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Bigger and Better Things: Staffers Who Run for Office

Marc Korman, a former Hill staffer, campaigns for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates outside the Bethesda Metro stop. Korman won his June primary and is expected to win the general election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Think being a congressional staffer can lead to bigger and better things? What about public office? You’re in good company: 75 of the current House and Senate members previously served as congressional staff, according to CQ Roll Call Member Information and Research. Hill Navigator discusses what aspects of the job may serve you well.

Q. How do you wisely use intern or Hill experience if you want to be in public office? I would be happy working on the Hill as a staffer or a similar role, but my real passion would be to actually be a government representative. (I intend on going to law school and practicing law for a few years if that helps as well). I realize there are so many unique stories that there isn't a single answer, but I would appreciate your insight.
A. A Hill staffer with greater ambitions?  

Welcome to the best candidate boot camp there is: Being a congressional staffer.  

Hill staffers do run for office . They’re well prepared for it: They understand constituent service, the hours it takes to fundraise and the grueling schedule that comes with a campaign.  

And while you’re correct there is no single answer or pathway, here are a few good guidelines on how to maximize your Hill experience to boost your political aspirations down the road. Network:  All those people you meet? Keep their business cards. Groom your Outlook contact list and find small and meaningful ways to keep in touch with people. Hill Navigator is not a fan of mass emails, but there are people for whom staying in touch is an art form, such as short notes on birthdays, or a quick email when you see a familiar name pop up in Roll Call. When you do catch up — be it for coffee or a "hello" in the hallway  — spend time inquiring how the other person is doing, rather than launching into a list of your own accomplishments. If you can successfully build a large network of people connected to Capitol Hill, you’ll have a great place to start generating support and raising money when you decide to run for office.  

This includes your stint in law school, which is a well-trodden pathway to public service: 209 of the current House and Senate members list “lawyer” as a previous occupation.  

Master an Issue Area: Pick a handful of issues and learn them well. Do more than recite catchy talking points. Read CQ and relevant Congressional Research Service reports, get to know the legislative assistants covering the issue, even create a Google alert to follow the topic in the news. Many politicians may be masters of small talk and glad-handing, but it is helpful to have a genuine expertise in several policy areas, particularly if your goal for public service is legislating. Use your time on Capitol Hill to study up.  

Be Awesome at Your Job : Just in case this lacked any ambiguity: If you want to run for office (and get your name and résumé all over local and national papers) be sure to ace the job you’re in now. People have a tendency to remember who worked hard and finished their constituent mail, and who managed to call in sick yet still show up at receptions. Be an effective, hard worker and a humble team player and staffers from all walks of life will be cheering your ascent.  

Hit the Trail: Want to be the ultimate congressional staffer? Spend your autumn knocking on doors and making calls. Nothing prepares you better for the campaign life than living it, and if you’re sure political office is where you want to be, it’s a lifestyle you should acclimate to sooner rather than later. Most members of Congress provide administrative leave to staffers who work on the campaign trail, and the campaign committees host weekend bus trips to nearby races. When you’re there, be your happy, friendly, hard-working self. If the other volunteers take a liking to you, it might be your campaign they’re helping out in the not-too-distant future.  

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