Ready to Bolt

For every reader question about trying to find a job on Capitol Hill, there seems to be someone anxious to depart. The Hill is, if nothing else, a whirling turnstile for staff. But how do you leave on the best of terms? Hill Navigator discusses below.

Q. I work on Capitol Hill, have a decent position and even recently got a promotion. Maybe it's the writing on the wall with budget cuts and sequestration that I am facing a few more years with low pay before moving up, or my own impatience and ambition, but I feel like I am ready to make a move and more money. If I were to leave, I would want to do so on best terms with the office as they have been very good to me over the years. Should I discuss with my supervisors that I am thinking about looking around or is that a good way to lose the job I have already? Does it look bad to potential employers that you are firing off résumés without consulting your management, or is that just the way of the world? Or am I getting ahead of myself and should bide my time and continue to work my way up the ladder? I know loyalty is pretty much everything in politics, so I don't want my office to think I am ungrateful for what they have done for me or lose my job because I am getting ahead of myself. Thanks, from a regular reader.

But how to do that? There are a few ways to go about it, though you know your office and supervisors best, so you should determine which is best for your transition. And proceed cautiously.

Find an old hand: Before you talk to your bosses, talk to someone who’s already left your office on good terms. How did they do it? What would they recommend? Was there a reaction they hadn’t anticipated? Nearly everyone in D.C. has changed jobs a time or two (or 12), so they will understand the need for confidentiality and smiles all around.

Timing is everything: Depending on your timeline, bring up the idea of a transition in a neutral zone. Wait for a performance review, or a particularly calm time in the office to talk about your future. Don’t pick a bad week, when the boss is screaming and the chief of staff cancels Christmas break, to say you’re feeling less than pleased. By choosing a time when talking about your future is already part of the conversation, you won’t be upsetting anyone.

Use broad brushstrokes: When you have the conversation, frame the future broadly. You want to grow and expand. Can you do this in your current role or will you outgrow the position soon? No office expects you to write mail forever, but if they don’t have a plan for another promotion for you, they may be able to discuss your timeline as adults and even help you with your job search.

Be sure before sending out résumés: The Hill is a small place. If there is a job you’re particularly angling for but can’t have a conversation with your office yet, ask for confidentiality. If you can’t ask for confidentiality directly, consider holding off on applying until you speak with someone. D.C. is so, so small. The fastest way to get off to a bad start is to have your boss learn from someone else that you’re applying elsewhere. Bosses are territorial. Even the ones who seem not to care about their staffs much will be peeved when they find out they’ve been poached. Many a rom-com has been made with this kind of wanting-what-you-can't-have love triangle. Congress, it seems, is no different.

Beware the lame duck: And finally, know that when you have the conversation about leaving, whenever you do, that you’ll become a lame-duck staffer. You might have four weeks or you might have a year — but once your office knows that your future is elsewhere, you should take their assistance and move quickly. They’re likely already thinking about your replacement.