If you work on Capitol Hill you see, hear, and overhear many things that the rest of the mortal world isn’t privy to. These privileged professionals that serve our US government acquire a wealth of knowledge that sometimes is just too good not to share. We’ve provided a platform on which they can unload.
Confessions of a Capitol Hill Staffer
As a communications professional working in DC, people assume I know people. Sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t. I avoid networking events like the plague. I decline most social invitations unless I can bring my dog, and the last thing I do is go home after work and study the Congressional yearbook.
The way I live spits in the face of career coaches everywhere who preach that it’s not what you know, but who you know, but I’m okay with that because I have a great job that I earned on merit. Also, I’ve been in a number of circumstances where not knowing who someone was turned out to be a blessing.
For example, years ago, I was an intern at a political organization in my hometown. It was my first political gig and I didn’t know anyone. One night I was working the desk when a man walked in and asked me for a yard sign. I handed it to him and asked why he’d want that ugly sign when there were so many better ones available. (The sign was hideous- red and black with a weird, hard-to-read font. Just terrible.) The man turned around and asked what I thought of the candidate, to which I said something along the lines of “if I can’t trust him to design a decent campaign sign then how can I trust him with my vote?”
The man laughed and introduced himself. Coincidently, he was the candidate whose yard sign I had just insulted. Not willing to lose face, I opted to stand by my opinion rather than apologizing. Naturally, my boss was horrified, but I didn’t lose my internship. I suspect it was because the candidate thought I was funny.
After that, the candidate came into the office regularly to chat with me about policy, politics, and media strategy. He won his election (despite his ugly yard signs) and we’ve been friends ever since. If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand politely and that would’ve been the end of the relationship. Now, not only do I have a good friend, but a great connection. Eat your heart out, career coaches!
However, I must warn you that there are times when it is indeed good to know who you’re talking to.
For example, at a recent Capitol Hill fundraiser I spotted a man standing alone, looking at his phone. I walked over and began the typical DC networking exchange (minus the bad, sarcastic joke). It went something like this:
Me: I’m always fascinated by people who come to networking events and engage exclusively with their phones.
-He looks up, stunned and silent-
Me: Just kidding. Hi, my name is famously anonymous.
Him: (Shakes my hand) I’m Bill. (Name changed for privacy reasons)
Me: So what do you do?
Him: I work on Capitol Hill.
Me: Oh, me too. Who do you work for?
Him: I have a lot of bosses.
Me: So… you work on a committee?
Him: Sure, I guess you could say that.
Me: (Suppressing an eye roll…) what policy issues do you work on?
Him: (Glancing around the room) pretty much all of them.
Him: But I’m most interested in veterans’ issues.
At that point, a young woman appears at his side and said, “Congressman, the organizers would like a photo with you before you leave.”
He smiled at me, shook my hand, and disappeared into the crowd. I grabbed three cookies and promptly left, hoping no one else witnessed the train wreck that was my life. Instead of going to that event, I guess I should’ve gone home to study the Congressional yearbook.