Job Searching in a New Environment

Posted on Wednesday, Dec 02, 2020

Different students are trying to get different things out of this internship. All of us are trying to get experience, but what we’re planning to do afterwards varies a lot.  Some of us are going back to school and will use this experience to decide what classes to take.  Some of us are moving onto post-grad degrees where we’ll take our knew knowledge and reexamine how to solve the problems that affect our country today.  And some of us are job hunting, kicking off our careers in public policy.  I’m in the third camp, searching for work in politics as a new administration comes in, the country is in the middle of a recession, and there’s still a pandemic looming overhead.  I’d like to walk you through what it’s like to try to get a job in Washington D.C., and how much my experience is not the norm.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a dozen job applications, almost exclusively legislative assistant and staff assistants.  These are the intro level jobs on the hill that let someone get their foot in the door and start working up the ladder.  For the house side they’re often long hours and a wide variety of tasks, ranging from covering legislation to responding to constituents to just being the congressperson’s chauffer to get them to votes.  People gets jobs because their Chief of Staff puts in a good word for them, or they hear through the grapevine that there’s a spot open, or they just rub shoulders with the right people at the right time.  Fun fact: It’s hard to rub shoulder with someone who’s 6 feet away from you.  I of course can ask my higher ups  to put in a good word for me, but there’s not the office conversations that you’d expect in a town where the local saying is “it’s not who you know, it’s who you get to know”.   So, I’ve had to adjust in a world where the happy hour has been replaced with 45 intern group texts. 

First, actively make connections.  An email to set up a zoom call isn’t the same thing as sitting down for a coffee with someone I want to learn from, but they serve the same purpose.  Because I don’t see everyone from my office every day, I have to go out of your way to make sure they remember me as someone other than “the intern who made a nice spreadsheet once”.  I have to be the person who makes the effort. 

Second, looking for jobs in a different way.  I don’t bump into a legislative director at a social event where they tell me to call them in the morning about a possible job. Instead, I have to get jobs like everyone else: online postings.  When there’s no face to face interaction, I have to find a new way for people to remember my ‘face’, whether that’s an impressive resume, an introductory email that sticks out, or some help pushing my name to the top of the pile from my supervisors.

Third, and finally, taking advantage of the changes.  I know that almost no one who applies for a given job has met the hirer, so I just need to sound good on paper to get an interview.  It’s hard to set up a meeting with busy people when I need to go across town in the middle of the day to meet them, but almost everyone’s got time for a 30-minute phone call.  And I may not know almost anyone on the Hill, but I can make sure the few people I do know are aware of where I’m applying and what I’m looking for, so I have an edge up on anyone who hasn’t put in the time to talk to people.

Like almost everything else, the pandemic has radically changed job searching.  It’s definitely not the situation I pictured when I applied for PPIP, but it’s the situation I’m working with.  I’ll adapt, I’ll take advantage of what I can, and I’ll make sure that at the end of this I’m working in D.C.

Jeremy Bartlett
Office of Congressman Vicente Gonzalez
Washington, D.C. | fall 2020