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After the election, a scramble for Hill jobs

When the votes from the 6th Congressional District were counted last week, John Delaney didn't just become Maryland's newest House member. He also became the state's newest employer.

And as Delaney and his fellow members of the congressional Class of 2012 now head to Capitol Hill for freshman orientation, they'll also be reviewing resumes, interviewing job candidates and hiring the staff members whose work can be the difference between their success or failure in Washington.

Every two years, Election Day marks the end of the campaign season and the start of a hiring frenzy, as dozens of new members choose from among thousands of candidates to fill highly coveted staff positions.

Applicants range from Hill hopefuls looking to land their first job to veteran aides suddenly out of work as their bosses leave town in retirement or defeat.

"The competition for jobs on Capitol Hill is always incredibly fierce," said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation. "This is the NFL of legislatures. Congressional members can choose from the best and the brightest of their state."

Fitch, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, served as press secretary to former Rep. Tom McMillen, a Maryland Democrat. While working as chief of staff to another member, Fitch said, he sifted through more than 1,000 applicants to fill 17 positions: "You've got lawyers who want to work the front desk."

Continuing a recent trend, this year's election yielded another large crop of freshmen, with 11 new senators and at least 70 new House members.

By law, House members may employ up to 18 full-time staff members. Senators are limited only by their office budgets, which vary according to the populations of the states they represent; those from large states may employ several dozen.

Together, the House and Senate newcomers could hire a couple thousand staffers.

(Because Republicans retained the House majority and Democrats held onto the Senate, the staffs of the committees they lead — which are distinct from the staffs who run their member offices — are expected to remain relatively stable.)

Rep. Steny Hoyer announced a new tool last week intended to help smooth the hiring process, at least on the Democratic side of the House: a first-ever online resume bank.

Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said the "unprecedented" website would improve hiring and strengthen staff diversity. The Southern Maryland congressman was joined in his announcement by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and other groups.

"It advances our commitment to openness, transparency and equal opportunity," Hoyer said.

Uploaded resumes will be added to a searchable, sortable database on DemCom, the internal network used by House Democratic staff, he said. DemCom users will be able to browse candidates for open positions, and also recommend, endorse or comment on their submissions.

Fitch, whose foundation provides management training and consulting to members of Congress and their staffs, described "a great resume shuffle going on on Capitol Hill."

It began earlier this year, as staffers whose bosses lost primaries or announced their retirement began making plans. Typically, members and their senior aides make it a point of honor to help younger staffers find new jobs — sometimes with the members who will succeed them.

With the elections over, now comes a second, larger wave of hiring. In the coming weeks, Fitch said, freshmen should be focusing on choosing senior staff: a chief of staff, a state or district director and — perhaps most important, he said — a scheduler. A press secretary and a legislative director should be in place by January.

Then come the caseworkers who will staff district offices, he said. New members should hold off on hiring legislative aides until they know their committee assignments, typically in February.

Justin Schall, Delaney's campaign manager, said the congressman-elect would be making staffing decisions in the coming week.

Fitch offered advice to those looking for work.

First, he said: "No one ever gets a job on Capitol Hill because they know somebody."

"Our first advice to new members is don't hire somebody you can't fire," he said. "Don't hire the mayor's kid! Don't hire your contributors' kids! Don't hire your best friend from high school who thinks he's going to be a senior counsel, and suddenly he gets to Washington and realizes he doesn't have an office, he doesn't have a secretary, and he's answering mail on Saturday nights!"

That said, he added: "Any way you know anyone who's connected to the campaign, who's connected to the member, who's connected to the delegation, you have to say 'take a look.' And that's the best that you can do. You just try to get your resume pulled out of that pile of a thousand so they'll at least look at you."

Ties to the district or state are helpful. So is experience in Washington.

Fitch tells members to hire carefully.

"This group of people will determine your success or failure more than any other group of people," he said. "Of course, members are the sun and the moon here. Everything revolves around them. But absolutely, having an experienced and dedicated and efficient staff goes a long way toward making a member successful."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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