Connections count for staff at the Capitol

Networking is a big factor in the application process, and can sometimes trump qualifications and skills that are needed for the job.

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“It’s really much more oriented around who you know than what you know. Knowing people and having a good reputation is very important,” said one Senate staffer, who asked not to be named.

He said applicants should look to acquire basic writing skills and convey the ability to be personable.

“Somebody that knows how to write, somebody that knows how to communicate, somebody that has good people skills, someone who can think well on their feet … the Hill is an excellent proving ground for those skills.”

He made light of his pursuit of a career in politics on the Hill as though it was his only option, having majored in the subject in college.

“I had a degree in political science and I figured working on the Hill seemed like a good way to use that degree. The other options were working at a car wash or working for McDonald’s.”

The staffer first worked in a U.S. senator’s office as a paid intern, making $10,000 a year.

“If you are interested in working on the Hill, you’re not in it for the money,” he said.

After getting his foot in the door he went from “answering calls about snow mobiles in the wilderness” to giving tours of the Capitol building.

Roger Zakheim, deputy director of the House Armed Services Committee, said: “You’ve just got to burn rubber and connect with as many people [as you can] … and you need a little bit of luck.”

As general counsel for the committee, Zakheim said that young people looking to find a job on Capitol Hill must “take advantage of the opportunities.” He got his start working for a congressman at the age of 14, working his way up to where he is now. 

Washington is a networking hotspot with events and happy hours all over the city for professionals to meet and greet.

Networking cards that have basic contact information are a good way to keep up with the people you meet — and help the people you meet remember who you are. It helps to have them on hand at all times, because networking can happen anywhere.

The founder of Quintessential Careers, a leading career development site, Randall Hansen stresses the use of personal business cards when networking.

“By having a networking card, you have a better chance of being remembered over others,” Hansen said.

Hansen said that the information included on a business card should act as a substitute for a résumé, and that networking is not about meeting your future employer, but finding the person that can help connect you with an employer.

“Just as with networking itself, the idea is to meet people who may be able to help you move your career forward — by suggesting other people you can meet and suggesting possible job leads,” Hansen said.

Websites like beltwaynetworking.com and dchappyhours.com provide dates and locations for networking opportunities, and groups like the Foreign Policy Initiative hold conferences for young professionals and students to meet and to hear from panels of professionals who work on the Hill.


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