Capitol Hill: It’s Not for Everyone

Not sure you want to climb the ladder on Capitol Hill? Here's how to know when to leave. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Working on Capitol Hill may be a dream job  for some, but others may find the esoteric workplace a hard place in which to succeed. So what do you do if you decide Capitol Hill is not for you, and how long should you wait it out? Hill Navigator discusses.

I've been working as a Staff Assistant/Scheduler on the Hill for almost 9 months, and was an intern for 4 [months] before that. As great as this opportunity has been, it is abundantly clear that there's no room for advancement in my current office and I hesitate to search for LC positions in other offices. After these past few months, I've realized that I'm not the type of person who can really do well here. I have good connections off the Hill but I also hesitate to leave so soon. How long should I remain in my current position before I seek work elsewhere?
Capitol Hill is an amazing place to work, but it’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not for someone who knows they are ready to leave. I agree that you shouldn’t look for a legislative correspondent position if you’re lukewarm on the Hill environment, but there may be other options available to you.  

The average staff assistant tenure is less than two years (though for schedulers, it is more than five years). So leaving in less than one year may be a bit eyebrow raising, and because you’re within a stone’s throw of that one-year mark, I’d recommend sticking it out. Nine months may be a relatively short tenure in a position, but it’s not too early to start informational interviews to learn more about what else is available off of Capitol Hill. Start having conversations with people whose jobs interest you, or whose work is a better fit for your interests and skill set.  

What's Next for John Boehner’s Staff?

Boehner may be leaving office, but what does it mean for his staff? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Many things will change in the House when Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, resigns at the end of October, including employment prospects of his current staff.  

According to information from LegiStorm, 67 people are listed on Boehner’s personal and leadership office payroll, most of whom will be actively looking for new positions (several are shared staff). Come Nov. 1, a handful of staffers will be retained to handle constituent casework and answer phones for the “Office of the 8th District of Ohio.” Aides can still provide constituent services, though the office is forbidden from taking on legislative work. Staffers may keep those jobs until a new member is sworn in, and he or she will decide who stays and who goes.  

Farenthold Case Prompts Talk About Sexual Harassment on Capitol Hill

Cloakroom buzzed about sexual harassment as the House Ethics Committee announced its next step on Farenthold's case. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

"What do you do if you're being sexually harassed in your office?" one user asked Monday morning on the anonymous Capitol Hill social-networking app Cloakroom.  

It prompted one person, identifying himself as a 26-year-old male working for a 40-year-old female chief of staff, to share his own situation.  

Roll Call at 60: How Capitol Hill Staff Have Changed Since 1955

A staff-focused headline from a 1955 Roll Call front page.

Capitol Hill looks quite different than it did 60 years ago, when Roll Call published its first issue.  

The demographics have changed: Members of Congress are far more diverse, both in ethnicity and backgrounds. The neighborhood has changed: Capitol Hill has become a highly sought after residential space. And there are the offices — Roll Call documented the construction of the Rayburn and Hart buildings, plus the introduction of computers and the way the Internet changed the fundamental ways an office communicates and conducts business.  

How August Recess Makes Life Better — for Everyone

August recess isn't just for the beach. One expert explains how to be productive. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

September is looming large, with the August recess eventually coming to an end. But these several weeks aren’t wasted time. On the contrary, August recess actually improves a congressional office’s effectiveness, says Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former Hill staffer.  

Fitch and CMF spend their time helping congressional offices be more efficient, productive and responsive. He took some time to talk to Hill Navigator and explain the August productivity uptick, and ways offices can use the time to prepare for the busy months ahead.  

Capitol Hill Is No Place for the Passive

Looking for a Capitol Hill promotion? Time to act quickly (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Good things come to those who wait — except on Capitol Hill, where good things come to those who pounce immediately at the opportunity. Passivity has a time and place, but it’s not likely to serve you well in the competitive job hunt. Hill Navigator discusses how and when to speak up.

