How to Stand Out in your Capitol Hill Job Search

by | March 31, 2009

This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Capitol Hill Careers.
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With so many applicants, it becomes imperative that candidates stand out in their cover letters and resumes, and later in their interviews. While each candidate brings his or her own unique abilities to each application, there are several universal assets to consider in applying for Capitol Hill positions:

  • Demonstrate strong writing abilities. Positions on Capitol Hill, particularly at the lower levels, often require candidates with strong writing skills. Legislative Correspondents and Legislative Assistants will spend much of their time writing letters: to constituents; to interest groups; to other Members of Congress; to the President; and even some letters that are meant more for the media than for the addressees. They often are responsible for drafting the floor statements of their bosses. Those interested in media relations will need to be able to write press releases, speeches, opinion editorials, and newsletters. Therefore, it is important that candidates present resumes and cover letters that are grammatically correct and that effectively communicate their abilities. Poor grammar and sloppy writing will serve as proxies for the candidate's ability to write and his or her attention to detail. You don't need to be John Updike, but you will need to show an above-average command of the English language. In your resume and cover letter, stress your ability to write and reference examples of your work. In fact, you should include a short writing sample with your resume, especially if you have a letter or a press release from one of your previous internships. Additionally, experience working for a school newspaper or other experience demonstrating writing ability is looked upon well.

  • Emphasize organizational and leadership skills. Congressional offices are fast paced and require employees to juggle multiple job responsibilities. Additionally, staff members at all levels are representatives of the Member of Congress -- from the staff assistant greeting visitors to the office to the Chief of Staff representing the member before a community meeting, every staff member has a direct influence on the perception of the Member. Therefore, offices are looking for people who are organized, presentable, and who have strong interpersonal skills both in person and over the phone. Possible ways to demonstrate these abilities are through extra-curricular activities, previous work experience, or leadership positions. Emphasize these characteristics in all application materials and be prepared to describe your accomplishments in these areas in interviews.

  • Exhibit knowledge of Member and his or her key issues. It always helps to be able to show that you are truly interested in working for the specific Member to which you have applied. Fortunately, researching your target is very easy, since Members of Congress leave a trail of relevant and timely information on their activities, including media stories, floor statements, and voting records. Your approach to the Member of Congress should be tailored around your strengths and the interest of the Member. For example, if you grew up in the Member's district, highlight your understanding of the concerns of people there, your involvement with political, community, or civic organizations, and your support for initiatives championed by the Member. Likewise, you could also address your experience, possibly from a previous internship, on a national or local issue that your targeted Member has been active on. Members' offices are looking for people who will be effective in advancing the Member's agenda and who will be a good fit with the rest of the staff. Demonstrating some level of affinity can be very effective in your job search.

  • Show your loyalty to the cause: Your prior political experience will be closely scrutinized when you submit your resume on Capitol Hill. Make sure to highlight internships, experiences, and volunteer work that are relevant to the Member's office to which you are applying. For example, don't include campaign work for a libertarian candidate unless you know the Member to which you are applying is sympathetic to the libertarian movement as well. In almost every case, do not highlight any experiences working for the other party unless you are prepared to explain in some depth why you should still be considered for the position. There are exceptions to this rule. For instance, someone interested in environmental conservation policy would want to include their work on that issue, regardless of the party, if the member to which they were applying shares the same views (such as a Democrat staffer applying for an environmental L.A. position with a Republican member known to champion environmental causes.)


This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Capitol Hill Careers.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
Discuss government careers at the Government Career Message Board
Discuss non-profit careers at the Non-profit Career Message Board

Filed Under: Job Search


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