Capitol Hill Style: The Hill Life

Entries Tagged as 'The Hill Life'

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Belle

CHS Careerist: Updated Thank You Notes

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Hi Belle,

I am in the process of applying for out-of-town jobs and have a few Skype interviews set up. Ordinarily, I would send a paper/snail-mail thank you note (or notes) to my interviewers, but I’m worried that will take too long because it would need to travel across the country. Do you think an email thank you note be okay? That seems informal, but definitely better than nothing.

Thanks! L

Since the start of the blog, I have been an unwavering advocate for paper thank you notes.  However, as hiring moves more into the digital realm, this position is becoming more difficult to maintain.

Paper When Possible.  I still believe that a traditional thank you note goes above and beyond.  It lends a personal touch to a sometimes impersonal process, and a handwritten note should be sent whenever possible.  I recommend elegant, simple stationery (try Crane’s or Etsy) or a simple ‘thank you’ card.

However…If you are unable to follow-up with a thank you card in a timely manner, a well-worded e-mail is also effective.  Thank the interviewer(s) for taking the time, and make it clear that you appreciated having a chance to discuss the position and how your qualifications make you an excellent fit.  Also, remind them of your contact information and tell them that you can make yourself available, should they have further questions.

This e-mail should be sent no more than 24-hours after your interview.  This is not the time to play coy.

The Two-Pronged Approach.  Since you never know how long an employer will take to make a decision, I advocate sending an e-mail within hours of meeting and dropping a card in the mail (or dropping it off) that same day.  This way, your gratitude is expressed in a timely manner, with a personal touch to arrive later.

Don’ts.  Every prospective employer is different, but I don’t know anyone who wants a phone call ‘thank you’.  It feels a little invasive to me, especially since I just talked to you less than a day ago.  E-mail is better.

Also, I’ve never experienced this, but I’ve heard horror stories about text message thank you notes.  While texting maybe de rigueur for younger applicants, most hiring managers are older and disinterested in communicating via text.  I would also advise against Facebook or Twitter thank yous.  (Again, horror stories.)

Thank you notes are important because they close the loop.  Maybe they make a difference, maybe they don’t.  But you want to know that you did everything that you could to get the job when the process is complete.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 by Belle

Using Hill Staff As Political Pawns

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I’m going off topic for a few hundred words to support my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. If you want the fashion advice sans soap box, come back at 10:00AM for regularly scheduled programming.

It’s unavoidable that the disgust and anger that voters feel toward Members of Congress trickles down to their staff.  But when Americans decide to “stick it to the man” by supporting policies designed to hurt Members of Congress–office budget and health care cuts–the people they really maim aren’t the elected officials.  It’s the staff.

Stripping staff of their health benefits has become a linchpin in negotiations to end the Shutdown, and the idea of eliminating employer-sponsored insurance coverage for Congressmen and their employees is finding fans on all wavelengths of the political spectrum.  Supporters of this proposal see congressional staff as leeches, sucking taxpayers dry.  But they are real people with families who will be devastated by a policy meant to punish the 535 most hated people in America, many of whom are so wealthy that they won’t feel the sting.

Who are they? Hill staff are highly educated people (29-percent have advanced degrees) who work long hours doing challenging, often frustrating work. (You think you hate Congress, try working there.)  Many staff are experts in areas like economics, veterans’ benefits, agriculture, etc.  They oversee multi-billion dollar budgets and draft laws that affect millions of people.

What are they paid? The average legislative assistant, Congress’s mid-level workhorses, earns $45,982 per year.  While the average salary for a private-sector, political professional in D.C. is $115,286.

Adjusted for inflation, staff salaries are nearly identical to 1990 rates. Congressional budgets have been cut by double digits since 2010 so raises are out of the question, and most staffers are feeling the same financial pangs that voters are feeling.

And in case you were wondering, Members of the House of Representatives make $174,000.  Adjusted for inflation, that’s a 9.1% increase over their 1990 salary of $96,600.

As for benefits…Currently, congressional employees buy their health insurance from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.  Staffers pay the employee contribution, and the government covers the employer portion.  On average, the government pays 72% of the premium for a federal employee.  Private sector employers who offer similar coverage pay an average of 73% per employee.

Congressional employees don’t get special, “gold-plated” insurance.  They have the same coverage that other federal employees can purchase from insurers like Blue Cross.  But on January 1, a change written into the healthcare law will force staffers to give up their current employee coverage and buy insurance through the exchanges.  The government wants to continue paying its employer contribution on these policies, but ultra-conservatives have labeled that a “subsidy.”

As NPR explains, however, the result would be the same type of coverage many Americans will receive with only the typical employer portion covered, not a “sweetheart deal.”  And it would not be the same coverage other federal employees receive, as only congressional staff were forced into the exchanges.

How does this effect average Americans?  Several staffers who spoke with The New Yorker believe that if they have to cover the entire cost of their insurance, they will be force to leave the Hill.  Most voters care little about this collateral damage, but they should.

