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Capitol Hill Is No Place for the Passive

Looking for a Capitol Hill promotion? Time to act quickly (CQ Roll Call File Photo).
Looking for a Capitol Hill promotion? Time to act quickly (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Good things come to those who wait — except on Capitol Hill, where good things come to those who pounce immediately at the opportunity. Passivity has a time and place, but it’s not likely to serve you well in the competitive job hunt. Hill Navigator discusses how and when to speak up.

Q. For several months now, I have been working in my member’s district office. While I never made my intentions to work on the Hill clear during the hiring process, the right position has opened up and I’m not sure how to approach the subject with my office. Is the trajectory from the district office to the Hill uncommon? Also, what tips and advice can you offer to those hoping to make this transition?

A. Start now! You are in a prime position to pursue this job, and I say that without having any idea what your qualifications are or what this job entails. What I do know is that if you are thinking about making a move from the district office to D.C. and the “right” position has come along, you should begin the process ASAP to let your supervisor know you’re interested and see what you can do to become a candidate for the position.  

Let me explain a few reasons why.  

First, offices like to promote from within. Hiring managers have said this repeatedly . They want someone who has already proved a willingness to work and demonstrates an understanding of the member of Congress and the office culture (both of which can take time, and several missteps, for an outsider to learn).  

Second, offices don’t always like the long, exhaustive search that comes with looking for a new hire. Yes, some will conduct an office search to see what other options are out there, and at what salary level, but it’s a time-consuming process for staffers who likely have plenty on their to-do list.  

Third, presumably you are doing good work and you’re a rock star. Your office colleagues will want to see you succeed, especially in a way that benefits them. Capitol Hill entry-level jobs are not meant to be a long-term process. As one chief of staff said, “Anyone can do the staff assistant job; it’s finding the right fit that matters.” The average staff assistant is in the job less than two years. An office expects that the right fit will outgrow the position.  

Fourth, Washington, D.C., is a town of ambitious people, waiting to snatch an opportunity. If you don’t leap at this chance, someone (or several hundred others) will. Go for it! And good luck!  

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