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K Street's talent scout

By Rachel Leven
The Hill Staff Writer
January 31, 20012

The next time a lobbying firm snags a coveted hire, the missing link might be Chris Jones, the managing partner of CapitolWorks. Operating behind the scenes, headhunters like Jones help K Street firms identify and reel in talent from the administration, Capitol Hill and the private sector.

Jones said firms often need a third party to make the opening pitch to a recruit — especially when the target is someone who works for a competitor."I think one of the reasons that clients come to us is that they need a neutral party to find people at other lobbying firms. They don't feel comfortable picking up the phone, calling a colleague and saying, 'Do you want to come work for me?' Because then if it doesn't work, or if the colleague doesn't get selected, then it sours the relationship," said Jones, who does not publicize his client list.

The recruitment process at Capitol Works starts by learning what a firm's needs are. Jones then offers advice based on the political landscape and the reality check of what he calls "beer budget, champagne tastes."Once a search is ordered, Jones begins to scour databases, résumés and other resources for candidates. Looking at people who already have jobs is a must, Jones said, because "often, the best candidates are not looking."When he receives résumés, Jones looks for experience and "a knowledge of what makes things tick" in the Capitol or in a statehouse.

Face-to-face, recruits need to display a "natural sense of talking and interpersonal communication." Strong relationships in Washington are a must, and policy expertise is a strong selling point."I know lots of lobbyists who don't have the relationships, but can talk about [their issue] until the cows come home. So ... if they have the relationships and the policy knowledge and they present well, that's like a triple threat," Jones said.Asked to name the ideal lobbyist, Jones chose Linda Daschle, the president of LHD & Associates, for her "professionalism and character."She "just was smart about her issues," Jones said of Daschle, who is married to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Forecasting the future is also a big part of Jones's job. A lobbyist who is a catch in one Congress can be a dud in another due to an election or turns in the legislative agenda.

In order to serve his clients well, Jones has to anticipate which way the political winds will blow."What happens in the Senate and, to a certain extent, the House" in the fall election will affect what advice he gives clients in 2013, Jones said.Though many of the most successful lobbyists "have the ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans and check their views at the door," party affiliation still matters."If you tie yourself to a party too much, it's like a stock. Is your stock rising right now? Is it falling now? If your stock is high, do you want to continue to rideout your time in government?

Do you want to basically jump and have a lifestyle change?"Jones, who also heads another junior to mid-level political staffing firm called PoliTemps, had his first brush with politics helping his father run for judge in Texas. After serving four years in the military and graduating from Texas Tech University in 1991, he eventually went to work on Capitol Hill for then-Majority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.).In 1994, Jones returned to Texas to work for the reelection campaign of then-Gov. Ann Richards (D)."It was taking a step back in terms of the fast track of my career, but also moving to a place that was closer to my heart and to a candidate that means a lot to me," Jones said about his time on the campaign.

When Richards was defeated by future President George W. Bush, Jones was left "out of a job." He looked "into the abyss" and came up with PoliTemps, "a legislative, government and political staffing service."Jones enjoyed giving "people an opportunity to find a way to stay in Washington and be successful." After founding the firm in 1996, he began receiving requests to fill senior-level positions — directors of communications, for instance — which prompted the creation of CapitolWorks in 2006.Jones still works for both firms today.Ryan Polich, the principal at CapitolWorks, said Jones is unique in the headhunting game because of his "genuine interest" in the business he recruits for. He's been successful, Polich said, because he "has a foot in every door and a hand in every cookie jar.""He really gets the city and really gets the people who are in and around public affairs," Polich said. "He's also truly interested in how this works. He's very passionate about politics and how people live and work their way around the city."Jones says he takes pride in every connection and hire he has made.

Those first applicants with PoliTemps are today's movers-and-shakers of Washington, he said."My philosophy has been, we're not going to be able to help everyone. There's going to be some people in here that have their sights set on a certain type of job, are not cut out for this type of job or just get a job the very next week," Jones said."But I think you want to give everyone a sense of dignity and respect and professionalism when they're interviewing ... That's the least we can do."

