Students have a 'Hill' to climb

For many college seniors, graduation is only a little over two months away, and the need for a job is becoming more pressing than ever. The question that remains, then, is how to successfully persuade an employer to hire you for a position straight out of college in the current economy. Though the Washington, D.C., area has the lowest unemployment rate of any region in the nation, the job market is nonetheless very competitive, especially on the Hill and in federal agencies.

“Washington is a great place to work, but at the same time, competition really has been elevated in this economy,” said Ann Mills, assistant director of career and consulting services at George Washington University’s Career Center. “I tell all of our students that they really have to have their A-game on.”

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The most important factor in finding a job is networking. Most college career centers offer alumni networking events, such as George Washington’s “speed-networking.” Similar to the speed-dating phenomenon, students and alumni are paired up to talk for a few minutes, and then they shift and meet new people. After the structured “speed” program, the event provides an hour or so for students to go back to particular alum they found interesting to talk for a more extended period. “It allows students to meet a lot of alums in a short amount of time,” Mills said.

“In Washington, you have to play the name game,” said Adam Anthony, director of the Washington office of the College of William and Mary. “Hardly anyone can find a job remotely. Especially on Capitol Hill and in public policy jobs, you have to be really organized and methodical about forming and maintaining your contacts.”

LinkedIn is a great resource, Anthony noted, but he suggested entering all of one’s contacts into an Excel spreadsheet, listing each person’s name and contact information, any conversations that have taken place, and the names of two more people to contact.

For students with Hill ambitions, Anthony suggested going door-to-door with your state delegation. “Ask your congressional staffers for advice,” he said. “It’s their job to meet with constituents. Plus, since they all want to hire people from their district, it is a great idea to make a connection with your congressman.”

Jobs and internships on Capitol Hill are limited and very competitive, however. In the event one cannot find a position on the Hill, Jennifer Carignan, a career adviser for the School of Public Affairs at American University, suggests working in an organization that focuses on a specific issue. “Whether it’s a nonprofit or a federal agency, it’s very good experience for when you do find a job on Capitol Hill,” she said.

When students do find an internship or a job on Capitol Hill, it is imperative to “jump in with both feet at every opportunity,” Anthony said. “The key thing while you’re there is to live and breathe the Hill. Know everyone and everything, especially regarding district or state politics. Your boss is only one person, and they're busy! Find everything out for them and make yourself known as a valuable resource."