Heard on the Hill

Staffer Guide: Cast a Wide Net

Chandler Smith says it’s the little things that matter

Chandler Smith is communications director for the Senate Republican Conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Chandler Smith has on her résumé jobs in a personal office, committee, campaign and leadership office.All those experiences prepared her for her role as communications director for the Senate Republican Conference.“I really enjoyed having the different experiences. I feel like I learned different parts of the job in every role,” she said. “I think the key thing to remember is you’re always serving your boss, whichever role you’re in. As long as you’re working together with your colleagues to serve the senator, you’re going to succeed.”After graduating from college, Smith, 34, took a job in the private sector for a few years, and later, at the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty advocacy organization.                        At 27, she became North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr’s deputy press secretary.“I came to the Hill a little bit later than a lot of folks, which, I think, is a little bit different situation,” Smith said. “I hear that a lot from people — they’re concerned that they’re too late and I’m always convincing them that they’re not. It’s just the job might not look like what you think it’s going to look like.”With Burr, she worked on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. She later left to work for Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller for several years, before going to Las Vegas to be communications director for his 2012 senatorial campaign.That was her most challenging job.“It was a really tough race and we had a very tight-knit team and we didn’t have a whole lot of staff,” Smith said. “The politics in Nevada are difficult.” Heller beat Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who was backed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, by 1 percentage point.After the election, Smith was Heller’s communications director, had a short six-month stint off the Hill, and has been working for South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune since the summer of 2015.“Working for Sen. Thune here at [the Senate Republican] Conference is just a very different opportunity where you’re learning more about how leadership works and how decisions get made,” she said. “Trying to help all of the Senate offices get their message out is certainly a unique challenge, as well.” Every office is different, but bouncing around wasn’t too difficult, she said. “Each office has a unique style, pace, and structure, and understanding those new dynamics takes time,” Smith said. “My best advice to others who are starting in a new office would be to learn as much as you can from others as soon as you can. Pick your colleagues’ brains to better understand the senators’ background, legislative history and past press experiences.”Another piece of advice: Little things matter.“If you can’t be trusted with the small tasks, then you won’t be trusted with the big ones,” Smith said. “It’s very important, when you’re in a more junior role, to get your work done thoroughly and quickly, and when you do that, your own team and whomever you’re trying to get to give you more responsibilities will rely on you more and more.”And don’t let opportunities pass by just because they’re not what you originally plotted on your career path. “I think you should take the opportunity that comes to you. … But if you’re eager to move to Capitol Hill, you take the job that you can,” she said.

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