 

Help Wanted on the Hill

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 1, 2007; Page D01

Caitlin Williams spent December working the phones, asking Washington friends if she could sleep on their couches while she looks for a job on Capitol Hill. So far she's lined up three couches, a couple of interviews and one temporary job.

Like thousands of other job seekers, Williams sees this winter as her big chance. The shift in power that will take place Thursday when the 110th Congress is sworn in is bringing an unusual number of freshmen to the Hill, and all of them will have to establish offices.

So they'll be hiring. In the House, with 55 new members, the typical member's office has about 15 full- and part-time people on staff. In the Senate, with 10 new members, a typical office has 30 to 35 staffers. That's about 1,100 potential jobs. Many new members will bring a few employees with them from their campaigns or home offices, but most will have to hire at least some staff when they arrive.

There are hundreds more positions opening on the staffs of more than 200 soon-to-be-revamped committees and subcommittees. Almost all the committee jobs, and the upper positions on the members' office staffs, will go to people with significant experience in politics or government. But there are still a lot of openings out there for staff assistants, researchers, clerks, receptionists and other entry-level grunt jobs, usually involving long hours and low pay.

And Williams -- at 22, already a veteran of two Hill internships and a campaign -- is ready to couch-surf until she gets one of those jobs.

She's done it before. For the campaign job, she hopped on a plane to California on a week's notice and lived in "supporter housing" from August until November, and she's ready to live like that again, if it means a congressional staff position. "I love working, and I don't mind coming in early or leaving in the wee hours in the morning, either," she said.

She's not unusual. "People are rolling off campaigns, coming to Washington with a passion," said Chris Jones, founder of PoliTemps, a District placement company for politics-related jobs. "Or they are graduating and waiting to work on the Hill."

Jones founded PoliTemps in 1996 after having served in the Navy and holding jobs on the Hill and on Ann Richards's reelection campaign for Texas governor. Today, PoliTemps helps connect people to mid-level positions at political consulting firms, lobbying firms, associations and public relations organizations, and some with congressional staffs. The company recently spun off a business called CapitolWorks, which performs a similar function for higher-level positions.

"This is a very busy time, and there are also a great deal of openings, many more than there typically are," said Rick Shapiro, the outgoing executive director of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides research and other assistance to congressional offices.

"When you have someone who is a new Democratic committee member, they will send a chief of staff or legislative director to their new committee," he said. "Then they're going to promote someone from their personal office to be the legislative director. That creates another opening for a legislative aide, who gets promoted from legislative correspondent. So one hiring could lead to four or five positions being open."

What awaits the job seekers? Legwork. Paperwork. Dead ends. Rumors -- like the one about 1,000 applications for one unpaid internship on the staff of the latest political idol, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). And probably a few applications to restaurants and bars, so they can pay a little something for that couch-surfing.

Robert Primus, chief of staff for Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.), said he has received at least 100 unsolicited résumés for job openings that don't exist. He understands the plight of Hill job seekers as well as anyone: In 1991, as a marketing and graphic design student at Hampton University, he started his Hill career by walking into the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and asking for work. He got hired as an unpaid summer intern.

In about four months, he worked his way up -- to an $18,300-a-year job in the mailroom. He remembers the feeling of being both excited and broke. "All my friends are out there making $35,000. . . . That's when you start thinking ramen noodles and having dinner at receptions," said Primus, 37.

"You have to make a decision early in terms of if you're going to stick it out. You're sacrificing in terms of not making a whole lot of money. I opened mail for a year and a half before I got a break," Primus said. "A lot of people wouldn't even give it two months. You really have to look inside and say, 'Do I really want to do this?' "

Primus was certain he wanted a career in public service. So, he said, he asked himself what he'd have to do to get a job as a legislative assistant. One thing was dress like a professional. Another was study the workings of government. He spent evenings reading Congressional Research Service reports, looking up anything he didn't understand. "That's what got me to a higher level," he said.

When, at a reception in the Cannon Caucus Room, the lowly mail clerk had a chance to introduce himself to Rep. Carrie P. Meek (D-Fla.), "I knew enough to make intelligent conversation," Primus said. "I had prepared myself for such a situation. It's all about networking and putting yourself in the best possible position."

