October 16, 2014

Professional Development

Getting a Job on Capitol Hill: Building Your Network

By: John Maniscalco


Working on Capitol Hill can be a rich and rewarding experience. For me, it was a dream come true. I found writing speeches that were given on the House floor, advising a member of Congress on how to vote on legislation, and writing bills that I believed would further the cause of liberty to be indescribably thrilling. I was, and still am, grateful for every day I had on the job.

But it only dawned on me how fortunate I was after seeing a mountain of resumes stacked on my chief of staff’s desk. Despite the fact that I was employed in the House of Representatives, I wondered “how on earth does anyone get a job on Capitol Hill?”

When a position becomes available, the flood of incoming resumes can be overwhelming. The life of a chief of staff will be much easier if, instead of pouring through a tower of resumes, a candidate is recommended by a trusted colleague.

Getting recommended for a job, even before the job is posted publicly, is the insider’s way to getting hired on the Hill. To go that route, you’ll need to build a strong network of supporters that have good reasons to recommend you for employment.   Here are my tips on how to correctly build your network and how you should conduct yourself during your job search.

Building Your Network

Work for Free.

Developing a network is easy to do if you offer your services for free, mainly by interning or campaigning. Better yet, do both. A congressional internship may be the most direct route to a job on the Hill but they can be competitive and hard to get. If you can’t get one, your political party of choice will gladly pay for your travel, food, and lodging if you are willing to spend a number of days on the campaign trail. These opportunities will connect you with congressional staffers. Your job will be to become recognized by them as a loyal and dedicated assistant that is willing to do the less-than-glamorous work that makes life on the Hill possible.

Drink a Lot of Coffee

If there is one thing that all congressional staffers seem to love, it is talking about themselves. Reach out to a staffer, almost anyone with the slightest connection to you, and ask to chat with him or her over coffee. During these meetings you should stress your qualifications and your willingness to be a team player. Additionally, ask about their personal experiences, if they know of any vacancies, and if they would be willing to put you in contact with one or two other staffers. This will build your network quicker than you think.

Join Clubs and Attend Events

Washington is full of youth groups, think tanks, and political advocacy organizations. Join these groups and attend their events. You’ll meet likeminded folks who have an interest in your success, as you’ll be seen as a future political ally.

John Maniscalco is the Director of Congressional Affairs at the Cato Institute. He served as a legislative staff member in the House of Representatives for three years.