As salaries and benefits are reduced, beleaguered staffers are leaving the government in droves. Studies and newspaper articles have pointed out that Congress’s “brain drain” is forcing knowledgeable, experienced staff out, creating turnover that decimates institutional knowledge, leading to ill-informed policies and more partisan rancor. And eliminating health coverage will only accelerate the breakdown.

I wrote this post because it kills me to see public servants used as pawns.  Working in a congressional office isn’t a job, it’s a calling.  No one does it to get rich.  Staffers accept the long hours, the non-competitive pay and the angry voices on the other end of the phone because they are trying to help their fellow Americans, sometimes for very personal reasons.

If you want your public policy written by subject matter experts who toil over bill language and budgets trying to do what they believe is right, then you musn’t let a handful of partisan politicians steal the benefits that staffers earn through their labor.  Congress can’t recruit and retain the best people for important jobs when national magazines run headlines like, “Why Would Anybody in Her Right Mind Go to Work for a Congressman?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 by Belle

CHS Careerist: What to Wear to Informational Interviews

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Dear Belle,

I started reading your blog about a year ago and absolutely love it!  My question is about what to wear to informational interviews and informal meetings.  I recently quit my job at a New York law firm and relocated to Boston with my husband.  Many  of my friends and colleagues at my old firm were kind enough to send me some of their Beantown contacts.  I am in the process of setting up a series of informal coffees with midlevel attorneys like myself and as well as some more senior partners.  What do you suggest I wear to these meetings?  I’m leaning towards wearing a full suit for meetings that take place at a firm or with a senior attorney and business casual for more informal coffee meetings.  Any advice would be much appreciated.

Best, CC

When you move to a new city or want to transfer into a new industry, informational interviews are critical.  They expand your network, educate you about the quirks of your new arena/area and put you in a position to meet people who may become your future employers/coworkers.  But just because these aren’t formal job interviews doesn’t mean you can become a slouch in the wardrobe department.

Informational interviews usually take place in the person’s office or at a nearby restaurant or coffee shop.  I think you’re right on track with how you should dress, as a suit or suit separates should be worn to interviews with senior people at the firm, and more relaxed professional dresses or separates should be worn when meeting mid-level staff off site.  Here are a couple of sample outfits.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 1.15.01 PM

Left side, Earrings: Juliet & Co Grey Pearls ($20) Ring: Pandora Liquid Ring ($55) Top: Mango Pleated Blouse ($50) Shoes: Ann Taylor Perfect Pump ($128 +30%-Off) Jacket: Scotch & Soda Lurex Blazer ($235) Skirt: Telegraph Pencil Skirt ($138 + 25%-Off) Coat: Burberry Mid-Length Trench ($1,295) Bag: Tory Burch Dome Satchel ($550)

Right side, Tights: Topshop 120 Denier Tights ($16)  Shoes: Land’s End Allaire Boots ($110) Dress: DvF Raquel Dress ($175) Necklace: Belargo Station Necklace ($100) Ring: bombom Celestial Ring ($198) Bag: ASOS Croc Constructed Bag ($68)

In Office Interviews. Instead of a full suit, I went with structured separates.  The jacket is from Scotch & Soda, makers of the most stylish tweed and boucle jackets on the market.  (I also like this collared number with zip sleeves.)  I paired the jacket with a simple blouse and a longer pencil skirt.

For the shoes, I chose the unfathomably comfortable perfect pumps from Ann Taylor that are now re-stocked and 30%-off, no code needed.  I bought a pair of these this summer and they are tied for the most comfortable high heel I’ve ever worn.

I also added a trench because it completes the look, and looks great slung over your arm.  If Burberry is out of your price range (mine too), J.Crew has their Icon Trench for 25%-off right now and the Gap has a nice, serviceable trench for $128 plus 35%-off, code GAPFALL.

I kept the jewelry simple and the look in a neutral color palette, since you don’t know where a meeting with a senior partner could lead.  I would also suggest wearing nylons just in case.  (I like Donna Karan Nudes for a sheer nylon that won’t make you look like a Hooters waitress.)  And you should probably wear your hair down, a bun might look too severe with such a structured outfit.

Informal Interviews.  Meet-and-greets with potential colleagues usually happen over coffee of lunch off-site, so a suit isn’t really necessary.  But you never know who you might run into or be introduced to, so it’s important to choose an outfit that is more relaxed but still professional.  For this, I chose a simple dress in a classic shape and a pair of high-heeled tall boots.

I liked this DvF dress quite a lot when I tried it on in cobalt.  Some readers aren’t crazy about the front seam on the dress, but I didn’t find it to be too noticeable.  And I went with the boot for a more dressed down look, but if boots don’t feel right to you, switch them out for a round-toe pump like the Ann Taylor shoe.

