October 23, 2014

Professional Development

The Insider’s Guide to Getting a Job on Capitol Hill: Selling Yourself

By: John Maniscalco


How do you stand out to a Chief of Staff from the hundreds of emails that land on their desk? You need to sell yourself. These tips will help you branch out, help you get a job on the Hill, and help you sell yourself without selling out.

Choose Your Boss Wisely and Become Trustworthy

It really does matter who you work for. The reputation of a member of Congress will affect your reputation as well. Make a list of members that are considered thoughtful and hard working. If there is an issue area that you are particularly passionate about, find members that sit on the relevant committees and educate yourself on their policy preferences. These lists will help you determine who you may like to work for.

So, now that you have picked a list of potentially bosses, how do you ensure that the boss will pick you? At the end of the day, members have to trust that you will effectively advance their agenda. Research the legislation they have introduced and understand their policy priorities. With a strong knowledge of the issues and policy preferences, you’ll stand out as someone your future boss can trust.

Pay Your Dues

During my senior year of college, I interned for the Senate Republican Policy Committee.   One of my fellow interns was twice my age and held a law degree. No matter how experienced or educated you are, you may have to start at the bottom. Make it clear to those in your network (and during your interview) that you are willing to do whatever it takes – answer phones, open the mail, make coffee – so that the office can operate effectively. Though you may start at the bottom, the good news is that the Hill is truly a meritocracy and those that deserve promotion can rise quickly.

Be a Happy Warrior

Your attitude is one of your most important attributes. Chiefs of staff literally live with their hiring decisions. There are a lot of early mornings and late nights on the Hill and the long days will seem much longer if they are spent with staffers with a negative attitude. If you are friendly and positive (and, quite frankly, appear to be fun during happy hour) interviewers will see you as a good fit for the office and you’ll be much more likely to get hired.

Manners Matter

Dress well, speak properly, and send actual, hand-written thank you notes. I am often astounded by how many intelligent adults seem to forget the importance of good manners.

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. This is the second post in the series “The Insider’s Guide to Getting a Job on Capitol Hill.” The first post is can be found here.