How to Land a Job Working for a New Member of Congress
The congressional job search goes into overdrive every two years, as each election brings new members of Congress looking to hire staff. Working for a new member can be so much fun — you get all the optimism, good will and eagerness of Congress without the jaded, pessimistic edge (at least not yet). But how do you land one of those coveted spots? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. What is your advice on how to land a job in the office of a newly elected senator or rep? I have close to a year’s experience as a staff assistant but don’t have any ties to his campaign and am not from his state. I’ve long admired the newly elected member’s policy positions and priorities, but have a hard time imagining how to start that search. How do you make connections before they do any hiring?
A. Once upon a time, Hill Navigator was a Capitol Hill staffer for a new member of Congress. The experience of setting up an office, guiding a member through a first term and surviving that first bumpy re-elect is well worth it.
But how to get there? Typically, new member offices bring a handful of campaign staff or staffers who were with them in their previous role. For example, a state representative elected to Congress might bring some existing staff on board. But nearly all new members have spots to fill, and they are eager to find employees who understand their way around the Capitol complex and can hit the ground running when the office doors open on Jan. 5.
Inevitably, there will be a résumé collection, and in the House, there is a definite protocol. (We’re going to focus on that chamber for this post. The Senate is a different world and merits its own separate treatment.) On the House GOP side, the collection runs through Conference Secretary Virginia Foxx of North Carolina; on the Democratic side, it is with Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. Hill Navigator recommends submitting your résumé, but know it will be sitting in a pile with thousands — yes, thousands — of other eager, wannabe-staffers. And what new chief of staff wants to spend their days sorting through stacks of paper when he or she should be out securing committee spots and call time for the new boss?
This is why people rely on shortcuts. One such shortcut comes from other members of Congress. New members often have confidants, particularly the members of Congress who stumped for them on the campaign trail. Maybe they shared pancakes at a firehouse breakfast or strutted next to one another in the Independence Day parade. Either way, campaign season creates alliances, and such alliances are helpful when it comes to hiring in the blustery world of Congress. Confidants to new members, especially within the state delegation, can help make staff recommendations. Some even go so far as to arrange the actual interviews.
People who have hired for new offices said referrals from other offices were top candidates for the job, up there with candidates with strong connections to the district and state.
But say the member-elect didn’t have many congressional friends. Maybe they’re from a hostile delegation, or were a surprise upset with little party investment. In such cases, they’re likely to turn to the party leadership.
Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses have a genuine interest in seeing the new guys and gals staff up wisely and take time to organize résumé banks. Cyrus Artz, a policy adviser for Foxx who organizes the bank, expects to receive 500 résumés in the weeks following the election, but acknowledges that number could increase dramatically.
Artz previously organized the résumé bank for the Republican Study Committee, where he received 3,000 submissions after the 2010 wave when Republicans regained the House majority and made significant gains in the Senate. In the coming weeks following the election, Artz and his team will sort through résumés and prepare electronic packets of potential job candidates for new members.
Hoyer’s office also coordinates an ongoing résumé collection and plans to make them available to new members looking to hire. If a new member office requests a packet of résumés, Hoyer’s office will organize it for them. Since creating the bank in 2012, Hoyer’s office has collected more than 5,000 résumés. They can also be posted to House.gov, a site maintained by the Committee on House Administration.
But this brings us back to the initial question: How can you get your résumé on top of that steep pile? Start with classic networking and let people know you’re interested in working for a new member. Do some homework. Identify which new members you’d like to work for and why, then see if someone from your contacts can help connect you with people from the relevant delegation or party leadership.
And if your contact list is slim, or if you’re reluctant to approach leadership directly? Give the new member a bit of time to settle in and see what positions are left to fill. New chiefs of staff try to have a skeletal crew to open up the office doors in January, but still have positions to fill in the coming weeks. If there’s an open position and you think you’d be a good fit, inquire directly.
Even Artz acknowledged the application process can be daunting, and while he doesn’t encourage job seekers to drop off résumés in person, he said he wouldn’t turn anyone away. “We were all young people looking for a job at some point,” he said. “I try not to be too hard on them.”
Résumé Job Bank Details: