How I got an entry-level role in Congress

post by new_staffer · 2021-04-12T04:10:34.742Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

Contents

  My Specific Experience
    about myself as an applicant:
    application process:
    working in my favor:
    working against me:
  General Tips & Takeaways
None
3 comments

A few months ago I was hired for an entry-level role in a Congressional office. In this post I will share my job search and application process. 

I hope this will be helpful to people who are considering Congressional work as a career option. Because I am early in my career, I imagine this will be most helpful/applicable for people who are in undergrad or earlier. 

Note: I’m intentionally keeping this post anonymous. If you have any questions, please comment them here and I will do my best to answer them. If you’d like to connect further, feel free to send me a private message through the EA Forum. 


 

My Specific Experience

Context about myself as an applicant:

I earned an undergraduate social science major at a relatively prestigious university and was an unremarkable student academically. While there, I was involved with party politics + local elections, held leadership positions in student activist campaigns, spent two summers working for local politicians, and worked in ‘government affairs’ for public interest groups for two semesters. During one semester I lived in Washington DC and interned in Congress. 

My application process:

I started my job search in earnest the summer after graduating college. I recommend making time to network and begin your job hunt in your last semester, but I was too busy with coursework to do so. 

I spent about 20 hours a week for 3 months applying for Congressional entry level roles almost exclusively. Though it took me 3 months, it could have easily been a few months longer than that (I got lucky to land my position early but was prepared to job hunt longer). 

I spent the majority of my time ‘networking.’ For me, this meant sending emails to people, requesting that we meet briefly (this was during pandemic, so it was all virtual). I contacted (nearly) everyone I knew from the time I spent in DC, asked to catch up via phone or video call, let them know I was job searching, and asked them to connect me with people who work in Congress. Especially important were the people who I’d worked with as an intern on the Hill, because they could flag my resume with other offices and could vouch for my work experience. 

I also emailed strangers who I knew worked on the Hill, whose names I found by searching on LinkedIn. I tried to find people who I had one or more things in common with (graduates of the same university, from my home state, working on a policy issue that I have a demonstrated interest in, worked at the same non-profit I used to work for, etc). After I found someone who worked on the Hill, I would contact them by using the standard email format for Congressional staffers, which is Jane_Doe@lastnameofSenator.senate.gov for the Senate or Jane.Doe@mail.house.gov for the House of Representatives. Most people did not reply to these emails, but some people did! In these conversations, I asked them about their job experience in general and their tips on job searching. 

Other than networking and asking people to send me any internal postings they came across, I checked the House and Senate employment bulletins every morning. I looked for entry level roles, which were Staff Assistant positions in both chambers or Legislative Correspondent (LC) positions in the House (in the Senate, LC positions are considered more senior and so it would be difficult to get one without prior full-time Congressional experience). I applied to all the entry level roles where I either had a connection to the office (where I grew up, where I went to school, where I lived for a period of time, or least convincingly, where the member was a leader in an issue area where I had a demonstrated passion) and/or where I thought I had a chance that someone would flag my resume with the office (because I either networked with them directly OR I thought someone I had a strong relationship with would know someone in that office). I always tried to apply within 24 hours of the job being posted, so that my application would not get buried under hundreds of others. For the most part I kept my resume and cover letter the same, though I always tailored the introduction of the cover letter to the specific Congressperson. 

Ultimately the position I got hired for wasn’t advertised publicly. I emailed one of my Hill contacts, asking about a different job posting, and the contact mentioned that there was an opening in their office. I sent my resume to the hiring director, had my first interview the next day, had my second interview in 4 days, and heard back that I got the job in 2 days. It just happened that my office was hiring quickly, but this is not always the case. I have heard of situations where offices take weeks and months to get back to interviewees. 

To prepare for my interviews, I read through my Congressperson’s press releases, knew their top issue areas and biggest initiatives, read their recent news mentions, recent interviews, and practiced common interview questions. I felt confident I had a very solid understanding of the member’s style, accomplishments, and priorities. I also had an edge because I grew up in my Congressperson’s state. 

Throughout this process, I frequently felt discouraged and like I was not making any progress, until suddenly it worked. My advice is to keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process and requires patience and persistence, which is something I heard from many people who I met with as well. Just because you feel like you’re failing doesn’t mean you are. Luck and timing absolutely play a role and since you can’t account for that, just have compassion for yourself, do your best, and keep going! 

 

Things working in my favor:

 

Things working against me:

 

General Tips & Takeaways

Note: These are just my opinion, so make sure to seek a second opinion and use your best judgement

Please see this excellent forum post [EA · GW] for more detailed information on how to get hired in Congress, and for more general info on Congress as an institution, take a look at this forum post [EA · GW]. 

3 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by smountjoy · 2021-04-12T16:30:31.317Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Congrats! I don't know you but I'm very happy for you!

The networking was hard for me, and I often felt thrown off or wired up after my networking calls. It took me a long time to send each email.

I'm impressed you were able to persist in your job search while feeling this way. Did you have a particularly strong motivation toward your long-term goal, or were there other strategies you used to overcome these mental blockers?

Replies from: new_staffer
comment by new_staffer · 2021-04-14T03:54:20.898Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! 

I do think there was a strong motivation. I was convinced that landing a Congressional role was an early career dream job for me because 1) with just a few years of investment I could be in a position to make policy change, much faster than other paths 2) even if it ended up being too hard/not what I expected, it is great career capital for political advocacy which is my Plan B 3)  I generally thought I would enjoy this type of work a lot. At one point, I decided to commit 100% to applying for Congressional jobs and give myself a 6 month deadline to do it. I'm not sure if I would've actually quit after 6 months, but the looming threat of 'total failure'  if I didn't get there was really terrifying motivating. Also, being unemployed/underemployed sucks and was pretty uncomfortable in and of itself. I knew networking  would be the key to landing a role, so day-to-day I just had to keep pushing myself to do it. I had faith that if I just kept at it, I couldn't fail. 

It was also helpful to remember that networking is totally routine in Washington DC and in Congress. People really are generous and willing to help and receiving that help doesn't make you annoying. Emotionally, I never stopped feeling like a nuisance but it was good to know on an intellectual level that everything I was doing was normal.

Also, if you ask questions that you are genuinely curious about in your meetings with people, it will make the meetings more interesting. This seems obvious, but it is easy to get caught in the trap of asking the same questions and hearing the same answers.

And lastly, I  just sort of accepted that it was always going to be uncomfortable for me. So I just had to push past the 'discomfort' points, like pushing 'send' on the email, or the moments where I asked people for concrete things. 

comment by minthin · 2021-04-26T15:52:04.829Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great write-up!