Graduation day is approaching. Plenty of people will arrive in Washington, D.C., diploma in hand and with a starry gaze toward the Capitol Dome. But wanting a job in public service isn’t enough. How do you find one? And then, how do you find a place to live? This week, Hill Navigator has some advice for new graduates on how to spin your credentials into a job on Capitol Hill and move here permanently. It starts — like many things in life — with lots of coffee.
Q. I am originally from the D.C. area and moved to the Midwest a few years ago with my wife. I have a year and a half of my bachelor’s degree to complete and may stay in the Midwest just long enough to finish a master’s program. Immediately following my education, we are moving back to D.C. to be back near my family. When should I start trying to network and communicate with people who may help me land a position on the Hill? I know these people are exceptionally busy. Am I bothering them wasting their time by trying to make contact from across the country and a year and a half (or more)?
A. Start now. Start the minute you think you want to move to Washington and get a job on Capitol Hill.
The Hill job process is long and cumbersome, and face-to-face informational interviews remain among the best ways to get your résumé noticed. People want to hire people whom they have met before or who have been referred to them. These are small offices, so personalities matter a great deal in finding someone who will be a good fit for an already crowded space.
In a stack of 100 résumés for a job opening (I don’t exaggerate; I’ve heard instances several times that), most of the applicants are qualified. More are over-qualified than under-qualified. Master’s degrees, law degrees, fellowships abound. How will you stand out? By putting a face with your name. And it’s hard to do when you’re far away. This means you need to start as soon as you can.
People in Washington are busy. People on Capitol Hill are even busier and will love to tell you that. But they can usually find time for a quick cup of coffee when you’re in town to meet and chat. Be willing to come to them. Set up multiple coffee meetings in one day if you can schedule it. Follow up with thank-you cards: both handwritten and email. (Handwritten because everyone loves to get mail and it shows you’re classy; email because they need to know where to forward job openings.)
Use your existing network to branch out. Since you’re from the D.C. area, use those connections to set up meetings. If you have a degree, you’ll also have an alumni network, so give alumni a call and see if they know people who work on Capitol Hill. With each meeting, or at least the ones that seem to go well, ask if the person can give you additional names. Slowly you’ll build a network and mound of business cards, so when you move back to the D.C. area full time you’ll be in great shape to keep going with your job search.
Q. I am a college senior about to graduate and make my way into the real world. I have no idea where to begin finding an apartment in D.C., especially one on a beginning Hill staffer’s salary. Any tips or tricks that you can offer a newcomer into the D.C. professional world?
A. Get ready for the group house. Before you wince, let me give you a few selling points on why living in a house with a few other people — otherwise known as your NEW friends — is a great idea and will save you money, too.
Group houses are cheaper. You’re sharing everything from the cable bill to the dishwasher and probably a bathroom, so your rent is going to be lower than a studio apartment.
You’re also in a house, so you’re less likely to pay for a doorman and concierge service. And if you live in a neighborhood like Capitol Hill — where you can walk to work! — you can likely find street parking and avoid paying for a space.
If living in Dupont Circle or the U Street area strikes your fancy, you can ask your office to give you a parking space in lieu of a Metro subsidy and leave your car permanently parked in Lot 7. Or leave the car at home and take the Metro like the rest of your cohorts.
Group houses come in all varieties; you can find one that is all guys, all girls or mixed. Rooms are usually pro-rated on size and desirability, so you can opt for the master bed with adjoining bath or take the super cheap spot in the basement.
So where can you find this group house? Craigslist. The Rayburn bulletin board. Friends. Word of mouth. Post a message on Facebook. People are always looking for roommates and — similar to hunting for a job — they prefer people they know or who have been recommended.
Roommates make your dollars go further, and if you are new to Washington, they’ll be an asset to your social life as well. By the time you’re sick of them, hopefully you’ll have a promotion and raise to get a place on your own.
Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit online at roll.cl/12tvZqI. All submissions are treated anonymously.
Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., poses for a selfie with LSU football fans as she campaigns at tailgate parties on the Louisiana State University campus before the LSU-Mississippi State game on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Buy photo here.