The veteran's guide to getting a job on Capitol Hill

Purpose:

This “how to” guide is for veterans who are interested in working on the Hill. Staffers are the most common Hill positions in both the House and Senate. Personal staffers work for members and professional staffers work on committees. Most offices separate policy topics into portfolios and oftentimes veterans are most qualified to cover the Department of Veterans Affairs, foreign affairs and/or DoD/military. However, based upon the veterans’ education and career field they may be qualified for other portfolios.

How to Search for the Perfect Hill Position

  • Sign up for HillVets Insider
    1. HillVets Insider often posts positions that are being exclusively offered to veterans via HillVets
    2. HillVets also proactively sends resumes to positions and postings as an official “HillVets Recommended Candidate” when we come across members that we believe are good fits for open positions.
    3. As such be sure to provide HillVets Insider with your latest resume even after you land your first job!
  • Get on a job list
    1. Tom Manatos (free for Veterans participating in the Veterans Congressional Fellowship, costs $5 per month)-best resource, stays up to date on new jobs and takes down positions that were filled. Updated daily. Register at http://www.tommanatosjobs.com/
    2. Scott Baker (free)—good place to start but is not always up to date and positions that are filled may stay on the list for weeks. Emails sent out weekly. Email Scott Baker at m.r.baker@gmail.com and ask him to add you to his job lists.
    3. Brad Traverse. Is another Capitol Hill job board that requires a subscription. $10 registration, $5 monthly dues. Traverse and Manatos are generally accepted as the lead job posting subscriptions; Manatos started in the democratic space, Traverse in the Republican space, both have moved towards posting jobs for both parties. http://www.bradtraverse.com/joblistings.cfm
  • Network through HillVets and build a team to help you with your job search. This is key as staffers know each other and if there is a position open in an office a staffer friend can inquire and pass your resume on to the office of interest. Offices receive hundreds of resumes for positions and any way to get yours noticed is a plus.
    1. Compile an email list of staff, or people that know staffers, that you have met with.
    2. When you apply for an open position let them know that you did so and ask if they know anyone in that office. Recommend your emails subject lead with your name and the member office as these emails can be easily screened if the busy staffer does not know anyone in the said office. For example John Doe (you)/Rep. John Doe
    3. Never assume that staffers from the opposite party can or will not be helpful in your hunt! This is a common mistake that we have seen over and over again. We have had young veterans insinuate we could not help them because we were on one side of the aisle or the other when in fact we have hundreds of friends on both sides many of which may be close friends. The reality in Washington, if you are going to be good, or have been here for any period of time, you not only have a few contacts on the other side, but a lot, so keep this in mind as you network!
  • Questions to ask yourself
    1. What states do I have a connection to?—Offices like to hire people from their state. Start with your home of record but also explore states where you were assigned to in the military, or where you went to school.
    2. What kind of job do I want on the Hill?
      1. Policy—legislative assistants (LAs) are assigned portfolios and work on legislation in those areas. For most separating military personnel interested in policy work, this is the most appropriate position for you but may be very difficult to land out of the gate.
        1. Legislative Correspondents—work for LAs by handling mail, taking meetings, and assisting with research. Some offices have LCs doing LA work, which is great but the LC is most likely being paid less than an LA.
      2. Communications—All offices have communication directors and assistants.
    3. When can I start work?—If you are coming off of active duty think about when you will be taking terminal leave and when you can actually start a new position. Networking and applying for positions is important but create a timeline for yourself from the earliest you can begin a position.
    4. Who do I know that is currently or previously worked on the Hill?—these people are your new best friends. Talk to them about your interest in the Hill and get their advice and perspectives. Congressional offices all work a little differently and you want to know if there are offices to avoid.
    5. Do I have a preference for House or Senate positions?—the House and Senate operate differently and have different cultures. There is much to be learned in both chambers and people often work or intern in both. As you network ask people how they like the Senate or House and the differences that they perceive in each.

Getting the First Job: So you are on a couple of job lists, you have some hill buddies, and you are actively looking for a position…now what!!!

