The Road to Re-Employment: State Staff Edition

Capitol Hill or bust? Why it may be harder for state and district staff to land jobs in D.C. (CQ Roll Call File Photo).
Capitol Hill or bust? Why it may be harder for state and district staff to land jobs in D.C. (CQ Roll Call File Photo).
Posted April 3, 2015 at 5:00am

It can be hard to land a job on Capitol Hill, even for those who live and work in D.C. But what about former state and district staffers, who still want to work on Capitol Hill even after their boss has exited stage right? Hill Navigator discusses.

Long story short, the member I worked for lost in a close election and senior staffers made overtures about how they would help members of her state staff such as myself find new jobs on The Hill, which has been my goal since I was a nerdy political science kid in college. However, and as I expected, as soon as they had found a soft place to land they quit answering our calls and it has been a very rough road to reemployment — I’m not there yet, unfortunately, and starting to question my aspirations to work on The Hill.

As a state staffer, this is particularly difficult. I had been on notice to be ready to move to The Hill after the election and finally achieve my short-term goal of a job as a legislative correspondent but that, of course, would not be. Now, I cannot even get a call from any of the legislative offices I submit my resume to. I have had it reviewed by numerous senior staff members who all say it is incredibly well written and I’m well-qualified, yet I can’t even get a foot in the door. The two primary reasons I get are this: First, they want someone with ties to their home state (which, without getting in to too much detail, I’m on the wrong side of the aisle to get a job in any legislative office in any state I could claim solid ties to). Second, they want someone with more experience. With almost two years of experience as a busy and well-liked staff assistant and (formerly) on track to promotion, I would’ve thought that I had enough experience and could at least get an interview.

Do you have any advice on what to do? I have submitted so many resumes and cover letters at this point that I have lost track and, other than getting really good at writing cover letters, there seems to be little progress. Is it time to reevaluate my goals, or should I stick it out and hope for the best?

Ah, the unsung heroes of Capitol Hill: the state and district employees .  

These are the men and women who are at the front lines of constituent (ahem, voters) complaints and concerns. They are the ones literally changing lives: acquiring visas, pensions, missing records, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. These jobs come with far fewer of the shiny Capitol Hill adornments (rarely are the offices down the hall from another colleague’s), nor are they summoned to whip meetings to interact with their counterparts. This all makes job mobility among congressional offices increasingly difficult.  

So how do we get you, hard-working state staffer, into a job on Capitol Hill? If this is your goal since the “nerdy political science” days, consider moving to Washington, D.C. It can be much easier to find a job when you’re already here, as offices tend to shirk resumes with out-of-town addresses.  

Don’t want to make the commitment to move without a job in hand? Consider trying D.C. for two months. Find a short-term rental and go about landing an internship. (If unpaid , consider supplementing it with paid work. This is a tough route and well-trodden by those looking to land on the Hill, Hill Navigator included).  

It’s unfortunate you aren’t receiving much help from the senior staff in your former office, but it’s a sad truth that even the best contacts have a shelf life in their willingness to help. Try asking for one or two more targeted requests. For instance, if you’re looking for an internship, ask if their current office would take you on, even for just several weeks. (And when you do land that internship, study up so you can ace it !)  

Also, if the up-and-move-to-D.C. route seems daunting, try it for a week. Ask those senior staffers to help you set up informational interviews and meet with as many people as you can. Even if you do not have home-state connections given the party differences, try reaching out to your existing contacts for their Capitol Hill connections. Social media sites like LinkedIn make this task much easier than it used to be, but also try your college alumni association, or any state organizations you came in contact with while working for your member of Congress.  

Getting a job on Capitol Hill is hard. Getting a job for a non-home state member while living outside of D.C. is even harder. But if this is your goal — as it’s been for years — don’t give up just yet. Good luck!  

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