Life on Capitol Hill
Behind the headlines on any given day in the nation's capital there are a thousand sub-plots taking form: the Member of Congress and her staff working at breakneck pace to prepare a bill to reform Federal education programs; a last minute compromise to pass a key piece of legislation; a House member positioning himself for a run for even higher office; a reporter about to break a big story about a new scandal. The environment is continually changing, and the confluence of national politics, local interests, ambitions, and personal agendas creates a sense of constant flux and excitement.
In any position on Capitol Hill, an employee's first responsibility is ultimately to serve the interests of his Member (and his or her constituents). And all of the 535 total Members of Congress have very distinct interests. Some love the national spotlight, and spend what seems to be a majority of the their time before a news camera (or in search of one). Others are masters of the legislative process and use their position to propose and advance legislation. Many style themselves as hometown heroes who keep a low profile and focus on directing Federal benefits to their districts.
Despite their style, certain elements mentioned above will be true of all Members of Congress: all will attempt to direct Federal resources to their districts and attend to their constituents needs; all will use the media to communicate their messages and build (or repair) their images; and all will be involved in the legislative process to some degree, either as legislative technicians, advocates, or simply as voters.
Each Member of Congress also has his or her own distinct management style. The organization of a Member's office greatly reflects the individual personality and goals of the Member. Some offices are very formal, requiring business attire at all times, while others are less traditional. Some Members are very hands-on in running their offices, while others delegate much of the decision-making to their senior staff. Some have track records of keeping loyal staff, while others turn over staff on a championship pace. All of these factors -- and many more -- contribute to the pace of life on Capitol Hill.
Why Capitol Hill?
If you ask Hill staffers why they choose to work on Capitol Hill, you will get a number of different answers. Most, however, will express some common themes: they want to work on issues that they believe in; they want the opportunity to serve their country; and they enjoy using the skills needed to succeed on the Hill and pace of life it requires.
"One of the most exciting aspects of working on the Hill is the opportunity to participate in the workings of our democracy," said one Senate staffer. "The prestige of the place is nice, but for me the real satisfaction comes from knowing that the work we do makes a difference in the lives of real people."
A former House staffer stresses the opportunity to work on a variety of issues as one of the prime benefits of working for Congress. "I can't think of anywhere else where you can work on so many different issues in the course of the day. It's perfect for people who are curious about a lot of things and enjoy the intellectual challenge of understanding multiple issues and putting that knowledge to use on a day to day basis."
Another staffer, while acknowledging the benefits of working for Congress, says that the lifestyle will not be for everyone. "Things move very fast on the Hill. If you can't keep up, or you can't -- for lack of a better term -- multitask, you will probably not be happy here in the long run. This is a place for high energy people who get charged up from going into work every day not knowing exactly what to expect." Working on the Hill can provide unique experiences that very few other positions afford, including international travel, the opportunity to work with national media, and the opportunity to be involved in shaping history.
"One of the greatest experiences was seeing a piece of legislation that my boss was active in passing signed into law," said one staffer. "Looking back on that bill today, it is clear that it has helped small businesses to grow and provide good jobs for a lot of people in our district and across the country."
The opportunity for travel, both domestically and internationally, is also cited as a benefit of working on the Hill, particularly for higher-level staffers. "Many organizations sponsor fact finding trips both here in the United States and abroad," said one staffer. "These travel opportunities allowed me to gain a better understanding on a lot of key issues."
Considering working on the Hill?
If your considering working on the Hill, you should make sure you know what you're getting into. Here, we give you a quick self-assessment test to see if a career on Capitol Hill seems like a good fit for you.
The Hill is probably for you if
- You like excitement and the idea that every day can bring something different.
- You enjoy following public affairs and reading the newspaper.
- You like talking about politics&a lot.
- You don't mind starting off paying your dues by answering the phone, writing letters, and taking calls from angry constituents.
- You don't care what your work space looks like, so long as you have a desk and a computer.
- You work well under pressure.
- You'd rather be doing anything other than talking about politics.
- You prefer stable, predictable environments.
- You don't like talking to random people during the course of your day.
- You want the security of a distinct career path.
- You don't like long, unpredictable hours.