How to Get a Job on a U.S. Senator's Staff
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If the letter “P” in your personal aspirations dictionary stands for “power” rather than “pay,” a career in “politics” has your name on it. A great way to break into this fiercely competitive field is to work for your state legislators, but if you’re seriously invested in the idea of a future in government, only the U.S. Senate will do. Realizing that there are a finite number of slots open for the largest senatorial staff, you’re going to need to prepare and focus your efforts—and if you have a friend or relative already working in D.C., that will help you get a leg up as you move toward your goal.
Become a political wonk if you're not already one. Read high-profile newspapers (e.g., The Washington Post) and respected journals. Watch news broadcasts tracking national legislative issues. Research your state’s previous senatorial office holders. Volunteer for local and national campaigns, understanding that every step you take in this direction makes great fodder for your resume.
Learn basic skills required by every senator and their staffs to run efficient offices. Include word processing, spreadsheet creation, white paper authoring, policy drafting, correspondence and business letter creation among the list of basics you’ll offer your U.S. senator once you’re on staff.
Explore all possible work and social connections, as the political culture has always been about “who knows who.” Query friends, relatives, teachers and colleagues about contacts they may have in the federal government and then follow the leads with phone calls, e-mails or a hand-written note delineating your aspirations and asking for contacts and leads.
Make an appointment to meet with a staffer at one of your U.S. senator’s state-based offices (at the Capitol or in their home district). Advise her of your mission: getting a job on her boss’s staff. Take notes, jot down advice, tips and suggestions for classes, workshops or actions you can take that will better position you for a future opening.
Move to Washington, D.C., to put yourself in the midst of the environment in which you plan to work. Find a place keeper job doing anything that pays the rent while you pursue your goal of finding work with your U.S. senator’s staff. Keep an eye out for entry-level job openings like legislative aid, field representative, legislative correspondent, campaign staffer, political assistant and public policy researcher.
Land a non-paid internship with your senator’s staff and plan to work grueling hours to get your feet wet while you’re oriented to the workings of the U.S. Senate. Prepare to pay your dues doing grunt work like coffee runs, answering phones and opening mail. Show your dedication and you’ll be promoted to jobs with more responsibility, like answering constituent’s letters and attending hearings.
Search for another type of government job if, after exhausting all efforts, you surmise that, based on the senator's staffing history, there's virtually no turnover expected at any of his offices in the near future. Search federal and state job sites. Take the Civil Service exam to prepare for a variety of career slots working for government agencies and bureaus.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.