It can happen to the best of staffers: A few poorly worded comments and all of a sudden you’ve become a late-night punch line, and you’re quickly off to “pursue other opportunities.” Capitol Hill jobs and promising careers can vanish overnight.
So what happens when your past has some off-color events that might not bode well for a Capitol Hill résumé? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. A few years ago, I was arrested in college and plead guilty to disorderly conduct. It was a stupid thing to do and I certainly have learned from my mistakes. Eventually [I] got the arrest and conviction expunged and I currently work in the private sector. I want to move to the Hill but I’m nervous about the very public nature of the job. Every few weeks you read about a staffer getting fired for posting stupid things on social media, what if some blogger comes across my name in an old police blotter? Is the Hill a safe place for me? Or does everyone who works there have an immaculate past?Well, the last part of your question is the easiest to answer: Not everyone has an immaculate past on Capitol Hill. Certainly people have gotten themselves in trouble for saying inappropriate things on social media , or being charged with more serious crimes , but many staffers are imperfect human beings who have aspects of their past they’d rather not see printed in the pages of Roll Call. (As do we all.)
“It may seem like it happens all the time, but the high-profile blowups only happen three to four times a year,” said Warren Rojas, Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill columnist and someone who has chronicled many a staffer error during his three years on the job. While there might be staff firings that fly under HOH’s radar, the sort of career-bursting-into-flames stories would likely need more than an isolated instance of disorderly conduct (assuming it wasn’t part of a more serious offense, such as a DUI).
Here’s a Capitol Hill litmus test that can help you: If/when your previous shenanigans are unveiled, how would your boss feel about having his or her name attached to it? It’s possible that a mistake from college can be forgiven , especially if disclosed upfront. But it’s also possible that in a tough re-election campaign, an opposition researcher might be doing due diligence, find your mistake and bring it to light.
Some of this depends on the individual member and staff culture. Not all members identify as Ward or June Cleaver and are more forgiving of such transgressions. Some, by their own admission, have had varying experiences with drugs and alcohol that are part of their own biographical narrative. Others might take a much harder line on such issues, in which case that office might not be a good fit, especially if you feel the information about your past could surface.
But this doesn’t mean Capitol Hill is off limits for you, especially as you accumulate more work experience that speaks highly of your character. One of the common themes in the recent staffer-error spate: These mistakes happened while on the job. If you land on the Hill and want to be an upstanding employee, be sure to do so starting on day one.
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