Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Finding the right Congressional office for the rest of my fellowship year at times seemed more like speed dating than anything else. My shortest interview was 20 minutes (that one didn’t work out), and a standard interview was about 30 minutes, but that was usually sufficient to get a pretty good read on whether or not there was enough interest on both sides for a second “date.”
Anyone who has done the dating scene knows that being introduced through friends is a particularly helpful way of making connections. Like the rest of my fellow Fellows, I began my search by using the list of Congressional offices who had expressed an interest in hosting Fellows for the year, but there were also times when I needed to make contacts outside of that list. It turns out that in DC in general, and on Capitol Hill in particular, there exists an extensive network of past Fellows, sometimes referred to as the Fellows mafia. Many past Fellows make particularly adept mentors, and the dozen Congressional Fellows from last year that I met as part of Orientation turned out to be a resource more precious than platinum throughout placement. (Platinum is more valuable than gold, remember? It’s also important to give all those elements a workout.) Past fellows used their own networks to help me make contacts in new offices, offered advice on how often to email an office without being a pest, shared the skinny on the dynamics in particular offices, and buoyed my spirits when I was discouraged. One Fellow stopped as we passed each other between the Metro and the Senate office buildings, learned that he could help by making a particular connection, and he followed up before I even had a chance to remind him. One of the best emails I received was from a Fellow who had already talked with me several times who asked, “How else can I help?”
One lesson that I learned through placement is that Representatives and Senators pay a lot of attention to their constituents. For example, even though my own Newington, CT Congressman wasn’t looking for a Fellow and Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) was looking for a Fellow with a different portfolio of expertise, both offices were happy to meet with me for a chat. A number of my fellow Fellows had either quick offers or an inside track with offices from their home states. Some offices won’t even consider hiring staff from outside their districts or states to ensure that when a constituent calls up, he or she hears a familiar accent from someone who can pronounce the local towns.
Toward the end of the third week of the placement process, I confess that I was starting to feel like an ugly stepsister who didn’t get invited to dance. I was meeting some wonderful people and making excellent connections, but since every interview required preparation and planning as well as a lot of energy, it was pretty exhausting. I started to doubt the assurances I received that I would indeed find the right office for me, but at some point, the flood gates opened, and I collected five different offers; two in sequential emails! Suddenly, I was no longer an ugly stepsister, but I had become Cinderella! I just had to choose whether I wanted the glass slipper, the slingback with the kitten heel, the hiking boot, the flip flop, or the tennis shoe. It came down to two different offers, one on the House side and one on the Senate side. I think I could have been happy in either place and done good work in either place, but ultimately, I chose the hiking boot- Sen. Michael Bennet from Colorado. I’ll get to work on energy, environment and natural resources management in this office, and it seems like a very good group.
Final statistics of my Placement Process
51 business cards collected
26 interviews with 21 different offices
6 Office buildings visited (all three Senate and all three House)
3 weeks and 2 days of interviewing
1 time getting lost in Rayburn House Office building
Finding the right office… priceless