  • Create a phenomenal resume and cover letter.
    1. The Resume—Almost always 1 page, rarely 2. The only purpose of the resume is to get you an interview. The resumes purpose is not to tell your life story and highlight things that only you will care about, it should tell the employer what your value is to them if they hire you. You are not applying for a military awards package OR a GS federal job. Your resume should be something in between. Offices get hundreds of resumes for positions and do not have time to read 10 page resumes and will not understand 20 acronyms.
      1. If printing, use high quality, heavier weight, and off-white paper. This will set you apart in a stack of hundreds and shows attention to detail
      2. Ask people on the Hill if you can review their resumes
  • Look at how Hill staffers place their resumes on LinkedIn
  1. Ask other HillVets members to review your resume
  2. Highlight your military experiences, particularly deployments
  1. The Cover Letter—You can use general language for the cover letter and then tailor for specific positions and offices. Do not make your letter longer than 1 page, and relate your military experiences to what you want to do on the Hill. Generally these should explain why you are interested in the position, the skills you have to offer, and what makes you a unique/best fit for the position.
  2. Ask at least 5 people to closely review your cover letter and resume for grammar mistakes and advice on how to make both stronger.
  • You Got an Interview!
    1. Reach out to your Hill network (previously highlighted) and ask if they know anything about the office or member.
    2. If you are interviewing with a personal office you will most likely interview with the Legislative Director and/or Chief of Staff. Most offices will prefer someone with Hill experience, which includes internships and fellowships. This is where you have to sell your military experience and overcome lack of prior Hill experience (if that is your situation).
      1. Be likable, warm and friendly to everyone in the office. Offices have too many candidates to choose from to not select someone that feels like a good fit for their office and culture. Smile!
      2. Inspection ready is the dress code of the day, seems obvious but we have had to address this before…
  • Think about general skills that you obtained from being a military officer or NCO such as: leadership, responsibility, general understanding of the military, experience working with all kinds of people, communication skills, professionalism.
  1. Think about what your career field experiences bring to the position. Remember that you have the advantage of serving in the military and try to think of your understanding of the military prior to your service. A majority of staffers have NO military experience and limited understanding of how DoD works. That is a huge selling point.
  2. If you have connections to the state make sure to explain your connection. Did you grow up in the state? Go to school there? Were you assigned to an installation in the state? If you are applying for a military portfolio position, know the military installations in the state. Explain why you care about the state.
  3. Do your research! Know a bit about the member, their issues, what committee the member sits on and explain what you can bring to the table. Know if the member is a veteran, which branch did they serve; do you have anything in common?
  1. You did great on your first interview and now you are called back to meet the member! Very exciting and means that you get to meet a member of Congress and are shortlisted for a staff position.
    1. Think about your first interview and topics that you spent time discussing. What points do you feel made you strong? Emphasize those in the interview with the member.
    2. Do more research on the member. Be familiar with legislation they have introduced. Be ready to talk about the stuff they care about (which is germane to the position you are applying). Be personable and the job is yours!

Financial Expectations

  • You are likely going to make less money as a Hill staffer than you did on active duty.
    1. Again personal offices vary on pay. Legistorm (legistorm.com) is a service that provides information on Hill staffers, including their income. You can view the most recent salaries of staffers for free on the site to get a sense of how much you can expect to make in a given office for a given position. The salary of the recently departed staffer is likely listed if you know who that is or you can compare the pay rates of the various staffers in the current position you are interviewing for.
    2. Some negotiation of salary is normal but remember these jobs are very competitive and the office may refuse to increase the salary offer. Then you must decide if this is a position you want.
  • Benefits:
    1. Health Insurance: Currently Hill staffers must buy their health insurance off of the insurance exchange unless they are in a Committee office, then they may be eligible for the same insurance held by federal employees.
    2. Leave days: Varies by offices. Some offices will take into account your federal service and give you more days. The good news is that you will never be charged leave on weekends or federal holidays!

Conclusion: Working on the Hill is an amazing experience and if you get the opportunity to do it…Do IT! However, it is high tempo, intense, and tough work. Be ready to experience a learning curve and accept that you are starting a new career in a new environment. HillVets is here to help you move into this realm. We believe that more veteran voices are needed on the Hill to provide our experiences and perspectives to members and staffs for the good of our Nation. The right job is out there and we are ready to help you find it. Stay Positive, these are not easy jobs to land and competition is fierce. Typical timeframes to find your first job is months, so keep that in mind. Keep piling through the “no’s” to get to your first “yes.” The first one is the hardest one by far.

Happy Hunting!

Jennifer Mitchell is the Military/Veterans’ Affairs Legislative Assistant for Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). As a Military Legislative Assistant, Jennifer advises Senator Kirk and his staff on military and VA appropriations and policy issues. She also works to address Illinois veteran issues including access to healthcare. Jennifer is a licensed attorney and attended law school at Chicago-Kent College of Law. 
 
Prior to her current position in Sen. Kirk’s office, Jennifer was an active duty Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer and is currently an Air Force Reserve officer. As a JAG, Jennifer assisted hundreds of military members, retirees, and their family members on a variety of legal issues ranging from bankruptcy to family law to will preparation. She practiced military justice by administratively disciplining and prosecuting military members for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Jennifer also specialized in federal labor and employment law where she negotiated union contracts and defended the Air Force against discrimination and wrongful employment cases. 

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