5 Ways Your Capitol Hill Office Is Not a Campaign

Previously, Hill Navigator wrote about the ways your campaign office is not Capitol Hill. But just as there are Capitol Hill staffers who make their way to the campaign trail, there are campaign staffers who come to Congress. And it can be a world of difference.

To help ease the transition, Hill Navigator has put together a list of five ways in which your day job on Capitol Hill is radically different from the campaign trail:

1. You go home after work. At the end of the day, your co-workers are not your best friends/social life/only people your age for miles. This means that, in a congressional office, social etiquette rules are of a different nature. Sure, some offices are close, and many a romantic relationship has formed in a Capitol Hill setting (see previous dating columns rehashed here, here and here). But keep in mind, unlike a campaign, the close working quarters do not translate to instant friendship.

2. You need to dress the part. Time to retire the flip-flop and jean combo from the campaign trail. No longer is your uniform the neon candidate T-shirt and matching hat. On Capitol Hill, suits and blazers still dominate. It’s business attire every day that Congress is in session, so make the necessary wardrobe upgrade. You might feel the financial squeeze, but hey, at least you get health care and a 401(k).

3. Enjoy the perks. Get ready for some upscale living. Being a Hill staffer means you’ll have access to all the wine-and-cheese receptions you can handle. This usually beats eating campaign grease-ball food at 2 in the morning. Even better — the reception food is free.

4. Use your indoor voice. Goodbye to county fairs and canvassing; hello to a desk job and the ups and downs that come with it. Desk work is a different beast, and unlike the drama and flair of a campaign, it can be monotonous and sometimes dull. Get ready for some workdays when you wish you were outside with a trunk full of yard signs.

5. Do your homework. One of the biggest differences between Capitol Hill and the campaign trail is the speed at which things move. Capitol Hill has more nuances and subtleties than the rough-and-tumble nature of the campaign trail, where an event can take shape and be executed within a 24-hour period.

If you’re new to Capitol Hill, take time to better familiarize yourself with procedures and policies. Figure out how to use the tunnels to get to the Capitol, and learn the difference between a motion to recommit and motion to adjourn. The Congressional Research Service offers formal courses on legislative policies. But you can learn a lot just by taking the time to understand the various aspects of your office — from how to answer the phones to how to write a legislative memo. Your campaign background might prepare you for the politics, as Hill Navigator has written before, but it’s worth taking the time to brush up and understand the policies, too.