Lofgren, a staff assistant for a Louisiana Republican representative, found an internship listing online and was able to land the spot, and later a full-time job.
You hear it over and over: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Nobody denies the importance of networking in landing a job on the Hill. But sometimes it’s not just what you know or who you know, but what you do.
Plenty of people have won entry into the Capitol Hill job market the old-fashioned way: They write a bell-ringer of a résumé, knock on every door, have a killer interview or two or three, and are home when the phone rings.
We interviewed more than three dozen current and former Hill staffers to find out how they got their start. “No, I didn’t know anyone,” and “persistence and dumb luck” came up frequently, along with several “I’m probably one of the few who didn’t know somebody.”
So, if you don’t know anybody, don’t despair (although you should probably get off your butt and get out and meet some bodies). Here’s how they did it; you can too.
Michael Drobac, senior policy adviser at Patton Boggs, pounded the pavement to get his first job in Washington. He came to town knowing nobody, toting two duffel bags.
“So I moved to D.C. after I’d finished my master’s degree at Stanford,” Drobac said. “I eventually volunteered for the Dole/Kemp campaign and was given an advance job for VP nominee Jack Kemp a few days later.”
The end of Michael Lewan’s plan to be an accountant came when he volunteered on the late Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign while he was in college.
“I traveled to a couple of states to do weekend work on the McGovern campaign in New Hampshire,” Lewan said. “I became very involved in the McGovern campaign, essentially where I lived. [Rep. Stephen J.] Solarz at the time was a state representative, so I met him there and we struck up a relationship and two years later he ran successfully for the House.”
All that legwork paid off. Solarz, as a freshman House member, hired him as his first chief of staff when Lewan was 23 years old.
Be Willing to Work for Free for a While
Christine Lofgren, a staff assistant to Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., began her career with him. She found an internship opening on the popular website BradTraverse.com, and after applying to a few different offices, she interviewed with them and was hired.
Barbara Weinstein, associate director at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, was required to have a political internship or job as part of her graduate program at George Washington University.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.