Career Change

Posted April 16, 2013 at 4:17pm

So you think you want to leave the Hill?

Maybe the hours have gotten too long for you. Maybe you want your own office with an expense account and espresso machine. Or maybe you’re just sick of the foot traffic at Union Station.

Whatever the reason, there comes a time in every staffer’s life when he or she thinks about leaving Capitol Hill to join the ranks of the many lobbyists, consultants and policy and government affairs specialists inside the Beltway.

This week’s Hill Navigator is dedicated to advice for departing staffers. Capitol Hill might be the greatest place to work, but as with many high-stress and low-paying jobs, there’s often an expiration date. So keep these items in mind when planning your exit.

1. Leave on the best terms possible.

All your current co-workers — from the crazy one you complain about to Hill Navigator to the one who eats tuna for lunch at a desk 4 inches from your own — will become valuable contacts once you turn in your keys and BlackBerry.

And contacts matter if you want your calls and emails returned. Once you’re outside the marble walls of Congress, you’re competing with every other former Joe Staffer for their attention, and people prefer familiar faces.

How do you accomplish the congressional office coup de grace? Pretend leaving is the last thing you want to do. “I hate to be leaving this office; I can’t imagine working for a better boss. These are some of the smartest, most dedicated people I have ever worked with, and I will miss them so much.” Copy and paste these lines into your goodbye email if you have to. Be gracious for the opportunity and generous with the praise. No one needs to know what you really think, and no one wants to hear you justify your decision. Your actions speak louder than words; you wouldn’t be leaving if you didn’t have a better job waiting for you.

2. Don’t be a D.C.-centric fool.

Washington sits on a very small swamp on a very large map. Take time to say goodbye to your district staff, your state staff and your local reporters, and make sincere efforts to keep in touch. These people have a way of making it back to D.C. or being valuable contacts in their home regions. If you leave with a breezy goodbye (or no goodbye at all), you’re snubbing some of the hardest-working staff and hurting your own contact list.

3. Keep bragging to a minimum.

You don’t have to scour LegiStorm to know that working on Capitol Hill’s downsides are in the money arena. But your co-workers don’t want to be reminded about how little they make. Keep quiet about the perks you’re getting in your future corner office while your current co-workers are crafting “Dear Colleague” drafts in their cubes. Part of what makes Capitol Hill amazing is the optimism and dedication of the staff. No one wants a departing co-worker to undermine that.

4. Learn more.

Your future employer will be loath to find out that the Hill staffer they hired doesn’t understand the first thing about committee markups. Before you head out, take that Congressional Research Service course, ask your legislative director to explain what the motion to recommit does, and strengthen your Capitol Hill vocabulary. Once you’re off the Hill, you’re expected to know all these things on your own.

5. Do it all one last time.

Former staffers say they miss the splendor of the Capitol and being part of the living, breathing, constantly changing entity that is Congress. Before you go, take another walk around while your staff ID gives you access anywhere. Go up to the Dome and admire Constantino Brumidi’s masterpiece, “The Apothesis of Washington.” Find your state statues in Statuary Hall. Take a Capitol tour from one of the all-knowing red-coat-wearing guides. Do it all one more time as an insider before you turn in your staff ID and become an outsider forever.

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at or submit online at All submissions are treated anonymously.