Run for Congress (or become a Staffer) to Influence Policy in Washington, D.C.

Call it old-fashioned, but if you want to craft policy in Washington, D.C., consider positioning yourself to become a policymaker. Running for office isn’t for the faint of heart (or light of wallet), but someone has to do it. While you’ll develop expertise in specific fields of policy, likely correlated to the committees you sit on in Congress, as a legislator you can really dabble in whatever you want.

As a freshman, you’ll hardly be running the show; seniority rules ensure that you face a (decades) long slog to the top. But you can still interrogate administration officials and bureaucrats, vote your conscience (or party line), and enjoy the minor trappings of power. You’re certain to get a front-row seat to how policymaking works; in fact, you’re likely to be hounded by lobbyists of all stripes.

But maybe you don’t have the money, charisma, or drive to run for office. That’s okay, because an alternative to being an elected legislator is to finagle your way onto a legislator’s staff. Congressional employees range from lowly interns to formidable chiefs of staff, and while members of the House and Senate fundraise, pontificate on television, and shake hands with constituents, staffers ensure that Congress actually does its homework.

Congressional staffers brainstorm policy ideas, write legislation, negotiate behind closed doors, interact with stakeholders, and advise senators and congressmen on how to vote. Legislators rely heavily on their staffs, and after assuming such responsibility (often granted at a young age), many staffers use their Capitol Hill experience to launch successful Washington careers.

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