JOBS: Here’s Nine Valuable Tips For Interviewing Well On Capitol Hill

You’ve  followed up on that job lead from your college friend who now works on the Hill, you’ve prepared a relevant resume, found a good recommender, and you just got invited to meet with the hiring manager.

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

Now, how do you make the best of that interview? Here are nine tips:

First, there are a few important things you’ll need to do leading up to the interview, but on the day of the meeting, it’s most important that you have the right frame of mind. If you are a Christian believer, you should exercise “confident humility,” as we discussed in my previous post (“Getting In The Door On Capitol Hill”).

This means having confidence in knowing you are loved and accepted by God, while asking the Lord to search your heart for anything that impairs your relationship with Him. Reading and meditating on Psalm 139, or other go-to verses, is an excellent way to accomplish this.

This will give you a measure of peace and tranquility, which prepares you to be relaxed and free from anxiety when you interview.

Second, before the interview, become familiar with the member and the office. Find out what issues are important to them and learn about who they are, including their character. Resources are plentiful these days and it is easy to find this out.

Read some of their official statements and policy positions, as well as campaign literature and “about” page. Also read news reports about the issues they are currently working on and in which they are interested. Study them and learn about them.

“Before the interview, become familiar with the member and the office. Find out what issues are important to them and learn about who they are, including their character.”

Third, presumably, you will be interviewing for a specific position. Understand what is required of that position in a typical Hill office and this office in particular.

Each office on the Hill follows a similar template to staff the senator or representative’s Capitol Hill office, including staff assistants, legislative correspondents, legislative assistants, communications and press, etc.

The Congressional Management Foundation also provides an excellent description of Hill jobs.

Fourth, find out as much as you can about the particular job you are applying for. You can get this  information from the person setting up the interview, other employees of the office, the member’s website, and a general understanding of what each position does.

Fifth, you also need to grasp firmly what the person on the other side of the table is thinking and expecting from you. What do they want from you as a new employee?

“Every office is somewhat different, but a common ingredient for what an employer on the Hill is looking for is wrapped up in two words: attitude and aptitude.”

Every office is somewhat different, but a common ingredient for what an employer on the Hill is looking for is wrapped up in two words: attitude and aptitude.

Attitude is your willingness to be part of this new team and someone others like working with. The best employees on the Hill have a selflessness, willingness and eagerness to accomplish the team’s mission. In other words they don’t mind serving and doing the work necessary to get the job done.

Aptitude is something that represents your capability, potential, and capacity to do the job. It means having the interest and ability to learn. As your elementary school teacher probably told you, we should all be life-long learners. Always be hungry to learn new things and ideas.

As a staffer, you don’t start out as an expert and you’re not expected to be. But you are expected to be able to take a body of information and turn it into usable product – a letter, phone call response, statement, memo, brochure, press release, etc.

“Be on time. This means within five minutes of the appointment but not much before that. Best to arrive in the building plenty early to allow for traffic, metro delays, etc.”

As you sit down across the table from the interviewer, here are some further tips:

Sixth, be on time. This means within five minutes of the appointment but not much before that. Best to arrive in the building plenty early to allow for traffic, metro delays, etc.

But instead of heading to the office a half hour early, head to Dunkin’ Donuts downstairs and relax a bit. Remember, be yourself and exercise confident humility. Free your mind from any anxious thoughts.

In the many interviews I did, I quickly sized up my impression of the person across the table.  That’s because we all have intuitive feelings when we meet someone for the first time. If the chemistry wasn’t there, I could tell within the first few minutes. While first impressions and chemistry aren’t everything, they are very important.

Seventh, I always tried to make the interviewee feel comfortable and relaxed, because that is how I would know what they are like in everyday situations.  But not all interviewers are that way. So, remember to breath and be concise, yet personable in your answers. Don’t over- answer a question or ramble. Be yourself.

Eighth, be honest in your responses. This seems like a no-brainer, but it includes not embellishing your job experience.

“if you are comfortable, ask at the end of the interview if there is anything lacking in your background or answers that is necessary for this job.”

Ninth and finally, if you are comfortable, ask at the end of the interview if there is anything lacking in your background or answers that is necessary for this job.

A current House chief of staff suggested that you use a variation of the following question, “Is there anything about me or my resume or my answers that gives you pause about me for this position [or my candidacy moving on to the next step in the process]?”

It is usually preceded with a question about “what is the next step in the process?” and then you ask if there is anything that would disqualify you from continuing on to that step.

This will provide valuable information, as well as show a measure of confident humility not typical in most interviews.

While the demand for Hill jobs is substantial, following these guidelines should increase your chances of landing a position and launch your Hill career.

Next, we’ll discuss – and list – what resources are available to you to provide the greatest chance of success in your job search.

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.

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