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Can Hill Staffers Be Successful MBA Applicants?

From Capitol Hill to graduate school: can hill experience translate? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
From Capitol Hill to graduate school: Can Hill experience translate? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Graduate school is a common career trajectory for Capitol Hill staff, many of whom are fresh out of college and sit, at least at this point of their lives, at the tip of their careers.

Understanding the legislative process can pique an interest in law or public policy, but what about those for whom a master’s in business administration is most appealing? How does Capitol Hill experience look on MBA applications? Hill Navigator spoke to two admissions officers at competitive business schools to find out.

Q. I’ve been working on the Hill almost a year now for a ranking member of a major committee. But I don’t think the Hill is for me. I knew the pay was low, but not this low. I also don’t feel fulfilled and don’t think I will on the Hill. Nothing gets done here and it’s filled with huge egos.

I’ve been looking off the Hill to work on causes I care about. But I’ve also thought about leaving politics and going to get an MBA. I loved business before I caught Potomac Fever. I can still be involved in politics, just not working in it if I go that route.

How does being a scheduler on the Hill look to top MBA schools?

A. Good news, aspiring MBA candidate: Hill experience looks quite good to competitive programs, many of which want candidates with work experience from a variety of backgrounds.

“We are constantly looking for diversity of industrial background,” Chris Storer, executive director of graduate programs and admissions at The George Washington University School of Business, said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. “Look at an MBA class: You’ll see lawyers, doctors, people from nonprofits, Teach for America, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps. It creates a much more interesting environment.”

Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, cited Hill staffers as having “valuable work experience” that contribute to Georgetown’s program. In an email to CQ Roll Call, Hubert explained that of Georgetown’s current class of first-year full-time MBAs (Class of 2016), 18 percent of students came from either government, nonprofit or social impact industries; in Georgetown’s first-year Evening MBA Program (Class of 2017), 36 percent came from government, defense, nonprofit or social impact industries.

So what can you do to get your Hill experience to shine on your application? Here are some tips from the business school experts.

Get the Work Experience

“We have no minimum requirement, but to be competitive, we recommend applicants have at least two years of work experience,” Hubert said. On average, incoming Georgetown MBA students have between four and six years of post-undergraduate, full-time work experience.

Storer also echoed the importance of work experience. “You have some business schools who are taking students directly from undergrad,” he said. “I would never discourage a candidate from looking at school, but the point of having professional experience is that when you are thrown into a classroom, you have some sort of context.”

Don’t Stress Over Titles

Never fear, scheduler, or those with nebulous titles that can belie the critical role a person plays in an office’s success. Your responsibilities mean more than your actual title.

“We consider an applicant’s years of work experience, responsibilities, and growth within the organization to be more important than the actual position, since position titles vary from organization to organization,” Hubert said. Capitol Hill, in particular, is a jumble of titles, so explaining responsibilities and growth within the position can be more powerful than a simple title listing.

Know (and Articulate) Why You Want an MBA

“The most important thing applicants can do is to understand and be able to articulate why pursuing an MBA at the particular school to which they are applying will allow them to achieve personal and professional career goals,” Hubert said.

Storer agreed. “What is the end goal? What is the field you want to get into? What is the reason you want to get into x program? That will hone what kind of program you are looking for,” he said.

For those looking to move away from their current roles, getting an MBA can help with career transitions. “Particularly on the full-time side,” Storer said.

Let Your Capitol Hill Work Shine

“Complex and fast-paced positions, like those often found on the Hill, can foster a strong work ethic and an understanding of how business, policy and society interact,” Hubert said.

“We see a lot more policy folks in business school here than we would elsewhere,” Storer said. “Having a foundation in business combined with a policy emphasis is going to help if you’re going to a place like the IMF or World Bank.”

Finally, Remember Capitol Hill Is a Pathway to Anywhere

Whether you’re an office scheduler, a press secretary, an intern or veteran chief of staff, the experience gained on Capitol Hill can open doors to nearly anything. Roll Call is filled with stories of nontraditional post-Hill careers, and even those with more traditional routes wind up in various industries: The administration, media, corporations, running for office or even writing advice columns for newspapers.

Anything’s possible. Good luck!

Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email or use our submission form. All queries will be treated anonymously. Follow Hill Navigator on Twitter and Facebook. Or, get Hill Navigator delivered to your inbox by signing up on the right hand sidebar under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.” (Recommended!)

Correction 11:15 a.m.

A previous version of this article misstated the description of Georgetown’s Evening MBA Program. It is a first-year program.


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