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Hill Climbers: Perseverance Landed Staffer Her Job; Hard Work Wins Her a Fab 50 Slot

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Now majority staff director, Cottle says working for Baucus has been a great experience: he “is a fantastic mentor ... great at letting staff come up with ideas and run with them.”

Amber Cottle learned — in the best way possible — that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The recently promoted staff director for the Senate Finance Committee graduated from law school at the University of Chicago.

She paid off her debt by working at a law firm here in the District, and then began a quest to enter into the kind of career in public service and policy she had been set on from an early age.

Hoping to work on Capitol Hill, she interviewed for a position on the Senate Finance Committee but was passed up for the job.

Instead, Cottle landed the role of assistant general counsel at the U.S. Trade Representative, where she helped negotiate trade deals across the globe for nearly six years.

“[I have traveled to] every continent — very exciting work. I loved it,” Cottle said of her time at the USTR. “I got to meet a lot of interesting people, got to figure out how to put together very complicated deals, and really, really enjoyed my time there.”

But Cottle was still set on a career on Capitol Hill, and during her time at the USTR — where she had been promoted to deputy assistant U.S. trade representative — she kept her eye on positions with the Senate Finance Committee, interviewing a second time and a third time before finally landing a job as international trade counsel on the committee in 2007.

Since she began working on Capitol Hill, Cottle has proved to be an adept trade negotiator and has been promoted within the committee twice — first to chief international trade counsel in 2009 before her promotion in January to be the committee’s majority staff director.

Cottle — whose new role makes her the committee’s chief strategist and puts her in charge of day-to-day operations — has helped Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., broker major trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

All the hard work helped land her on Roll Call’s Fabulous 50 list of the top staffers on Capitol Hill.

“It’s what I love doing; it’s very fun,” Cottle said of brokering trade deals. “[There are] lots of different people, lots of different members with lots of different ideas, and nobody really has a monopoly on good ideas, and trying to figure out how to pull them all together and make a deal happen, I think, is what I find fun.”

She added that working for Baucus has been a great experience, as the senator is trusting of his staff and their ideas.

“Sen. Baucus is a fantastic mentor, and he has been great at letting staff come up with ideas and run with them,” Cottle said. “We were able to put together a lot of very good trade deals. We passed three free-trade agreements in 2010 that nobody thought we could do, but we worked hard with our counterparts across the aisle and in the House, and we were able to get those passed.”

Cottle said that those looking to work on Capitol Hill should not write off anything, saying that there are many paths to Capitol Hill, including working at federal agencies and even in the private sector.

The mother of two — boys ages 5 and 7 — added that not giving up is key when applying to in-demand jobs within the halls of Congress.

“I tried three times before I got hired by the Finance Committee,” Cottle said. “These are coveted jobs and are hard to get. Keep trying and work hard and show you can do the job.”

Send news of hires and promotions on Capitol Hill to climbers@rollcall.com.

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