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Dear Carrie,

I’d be interested to get your insight on my situation. I’ve been working on the House side for almost 4 years. I have been fortunate enough to be one of the ones who actually moves up, so my experience has been pretty good. Even so, I think it is time to move on to bigger and better. I would like start looking for a position in the Senate. Two questions: Is there any reason I should only be looking in my delegation? Also, what kind of salary increase can I expect? (I have heard conflicting reports about House vs. Senate salaries).

Thanks for your time. I look forward to your response.

- Hopeful House Staffer

Dear Hopeful,

The time has come for me to share with you a little-known ancient philosophy, The Mousepad Rule. Let me explain. You see, there is a direct correlation between the number of home furnishings and accessories produced with one’s state flag, and their respective Senators’ commitment to staffing the office with homegrown employees. Confused? Type the words “Texas Mousepad” into your favorite search engine. You will find ten to fifteen different merchants from whom you may purchase a mousepad (or even a bikini, for that matter) bearing the flag of the Lone Star State. Amazingly enough, a similar query for a “South Dakota Mousepad” produces no results. Translation: Your chances of being hired as an “outsider” are much higher in a South Dakota office than a Texas office.

Regarding your salary, a quick glance at the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF)’s 2000 House and Senate Staff Employment Study reveals the following comparison between the paychecks of the two chambers…

Chief of Staff: House $97,615 40 v. Senate $116,573
Legislative Director: House $61,075 v. Senate $91,438
Communications Director: House $45,301 v. Senate $65,362
Office Manager: House $44,009 v. Senate $57,330
Scheduler: House $41,068 v. Senate $44,273
Legislative Assistant (priority): House $40,723 29 v. Senate n/a
Legislative Assistant (general): House $33,196 28 v. $48,276
Systems Administrator: House $30,205 v. Senate $39,612
Legislative Correspondent: House $26,745 v. Senate $25,226
Staff Assistant: House $23,849 v. Senate $22,504

As you can see, with the exception of the Legislative Correspondent and the Staff Assistant (whose ability to sustain life is apparently even more dependent upon reception fare), Senate salaries are notably higher than those coming out of the House. But before you sign the papers on that 3-story brownstone, remember this very important element of 7th grade math: A statistical “mean” (or average) includes both ends of an incredibly wide spectrum. There are Senators who would argue that your starting salary in the House was “more than any kid your age needs to make ends meet.” Meanwhile, I have heard of Senators who (God bless ‘em) believe that making employees’ salaries competitive with those of the private sector is key to staff loyalty and retention. Because I value my own reputation, I won’t list names, but a little field research of your own will help you to identify the Members whose commitment to “fiscal conservatism” stops short of the payroll.

And even more important than the salary and state of your prospective office are your personal career goals once you get there. Are you planning to live in Washington forever? Do you intend on running for Congress? If so, there may be good reason to invest another few years on the opposite side of the dome. Furthermore, if you have become an expert in a specific issue area and you plan to spend your career lobbying for the cause, advising a Senator on said issue would likely be valuable experience. But if your job description includes a potpourri of issues and/or administrative work, I would challenge you to question your motives. Only a select handful of people in Washington (and nobody in the “real world”) will think you more prestigious for having worked in the Senate vs. the House. To most private sector HR professionals, Capitol Hill experience is just that.

Working on the Hill can become quite comfortable, while handing over your security blanket never is. But remember, despite the fact that your grandmother thinks you have the most important job in America, it is possible to max out.

Just a thought…

Send your questions to carrie@dearcarrie.com.
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