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Staffers’ Easy Guide to Weathering Congress

The Hill is often the destination for young political types hoping to be part of the change or maybe just join the old establishment. And in a town infamous for its 60-hour workweek, the sources offering their secrets to success — and for that matter, survival — are infinite. One new career guide, however, attempts to gather all the information together, calling itself the “practical insiders’ guide.”

“Surviving Inside Congress” is written by three former Congressional staffers — Mark Strand, Michael Johnson and Jerome Climer — who tout their more than 50 years of combined Hill experience. The book tries to differentiate itself from the multitude of other D.C. career guides and Congressional textbooks to provide new and older staffers with the tools for success.

“We wanted to write a book for staff — a lot of people write books for Members and just about Congress,” said Strand, president of the Congressional Institute, the book’s publisher. Strand’s Capitol Hill experience includes a stint as the chief of staff to then-Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Staff members, he said, “are the glue that holds Congress together.”

The book does a thorough job of explaining the history, rules and procedures of the legislative branch, and even provides an easy-to-use glossary and procedures manual. Nevertheless, many Hill veterans might find it most efficient to skim through the early pages, as they tend to get a bit bogged down with a style that feels more like a textbook, a mistake that Strand and his co- authors were hoping to escape.

The book is “a revelation of things that people didn’t get in high school or college civic classes,” Strand said. “The jobs on the Hill are so unique, but there is no training for them because you can’t go just get a credential — you have to usually learn on the job.”

Despite the difficulty in preparing for a job on the Hill, Strand said he and his co- authors wanted to take a stab at showing “how can you gain five years of experience by reading a book.”

“Surviving Inside Congress” is not the first Capitol Hill career guide to hit the market; a number of books catering to Hill hopefuls exists, yet few others are marketed so specifically to Congressional staff.

The book is perhaps most valuable for its understanding of the new challenges that legislative staff must face and its in-depth look into the ever-changing and increasingly rapid realm of Congressional communication.

“What you say and how you say it help determine you and your employer’s success or failure in the political fishbowl,” the authors write. “Communication is more than mere information. It demands a link that runs in two directions — he who shares knowledge gains it in return.”

Special attention to political strategy and the undeniable challenges of working on Capitol Hill also play a critical role in the book, and the authors’ advice is easy to read and comprehend.

“Nearly everyone who works for the Congress is a temp, most of all the elected officials who run the show but whose futures are as uncertain as the next election,” the authors write, speaking about the high turnover on the Hill. “What little job security there is usually derives from a staff member’s dedication, talent and experience.”

The authors’ long tenures on the Hill seem to have left them with a need to recruit a new wave of Congressional staff. Identifying the elements of day-to-day work on the Hill and explanations of the often-obtuse rules and procedures, the guide can provide a worthwhile first glance into the legislature to those willing to study it.

“There is nothing else in the world like it,” Strand said about working for Congress. “There are not many jobs where you can help change the world and make it a better place by going to work every day.”

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