Hill Climbers: How to Climb Up Capitol Hill’s Employment Ladder
Setting yourself apart from the masses is no easy task. To help, Roll Call asked workers who have already made it to the Hill for the advice they would offer to those trying to follow in their footsteps.
The seven, who were profiled as Roll Call Hill Climbers this year, explained their career paths, from school to internships to first jobs. No two were alike, but many found their way through home-state connections, and all agreed that the successful job seeker is a relentless go-getter who is willing to climb up the Hill’s hierarchy of positions.
It would be nearly impossible to duplicate any of these seven career paths, but each one offers the next generation of Hill workers — or those on the inside who are looking for a promotion — a model for achieving their goals.
Kimberlee Trzeciak | Aug. 1 Hill Climber
Legislative director for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in public and corporate communications from Butler University in Indianapolis and a master’s degree in government from Johns Hopkins University.
Internship: Interned during her junior year of college with Dingell, who represents her home state, then returned to school to finish her education
Career Started: First job on the Hill was with Dingell as a staff assistant. She has worked her way up the ranks in his office to her current position
Career Notes/Advice: Trzeciak kept in touch with Dingell’s office after her internship to ensure that she was not forgotten and would be thought of when positions opened. “A friendly hello once in a while, whether you see that your former boss passes a big bill or you saw him give a floor speech, I think just a little email to say hello helps to keep people’s minds focused on you,” she said. For interns, Trzeciak stressed the importance of keeping your head down, not complaining, and remembering that you have to start somewhere.
Rachel Weaver | June 6 Hill Climber
Staff director for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in government from Sacramento State University and a master’s in security policy from George Washington University
Internship: Interned for political consulting firm Russo Marsh and Rodgers in Sacramento, Calif.; volunteered for Rep. Dan Lungren’s (R-Calif.) campaign
Career Started: First job on the Hill was as a legislative assistant for Lungren, who represents Weaver’s home state of California
Career Notes/Advice: Weaver said to treat everyone with the “utmost professionalism because it will follow you.” She called Washington, D.C., a “bit incestuous,” referring to the constant rotation of jobs. She recommended contacting a home-state Senator or Representative for unpaid internships. “As someone that now hires people, I don’t necessarily look for somebody that has the substantive background in a particular area,” Weaver said. “It’s more important to hire somebody that has the character and work ethic you want to be with for 10 to 12 hours a day.”
Ryan Thompson | June 1 Hill Climber
Chief of staff for Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in history and political science from Texas A&M University
Internship: Served four years of active duty in the Marine Corps before college; he interned with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee
Career Started: First job on the Hill was with the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in 2001. Started working for Barton, who also comes from Texas, in 2002
Career Notes/Advice: “If you really want to be here, there is no job that’s insignificant,” Thompson said. “Starting out at the bottom row of the ladder isn’t a bad thing because you are still on the ladder.”
He described Capitol Hill as a place of “go-getters, full of A-type personalities.” Thompson is considering returning to school eventually, but he said he does not think a master’s degree is a prerequisite for working on the Hill.
Ashley Etienne | May 9 Hill Climber
Communications director for Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in political science from Sam Houston State University and a master’s in political communications from Johns Hopkins University
Internship: Did not hold any internships; instead, got a job in the Texas state Legislature after earning her bachelor’s degree
Career Started: Began her career on the Hill as a staff assistant for then-Rep. Kenneth Bentsen (D), who represented her home state of Texas
Career Notes/Advice: Etienne was methodical about getting to the Hill. “I targeted mostly Texas Members and Democratic legislators, so that made sense because I worked in the Texas state Legislature,” she said. “I was really strategic about who I targeted, and I think that’s where people go wrong too often is they blanket the Hill with their résumé.” She advised making yourself indispensable and reading everything. “I found myself in a position where I could speak intelligently about an issue that other staffers couldn’t,” she said.
Stephen Lassiter | July 12 Hill Climber
Legislative assistant for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in journalism and political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Internship: First internship was with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), his second was with then-Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.)
Career Started: Taught for two years in the Middle East; first Hill job was as staff assistant for Sen. Kay Hagan (D) of North Carolina, Lassiter’s home state
Career Notes/Advice: “It was no accident that the first job I got on the Hill was with my home-state Senator,” Lassiter said. He now works for Ellison of Minnesota but said it was not a difficult adjustment — he simply spent time getting to know the district. He recommended starting a Hill career with a home-state lawmaker, saying experience will allow you to venture out. Lassiter highly recommended the book “Vault Guide to Capitol Hill Careers” by William McCarthy about getting a job on the Hill.
Amanda Maddox | July 18 Hill Climber
Deputy press secretary for Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.)
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism from the University of Georgia and is attending graduate school at Georgetown University
Internship: Was a press intern for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), who represents Maddox’s home state of Georgia
Career Started: Internship turned into a job after three weeks; later found the position she now holds with Hayworth, a freshman Member
Career Notes/Advice: “I don’t think as far as crossing party lines goes that’s something that I would recommend. Stick to something you’re comfortable with,” Maddox said. “Don’t limit yourself to working inside of your state though.” Maddox’s advice is to pay attention to freshmen Members because they could need interns. “We haven’t had a shortage of interns, but we could have definitely hired one or two more,” she said.
Amber Aviles | Sept. 12 Hill Climber
Junior legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.)
Education: Earned a bachelor’s in political science from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in public policy from Pepperdine University
Internship: Interned with California state Rep. Tony Mendoza (D) and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
Career Started: Began her career on the Hill as a junior legislative assistant for Baca
Career Notes/Advice: Aviles attributes her success to her internships and diverse résumé, which includes voice-over acting and stand-up comedy. She advises persistence and said her master’s degree helped her skip entry-level positions. She said her graduate studies helped make her marketable because she “focused on economics and state and local policy.”