It can be appealing to hire a committee staffer or legislative assistant who covers a particular issue that your corporation or group is interested in, especially if the role involves lobbying. But don’t let the prospect of a flashy new hire press announcement cloud your policymaking hiring decisions. There are also advantages to looking beyond Capitol Hill to fill your open positions.
Skilled association, corporate, and consultant candidates may not have the fresh access congressional aides bring to the table. Still, they’re often more well-rounded when it comes to the totality of government relations encompassing external affairs, communications, marketing, member relations, and the increasingly important topic of trade politics.
Top federal affairs posts are highly sought after because of both the pay and prestige. Many Hill staff plan to do a few tours with the expectation that they’ll multiply their salary when they end up on K Street. Others are content with serving in Congress and being a part of the public policy process from the inside. Both serve valuable functions and can be rewarding career paths. When it comes to the revolving door of going in and out of congressional staff jobs, hiring managers should be careful.
Consider the following questions when hiring someone off the Hill:
1. Does the candidate have a firm grasp of the legislative process? If the congressional staffer is junior, does he or she possess a demonstrated history of leadership on priority issues?
2. Does the Hill staff candidate have considerable contacts across party lines? If they served in the office of a partisan member of Congress, are they apprehensive about working with the other party?
3. Are the connections of all candidates realistic and substantiated? Anyone can list names and offices that they see at reception, but do they enjoy a history of policymaking experience with these folks?
4. What recent achievement have they led? Again, this is a firm metric that can be explored in both an interview and a basic search history of legislation.
5. Will the Hill staffer be able to handle the member and external relations portion of the job? Often, the answer is yes because of their interface with constituents and advocates on a regular basis. But some policymaking staff might not be comfortable right out of the gate with interactions with other lobbyists, coalition leaders, association officials or member companies.
Hiring off the Hill for government relations jobs has resulted in many skilled staff making the jump to K Street—or in true revolving door fashion, vice versa. This practice will continue, but it’s worth verifying the full capabilities of candidates beyond just contacts and reputation.
Joshua Habursky is the Assistant Vice President of Advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, Chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.