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Capitol Hlil - Congressional Offices and Committees

Employers | Internet Resources

Career Opportunities on Capitol Hill

(Congressional Offices and Committees)

Capitol Hill offers a wide range of exciting and demanding employment opportunities. Employment on the Hill generally refers to positions available in one of the  Congressional offices or committees and subcommittees. Most committees are divided into majority and minority staffs that perform several different functions including, research and subject specialists that conduct legislative research, draft bills, and follow upcoming legislation, ombudsmen that respond to constituent inquiries, handle general administration, or promote the public image (and future election) of their representative, and committee staff that support the legislative process, by drafting legislation, preparing background reports, arranging for expert testimony, and serving as the liaison between Congress and the administration on policy matters.

Congressional staffers perform a variety of different functions, so there are opportunities for persons with varying interests and capabilities. All Congressional offices need the administrative support personnel as well as public relations staff who may respond to constituent issues and/or promote the elected officer’s public image. Many SPEA graduates seek positions as issue specialists, working in the legislative area, conducting research, preparing background reports, drafting bills, following legislation and arranging for expert testimony.

Career Paths

There is no" typical" career path on Capitol Hill. Elections occur every two or six years so very few staffers are able to spend an entire career working for one member of congress. Many congressional staffers use their congressional positions as stepping-stones to the executive branch, private sector, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations. Since turnover is so common on the Hill, there are opportunities for promotion on both personal and committee staffs.

The high turnover rate provides numerous opportunities for enterprising job seekers. Staff size varies considerably and networking is often the key to securing a position, as many openings are highly competitive and are not always advertised. An internship with a Member of Congress also provides an excellent opportunity to build contacts and show interest in public service. A good time to look for a position, particularly on the House side, is just after an election.

Some of the more common entry-level positions include:

Receptionist/Staff Assistant – Serves as the main point of contact for the office, which involves routing incoming calls, distributing messages and mail to staffers, and handling constituent requests.

Legislative Correspondent – Drafts responses to a member's mail and deals with a range of constituent requests and inquiries concerning legislation and national policy.

Legislative Assistant – Briefs the Member on a number of issues, helps draft legislation, writes position papers and addresses constituent inquiries. In some offices, Legislative Assistants may handle five or six different issues..

Press Secretary/Communications Director – Acts as the key link between the Member of Congress and the media, directs publicity by issuing press releases, radio and TV spots, speeches, etc.

Legislative Director – Heads the legislative staff, updates the Member on the status of bills in Congress, and maintains close contact with a number of constituencies, including other Hill staffers and lobbyists.

Administrative Assistant/Chief of Staff – Oversees the operation of the entire office, both in Washington and in the area represented by the Senator’s or Representative’s home state. Individuals in this position generally have at least 10 years of experience working in Congress.

Qualifications Necessary/Application Procedures to Enter Field

Entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree while a master’s is necessary for advancement. Substantive knowledge in areas relevant to a member's committee work and a demonstrated understanding of the legislative process can be helpful in securing a position. Strong written communication skills are essential, and it’s important to be able to write concisely and precisely. Oral communication and interpersonal skills are also important in handling constituent problems, meeting with lobbyists and interest groups and dealing with the media. The pace of most congressional offices requires high energy, commitment and flexibility.

Internships in congressional offices are highly-sought after as they are great stepping-stones into a career. SPEA students can seek opportunities in congressional offices through individual applications to offices, or can seek entry into a congressional office through the IUinDC program. Entrance into the IUinDC program is limited to undergraduate students.

Demand and Future Challenges of Profession

Entry-level positions are highly competitive and many jobs on Capitol Hill are unadvertised. Inquiries directed to the offices of your home congressional representatives (particularly if you share their party affiliation) can be helpful, as can a Capitol Hill internship. Most congressional staffers will readily admit that networking is frequently the key to securing a position on the Hill. Post-election is a good time to look for a job on the House side. While campaign staffers may fill some positions, newly elected representatives need to staff the Washington office quickly.

Sample Employers

Senate Foreign Relations Committee, http://www.senate.gov/~foreign
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, http://intelligence.senate.gov
House Committee on International Relations, http://www.house.gov/international_relations
House Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, http://www.csce.gov
Congressional Research Service, http://www.loc.gov/crsinfo
Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov
Members' Offices, http://thomas.loc.gov

Placement Offices

House of Representatives Human Resources Office
263 Cannon House Office Building
Independence and South Capitol Streets, SE
Washington, DC 20515
Resume Referral Service (202) 266-6731
http://www.house.gov

Senate
142 Hart Senate Office Building
Placement Office
2nd & Constitution Ave., NE Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-9167
Listings available for pick up each Tuesday.
http://www.senate.gov

Congressional Management Foundation
513 Capitol Court NE, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 546-0100
* Publishes an annual survey of House of Representatives' staff job descriptions and salaries.

Internet Resources

Field Specific Information

Congressional employees must be U.S. citizens.

Edited for the use of SPEA students by the staff of the Office of Career Services. Written by Career Directors from the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. Information obtained from the Maxwell School of Public Administration.