JOBS: Getting In The Door On Capitol Hill

By Bret Bernhardt

Securing a meeting with your prospective employer is an important step in the process of landing a job on Capitol Hill.

Bret Bernhardt, former chief of staff for senators Don Nickles and Jim DeMint.

Before we get into the mechanics, it’s important to recognize that looking for a job is one of the most stressful things you will do in your professional life. After all, you are trying to “sell” yourself. And what if they don’t like what you are selling?

You are confronted with the prospect of rejection, as well as acceptance, every time you are considered for a position. Dealing with this will be the topic for deeper discussion later but it’s important to keep this in mind now: Embrace the value God has given you while practicing confident humility.

Humility is expressed in Psalm 139:23-24 as “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Confidence as expressed earlier in the Psalm, “I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” These verses and others combine to show how we as believers face difficult and stressful times such as looking for a job.

The Lord wants us to be confident in who He created us to be, which expresses itself in godly humility. We can confidently do so because of His great love for us even though He knows every detail of our life.

“When we imagine our first impression with a prospective employer, we typically think of our resume, which is mostly true.”

In my last post — “Where Your Best Job Lead Is On Capitol Hill May Surprise You” — we discussed the importance of your peer group in securing good job leads. Now, what to do with that lead and how to make that all-important first contact?

When we imagine our first impression with a prospective employer, we typically think of our resume, which is mostly true. But what’s in the resume and how it is used and presented  is even more important.

Given the abundant supply of candidates for any job on the Hill, it’s a challenge to get noticed. So how do you go about making this happen? In my experience, there are good ways of making this happen and there are also ways you should not try.

The “should-not” list includes things which are seen as unprofessional or over the top. For example, I remember a resume that landed on my desk with a cover page that consisted of a full-length picture of the job candidate with his hand out-stretched, saying “I want to work for you.” In my mind, I was saying “there’s no way you are going to work for me.”

There’s also the shock-and-awe approach, which consists of mass marketing your resume to hundreds of offices. This includes dropping your resume off by every office you see and even asking for a meeting with the chief of staff or hiring manager without an appointment.

“I remember a resume that landed on my desk with a cover page that consisted of a full-length picture of the job candidate with his hand out-stretched, saying “I want to work for you.”

On a selective basis, there’s nothing wrong with this. But, unless you know there is a position in that office that is open for which you are qualified, there’s really no sense in stopping by unless you know someone there and are looking an informational interview or potential leads.

On the “should” side is a well prepared resume. I’m not going to attempt here to explain all the elements of a good resume, but focus more on the visual of what the hiring manager will see when they pick it up and the all-important first impression it gives.

I believe resumes should be visually appealing and easy-to-read, particularly on Capitol Hill where you will be competing with dozens of other qualified candidates and their resumes. This means a one-page resume unless it is for a more senior position, and even then I still like the one-page format.

Ideally, it should be tailored for the job you are seeking. This means if your education or home state or congressional district is relevant, make sure that information is noted. Keep your previous job descriptions short and, again, relevant to the job you are seeking if that is the case.

“At the end of the day, it will be a people-to-people connection with your prospective employer that will likely ensure your success.”

For entry level and junior positions, I always balanced the fact that the candidate’s previous job experience was limited, compared to more senior positions.

Thus, I didn’t expect a long series of previous jobs. But I did expect to see that it was worthwhile and progressive employment, meaning that you found value in it and it led to successive job improvement.

I particularly liked to see jobs that required interaction with customers. This included jobs as a wait-staff or working with kids as a camp counselor. If you can work well with the picky American consumer or adolescents, then you will be well-qualified for dealing with people who interact with Members of Congress.

Your recommendations and references are perhaps the most important part of your resume. At the end of the day, it will be a people-to-people connection with your prospective employer that will likely ensure your success. More often than not, you will get that interview based upon a call or a referral from someone who knows your prospective employer.

My definition of the ideal reference is someone who knows both you and the prospective employer, plus they have the best interests of you and your prospective employer in mind.

When I receive a call or email from a reference, I want it to be honest and I also want them to be as concerned about my well-being as they are for the prospective employee. This is a true win-win scenario. It takes some work finding this common connection, but it will pay big dividends.

Following these guidelines won’t guarantee you get your foot in the door, but will greatly increase your chances of success. And in my next post I’ll let you know what the person on the other side of the table is expecting and thinking.

Bret Bernhardt served on the Hill as chief of staff to senators Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He is now a member of the board of directors of Faith & Law and the Conservative Partnership Institute.

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: https://hillfaith.blog/about-hillfaith-2/

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