It was the evening of January 16, 1991, and my wife and I were at Fords
Theatre in Washington, D.C., to see a performance by political humorist Mark
Russell. As we walked toward our seats, we gazed up at the bunting-draped
box where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
Wed just reached our seats when a buzz went through the theater: a U.S.-led
coalition had just launched massive air strikes against Iraq. Some audience
members scrambled for the exits, heading back to their offices in the government,
the media, and elsewhere. The rest of us stayed for Russells abbreviated
performance, although the pall cast by the beginning of the Persian Gulf War
muted our laughter. Then we, too, hurried into the night to flick on our televisions
for news from Iraq.
Thats what its like to live in Washington: You head out for a
lighthearted night on the town, and in an instant a national or international
event sparked by people sitting in offices only blocks away
Washington, as the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, is arguably
the most important city on the planet. Its a city where momentous decisions
are made about war and peace, the social welfare of the nation, and a host
of other issues that affect our daily lives. Its a city of history,
where political leaders some great, some venal, some of no particular
distinction have left their marks upon the nation. And its a
city where young people throng, yearning to make their own marks on history.
Washington also is a city that gets hold of you and wont let go. I first
moved to Washington for an internship at the end of my masters degree
program in journalism. The city intrigued me, but as a kid who grew up in
a small town in the Midwest I also felt overwhelmed. I made a half-hearted
effort to stay in the city when my internship ended, but gladly fled when
I got a job offer at a newspaper back in the Midwest.
I stayed in the Midwest for five years, doing investigative reporting first
for a newspaper and later for a television station. My work required frequent
calls to Washington, and I even made two trips to the city to do more extensive
research for stories. Washington still intrigued me, but I never expected
to live there again.
Then my wife was offered an excellent job in Washington. I was less than thrilled
by the idea of living in Washington again, but my wife and I figured we could
stand a couple of years before moving on as we had before.
That was more than a decade ago, and were still here. Like most, we
stay because of the opportunities that Washington offers, both professional
and personal. Its impossible to predict the future, but there seems
a decent chance that well spend the rest of our professional lives in
Washington. I never would have dreamed of such a thing when I moved back to
One of the things that most struck me when I returned to Washington was how
many of my old classmates from the internship program I ran into. Some had
stayed when the internship ended, and others like me had been
drawn back to Washington after living elsewhere. We remained or came back
because of the kinds of opportunities that draw thousands of young people
to Washington each year.
Many of Washingtons best and most exciting opportunities are in public
policy, an arena that offers thousands of jobs as congressional aides
on Capitol Hill, as organizers in public interest organizations, as lobbyists
for trade associations, as researchers in think tanks, as subject specialists
at federal agencies and departments, and as journalists covering everyone
else. But to many people, getting a public policy job in Washington is a process
shrouded in mystery.
The purpose of this book is to cut through the fog and explain the process
step by step. Its filled with insider tips to help you navigate the
quirks that make applying for a job in Washington different from applying
anywhere else. If youre looking for an internship rather than a full-time
job, theres a ton of information for you as well including a
lengthy chapter devoted to internships.
Besides providing nitty-gritty details about how to get a job in Washington,
the book also explains how to find a place to live, how to get around on Washingtons
subway system, how to learn about congressional procedure if you want to work
on Capitol Hill, and many other details that will make your stay in Washington
no matter how long or how short a lot easier.
Also scattered throughout the book are profiles of recent college graduates
who now work in a variety of Washington public policy jobs. They discuss how
they got their jobs, what the jobs are like, where they hope their jobs will
take them, and how you can follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps most important, the book provides detailed contact information for
hundreds of Washington government offices, interest groups, think tanks, trade
associations, labor unions, and news media outlets that offer public policy
jobs. This information which isnt available anywhere else in
such detail includes the names of key contacts, telephone numbers,
street addresses, Web site addresses, and brief descriptions of each organization.
Im indebted to many people who helped produce and publish this book.
Four deserve special recognition: Patricia Gallagher for asking me to write
the book and then helping make it possible for me to do so, Ann Davies for
managing the 1,001 production details involved in a project like this, Debbie
Hardin for her thoughtful editing, and Debra Naylor for the beautiful design.
Im also grateful for the contributions of Kristen Beach, Katherine Clad,
Mary Dennis, Grace Hill, Judy Plummer, and the crackerjack production staff
at CQ Press.
As always, my greatest thanks are reserved for my wife, Barbara, who brought
me to Washington more than a decade ago. I would follow her anywhere.