Q. For several months now, I have been working in my member's district office. While I never made my intentions to work on the Hill clear during the hiring process, the right position has opened up and I'm not sure how to approach the subject with my office. Is the trajectory from the district office to the Hill uncommon? Also, what tips and advice can you offer to those hoping to make this transition?
A. Start now! You are in a prime position to pursue this job, and I say that without having any idea what your qualifications are or what this job entails. What I do know is that if you are thinking about making a move from the district office to D.C. and the “right” position has come along, you should begin the process ASAP to let your supervisor know you’re interested and see what you can do to become a candidate for the position.  

Let me explain a few reasons why.  

Policy or Communications? How to Choose

Will press or legislative backgrounds yield a chief-of-staff spot on Capitol Hill? (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

If “chief of staff” sits atop the apex of the congressional staffer pyramid, there are typically two expertise areas that lead to it: policy or communications. But how do you decide if you’re meant to be a legislative assistant or press secretary, which lead down distinct career paths? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. I am currently a Staff Assistant/Legislative Correspondent wanting to take the next step up the Hill career advancement ladder and maybe become a Chief of Staff one day. I am also an institutionalist and like politics more than policy. That being said, no matter how much I analyze this, talk it over with friends, and seek advice, I cannot decide if I want to take the legislative staffer route or the communications staffer route. Though it may seem like a clear choice between night and day for some people, I have been able to dangle my feet in the waters of both and still cannot make a decision as to which way to go. The pros and cons of each seem to be about equal. I realize it is not unheard of for legislative staffers to switch to the communications side of things, but less so the other way around. Either way, I am bothered by the fact that I cannot get this matter settled in my head so that I can actually go about trying to advance along one of the two career paths at the only place I want to work, the United States Congress (just not my current office).
A . Goal-oriented, indeed. Hill Navigator can appreciate someone who knows they want to be on Capitol Hill and is already strategizing their way to the top of the ladder.  

You are correct: Both a policy route and communications route can lead to a chief of staff job, with a slight edge toward legislative directors becoming chiefs more often than communications directors (but both are possible and smart routes to take).  

‘Unemployed Chief’ Finally Lands a Job

Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call


It’s been a long six months for “Jon,” the unemployed chief of staff profiled in Roll Call in March. After nearly 20 years on Capitol Hill, Jon found himself without a job after his boss lost a tough re-election in November. Though he had many connections and years of experience, he wasn’t sure what his next move would be.  

Climbing That Ladder: Will Graduate School Help on Capitol Hill?

Too cool for graduate school? How graduate school affects Capitol Hill job prospects (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Got ambition? Plenty of high-ranking Capitol Hill staffers once started answering the phones and answering mail (even before there was email ... back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). But take a look at any resume stack and graduate school comes up quite a bit. So just how helpful is that graduate degree on Capitol Hill? Hill Navigator discusses:

Q. I am currently a staff assistant, a post at which I’ve been at for 5 months and I’m looking for ways to advance my career for the long term, I’m considering going to grad school. I’ve looked at various DC area masters programs like [Graduate School of Political Management] and [Johns Hopkins University] and they offer great opportunities, but they’re very expensive and I will probably have to take a student loan out; is graduate school really gonna give me a major leg up on the Hill? Also what’s your opinion on graduate certificates and are they valued on the Hill?
Hello, staff assistant — arguably one of the best positions to be in to advance your career on Capitol Hill. If you’re looking to get ahead, here is some fail-safe advice for you: Work hard, do good work, connect with other people and bide your time for the right opportunity.  

But wait, that is not exactly your question, is it? You want to know about graduate school and graduate certificates. Perhaps that might help your resume zoom to the top of someone's inbox, or entice your office to give a promotion?  

Clout Calculations: When's a Good Time to Leave Leadership?

Just how compelling must a job offer be for a staffer such as Michael Steel, right, to decide to leave Capitol Hill? (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

If you work for the highest-ranking member of the House, just how good must a job offer be to jump ship?  

Such are the questions swirling around Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who is leaving the speaker’s office and his $150,000 salary there (according to Legistorm) to work as an adviser to Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise Policy Solutions PAC. The former Florida governor is expected to officially announce his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination this summer. Leaving Capitol Hill for the campaign trail can be a wise career move, particularly for someone as well-positioned as Bush in the GOP nomination contest. Campaign flacks, including Robert Gibbs and Josh Earnest, have found themselves behind the West Wing podium as White House press secretaries.