For the jewelry, I chose a gold and dark metal mix.  I love the necklace, it’s very Olivia Pope but with a hint of edge.  If you’d like something similar for less, try this Anne Klein ‘Fireball’ necklace with gold details.  And how great is this structured bag?  The shape is so unique, and you just can’t beat that price.

Transitioning your career to a new industry or a new place takes effort.  You need to make the time to meet with people who can help you grow your network and expand your opportunities.  Sitting at home in front of the computer sending resumes isn’t going to get it done.  So jump on LinkedIn and see if your current colleagues know people who they can introduce you to, and then go out and make those connections.  And the right outfit can help you make a great first impression.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 by Belle

CHS Careerist: Demotion or Dismissal

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Dear Belle, 

This is a complex question, but I hope you can help me.  My supervisor pulled me aside yesterday and informed me that our department will be reorganized over the next few months.  She gave me a choice: be demoted to a job that pays $7,500 less (1/7 of my salary) or be dismissed with eight weeks worth of compensation.  

Working for this company has been good, but it’s not my dream job.  I’m thinking about taking the dismissal and trying to make a change, but all my friends keep telling me that that’s a dumb idea.  But I’m only 26 and I think that maybe this reorganization is a gift disguised as a setback.  What do you think?  

Casey

Given the state of the economy and the impact that budget cuts are having on public and private entities, this is a situation that I think a number of people can relate to.  However, it is also a very individualized question.  I don’t feel comfortable giving you an answer, but let me give you a few questions that you can ask yourself that might help you make the decision.

How is my financial situation?  Sit down and assess whether you can live comfortably on the lower salary.  And while you’re at it, determine how strong your financial safety net is.  If you choose to leave the job, you’ll need at least three months of expenses saved in addition to what the company is giving you because it might take you longer than you think to find work.

How is the market in my chosen field?  Whether you’re looking to stay in your current area or move into something new, you need to know how the market is.  Check out job websites, classified ads, LinkedIn and your professional network to see how things look.  If the market in your chosen profession doesn’t look good, it’s probably best to stay where you are.

Which choice fits into my long-term plan better?  Don’t just think about the next step, think beyond the next step.  Where do you want to be in five, 10 or 20 years?  Would staying at your current job or finding a new job put you on the right track?  If you need to make a change to get to where you want to be, then (provided your financial situation can handle the strain) this might be a good opportunity to take the leap.

Could I keep working here at the lower pay level while I start looking for work elsewhere?  If you take this demotion, do you have to sign a contract keeping you with your company for a certain period of time?  Or could you take the demotion and start looking for work elsewhere?  Because if you know this isn’t the job you want to be doing, then you should be actively working on the next step whether you take the severance or not.

What will I do if I don’t find work quickly?  If three months in you haven’t found work, what will you do?  Can you pick up temp work?  A part-time job?  Earn money telling fortunes at the county fair?  It’s always a good idea to have a back up plan when making a risky career move.

Leaving a job, even one that is going to pay you less, is a risk.  Don’t take this decision lightly.  You need to make sure your financial house is in order, that you have a clear view of where you want to go from here and have a fall back plan in case things don’t work out.

Personally, I’d take the dismissal and pick up some temp work while I looked for something more permanent that gets me on the path to my dream job.  But you’re the only person who can make this decision.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 by Belle

CHS Careerist: Focus on the Person in Front of You

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Recently, I came across an interview with career counselor and author Stephen Pollan.  In the Forbes article, Pollan offers several pieces of helpful career advice.  But the one that resonated with me the most was the importance of recognizing that you work for your supervisor, not your company.

“The person you report to is your spokesperson and your connection to your employer. You’ve got to become your own propagandist — and you do that through your supervisor.

If your supervisor wants somebody to take on responsibility at work, you’ve got to look like you’re protecting his back and front. That’s your most important job. Then you’ll get recognition.”

I had never considered this before, but Pollan is absolutely right.

Most junior employees don’t interact with senior employees often.  Even in a small office, your reach might only extend to your supervisor’s supervisor.  The people at the top of the office hierarchy, usually the people you want to impress and interact with the most, are the people who you will see the least.  You don’t often see the Member or the CEO having lengthy chats with the interns or junior staff, do you?

For the people at the top of the food chain to hear about you, the stories (good or bad) have to climb the ladder. Especially working for a larger company, the impact of your work is muted by the size of the organization.  Making your supervisor look good and ensuring that they see you in a positive light is essential to ensuring that the people higher up in the company see you as an asset.

So if you want the people at the top to notice you, you need to focus on keeping your immediate supervisor happy because she is the first rung of the ladder that leads you to the top.  And her opinion will determine whether the news making its way to the corner office is positive or negative.

Copyright © 2006, Capitol Hill Style. All rights reserved. The opinions expressed on Capitol Hill Style by Belle, a guest blogger
or those providing comments are theirs alone. They do not reflect the opinions of Belle's current employer, Belle's
previous employers or any groups or organizations with which she is affiliated.

Updated for 2014