Capitol Hill Offers Great Careers, Connections, Staffers Say

October 20, 2009

Working on Capitol Hill provides excellent opportunities and connections, as well as a rewarding career, a panel of congressional staff members said at the Law School last week.

On the Hill
From left: Jason Edgar, Margaret Cantrell '05, Jacob Olcott '05

During an event sponsored by the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center and the Public Interest Law Association, Jacob Olcott '05, Margaret Cantrell '05, and Jason Edgar spoke about their experiences on the Hill and offered advice to students on how to find jobs and summer opportunities in Congress.

"The great thing about working on the Hill is that there are a lot of opportunities for you to really prove yourself and excel, " said Olcott, the subcommittee director and counsel for the Emerging Threats, Cyber Security, Science and Technology subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee.

Olcott said it's challenging to get on the Hill without political experience and encouraged students to find internship positions there during the summer and to use their time there to build a group of contacts.

Olcott began his career as a fellow for a congressional committee, where he built contacts that helped lead to future jobs and was given more opportunities and responsibilities as he demonstrated his abilities.

Cantrell arrived on the Hill after spending almost two years working at a large law firm. She was hired by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) as counsel and policy advisor in the Office of the Majority Whip. Cantrell said one of the most exciting things about her job is the opportunity to work on important issues that are currently in the news.

"You realize that, at the end of the day, you're making a difference, and you're getting the best policy you can across the finish line, " she said.

Cantrell advised students to contact the senators from their home states and the representative from their home district to seek help with looking for jobs on the Hill. She also strongly advised students to consider working on political campaigns to get both relevant experience in the election process as well as to develop important contacts.

Jason Edgar graduated from Dartmouth in 2005 and found his first job on the Hill with another Dartmouth alum who was a representative from New Hampshire. Edgar, a Seattle native, currently works as the legislative director for Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA).

Edgar stressed that students should not be afraid to seek informational interviews with Hill staffers and to seek out those with whom they have a geographic or school ties. Short informational interviews may give students valuable insight into available positions on the Hill and who to contact about those jobs.

The panelists also advised students to think ahead when contacting congressional members for internships because party affiliations are important and can impact future job opportunities.

Yared Getachew, the dean for public service, summarized the central message: "If you have a passion for being on the Hill, then you will get there." 

The talk was one of a series of career-related speaking engagements sponsored by the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center and the Public Interest Law Association.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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