Every year, legions of idealistic college graduates descend on Washington, DC with one goal in mind: getting a job in politics. This springtime influx of young people is as predictable as the opening of Washington cherry blossoms. However, while Washington, DC's economy remains strong in comparison to the rest of the country, getting a great political job often comes down to a little luck, some knowledge on where to look, and a lot of networking.
Probably the most coveted jobs in Washington, DC are Capitol Hill staff positions. Working on Capitol Hill can mean being on a the staff of a Congressperson, or working for a Congressional committee. Congressional jobs bring high levels of prestige, access to Washington's true power players, and great exit options. However, breaking into the Hill is extremely difficult. While Congress does have Human Resources offices in the bowels of Congressional office buildings, they are best avoided since almost all jobs on the Hill are found through word of mouth from people already working there.
Aside from the Hill, however, Washington is full of nonprofits, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations that hire thousands of people every year. One upside to the current polarized political climate in the U.S. is that there are strong job opportunities for organizations allied both with liberal and conservative political philosophies. Additionally, political activity is so concentrated in Washington, DC that whether your burning issue is environmental regulation, civil rights, or free trade, you will surely find an organization whose cause will excite you.
The key to finding any good political job in Washington, DC is networking. You are likely to get more quality leads from going to a few happy hours in Dupont Circle than through any other method. Although networking may seem forced at first, it is a true Washington tradition, probably because it helps hard-charging Washingtonians feel like they're still at work even while socializing. Once you realize that networking is a Washington way of life, and adopt it as a regular habit, you will be well on your way to finding that dream political job.