How to Land a Job in the New Democrat-Controlled Congress
If Ari Gold was on Capitol Hill, his name would be Michael Hardaway.
The sharp-tongued, well-dressed Democratic spokesman made his name as an early aide to Barack Obama and has become the point man for celebrities interested in politics. Hardaway dropped by CAPITOL STANDARD to discuss how readers can land a job in our now Democratically-control House of Representatives. Here’s what he shared:
What does it look like for a young person who wants to work on the Hill now that there’s a Democratic majority?
There will be a ton of job openings from new members of Congress who will need legislative staff, communications staff, administrative staff and interns. There will also be a number of open positions in both leadership offices and personal offices for incumbents who have been recently elevated to leadership positions.
The change of power opens up the doors of opportunity across the board in the House. The opportunities will be vast and trickle down from people at the top to mid-level and junior staff and interns. Off the Hill, you will have openings with lobbying organizations and advocacy firms that need people with experience and relationships in Democratic circles.
What steps should young Democrats take to work on the Hill?
Draft an aggressive game plan. There will be a sea of incredibly talented, well-connected people, all seeking a handful of opportunities. You have to differentiate yourself and prove your value. Here’s how to do that:
Leverage these Tactics
Create opportunity lists.
Make a list of your home-state representatives. Make a list of the people you admire and want to work for. Make another list of people who fight for issues you believe in. Now break out each of those lists and figure out the names of staff members for each of them who work in areas you would like to work.
For instance, if you want to work for a member who is strong on the environment, who is a legislative assistant for that particular member? Or if you hope to work in communications, who is the press secretary or communications director for that member?
Pinpoint your value.
Once you have all that information you have to answer the most important question: What value do you bring? Why would anyone hire you? And why would THIS person hire you?
An example of someone who has a good answer to that question would be: This member of Congress represents my home district, I have extensive experience off the Hill in environmental issues and have worked at various advocacy organizations.
I have a law degree from a respected school or a school back in the district. I have relationships in the industry with stakeholders, lobbyists, other policy makers and think tanks which can be useful. All of these things matter. So the question is, how can you tie all of these assets into a compelling narrative?
Once you’ve identified your value, create pitch emails that are brief, concise, impactful and that outline your value for the office. Email the staff members you’ve identified and ask for ten minutes of their time for guidance.
Do not ask for a job. Instead, ask for their perspective on how you can get your foot in the door. Your goal is to line up three of these each week in November and December so you’re at the top of the list when jobs are filled in January.
What was your biggest obstacle getting work on the Hill and how did you overcome it?
Internships were unpaid. As a guy who had to pay my way through school– which I already couldn’t afford — that was a massive problem. I overcame that by taking on a weekend job at a business club and worked the overnight shift at a country club. I traded a good night’s sleep for experience that would pave the way for my future.
What’s the piece of advice you wish you would have received as a young Democrat looking to work on the Hill?
Go to every event. Take on as much work as humanly possible. Be affable and memorable. Maximize every opportunity because this experience will end much faster than you think.
What can young Democrats expect when getting a job on the Hill?
Your first paying job will probably be as a staff assistant. You will answer phones. You will make copies. You will make appointments. You will do all the grunt work your superiors don’t have time for. But that job is a blessing because you’ll have an opportunity to meet and build a relationships with everyone who comes into that office.
You should also know that your ability to perform at this level will determine whether you are promoted and able to build your career in Washington. Master the details. Get in early. Be invaluable.
As a new Congressional session starts in January, what’s the timing look like as Members of Congress staff their offices?
New Members of Congress will arrive in late November and that’s when everything starts. They’ll have to quickly begin identifying potential staff and will rely heavily on incumbent members from their delegation for insight on good candidates.
If I were a recent graduate looking to work for a new member, I’d begin building relationships with staff members of incumbent members of that delegation right now.
What about people whose home state Representatives are from the opposite party? What advice do you have for them?
That’s a very good question. First, identify members from leadership or other states you wish to work for. Most offices make a point of preferring staff from their home districts. But that’s a preference you can fight through if you’re good enough. Be interesting, persistent, and driven. And don’t be dismayed by a non-response.
What’s it look like to work for a new member of Congress?
It’s like a startup. It’s a new idea, a new concept, a new land. You have a fresh opportunity to build the foundation of the legacy of a new member of Congress. That’s huge.
What are some of the resources available to find available jobs?
Start with the House Employment Bulletin, which will outline current openings in personal offices and committees. There are also staff members in leadership offices who are responsible for diversity. They have a voice in placing candidates in new offices, so you should contact those people too.