’s all about working hard to get to the top, whether that’s as chief of staff, legislative director or communications director.
But some people take less traditional routes to working on the Hill. Of the Hill Climbers whom Roll Call has talked to in the past several months, here are some of the people who made the most interesting professional leaps from seemingly unrelated industries to the Hill, and how they made it work.
A Stand-Up Staffer
Before coming to the Hill, Amber Aviles — now legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) — worked as a voice-over actor and stand-up comedian.
Tired of the inconsistencies that came with working in the performing arts and looking for more of a challenge, Aviles decided to apply to master’s degree programs in her home state of California. “I was fortunate to get into Pepperdine University,” she said in an email, “and off I went.”
Now she’s working in Baca’s office, helping analyze and shape the legislation that will affect her office’s constituents.
“As a voice-over actor, we pretend to be a character, lay down the track and move on,” she said. “Here, there are major ramifications if you make the wrong move.”
As a West Coast native, Aviles said one of the biggest obstacles she faced was learning to adapt to D.C. culture. “It is very different from the California way of life,” she said, calling her experience “a very interesting transition, but also quite amusing.”
A Storyteller at Heart
Jack d’Annibale has worked on movies that you’ve seen. Although he is now the communications director for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the former creative executive at Jerry Bruckheimer Films worked on the second and third installments of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, the “National Treasure” sequel and “Deja Vu,” starring Denzel Washington.
But when Hollywood writers went on strike in 2007, d’Annibale was out of a job and turned to politics, initially volunteering for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in California.
“What really kind of finalized the decision [to work in politics] was working on the campaign and then seeing Sen. Obama become President-elect Obama,” he said.
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.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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.