Meek told him to call her. A week later, she offered him a job as a legislative assistant.

* * *

Looking for work on the Hill at this point is a full-time job itself. Caitlin Williams has contacted people she worked with on the campaign and on the Hill about openings. She gets job listings from the Young Democrats; keeps up with online sites that list Hill jobs; and has signed on with PoliTemps, which so far has gotten her a one-day temp job at the Financial Times.

She checks the online listings at the Senate placement office (http://www.senate.gov/employment) and picks up the House listings (hard copy only, available at 227 Longworth). She has also contacted alumni from her alma mater, American University, but "there are thousands of people contacting them," she said. "It's tough. It certainly comes down to being connected."

For those job seekers hoping to get one of the positions with a new senator or House member, there are a couple of places to drop off résumés. The Senate placement office (room SH-116); the House résumé dropoff location for new members (240 Longworth); and the House résumé referral service, which is open year-round (227 Longworth) have been accepting résumés on behalf of the new members and other members who are looking to fill positions.

The Senate placement office has an application form on its Web site and conducts an initial informational interview with job candidates. After that, it is up to senators' offices to screen and hire. The placement office accepts and solicits candidates for the lowest through the most senior positions, said administrator Brian Bean. "We have a very large applicant search post-election," he said.

Some offices, particularly new ones, will wait a few months to fully staff up. So this might be the time to just ask for an unpaid internship, said Jim Manley, spokesman for the incoming Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

In a few months, a few more paid jobs may open up, and someone with current experience will have an advantage.

Manley recommends stopping by a number of offices to try to talk to the office manager. "The only way you're going to get a job is getting in to meet with people," he said. "You need to go out of your way to differentiate yourself."

In addition, he said, freshman offices typically have high turnover, as staff and managers figure out what's working and what isn't. So jobs that are filled now may be available in a few months.

The question is whether these lower-level staffer members and staff member wannabes will be able to hold out that long. "These are not, in all cases, glamorous jobs," said Shapiro of the Congressional Management Foundation. But once a job seeker knows the Hill is where it's at, assertiveness is a must.

"It's a workplace that rewards people who are assertive and people who are comfortable walking the line between being in your face and being assertive," he said. "People who tend to say, 'Well, I called them last week and don't really want to bother them' are going to have a lot harder time finding a job than the person who says, 'I will drop by the office and there's a chance they'll feel guilty about not returning my call and see me for five minutes.' "

Sean Hardgrove, 23, is trying to walk that line. Although Hardgrove interned on the Hill in the summer of 2004 and later with Cassidy and Associates, a major lobbying firm, he wasn't able to turn that experience into a job on the Hill. For one thing, he's a Democrat. "The Democrats weren't exactly a growth industry in 2005," he said. But the College of William & Mary graduate has kept applying for Hill jobs, particularly now that the Democrats will be the majority. He would be happy with "any entry-level position," he said, including on a committee or subcommittee, in the House or Senate. "As long as it's Democrat," he added.

Hardgrove has also spent time working temporary political jobs through PoliTemps, including 2 1/2 -month stint during the recent campaign and again now, at an organization in Shirlington that analyzes political ads.

At least he doesn't have to sleep on friends' couches. His parents live in Woodbridge, and that is his base for now. (In return, he helps out at home and is trying to train their new puppy.)

After the Democratic victories in November, Hardgrove expected to have a better chance at a Hill job. "But that was before I knew there were so many people applying for so few slots," he said. "I'm not absurdly connected like some people." So many of the job listings explicitly ask candidates to not stop by the offices, and just sending a résumé cold is like sending it straight to the garbage, he said. But he is going to stick with it, hand those résumés to anyone who will take them and hope for more temporary placements.

"For the longest time, I wanted to go to law school," he said. "But I figured I might as well stop being a spectator and join in."

 

Supplying the body politic: Campaign season means need for temporary workers

Staffing Industry Report
September 26, 2003

With the 2004 presidential election just over a year away, Chris Jones is gearing up for a busy year. Jones is president and owner of PoliTemps, a legislative, governmental and political staffing company in Washington D.C. The months leading up to any election are always busy, he said, but even more so for a presidential election with its string of primaries, campaigns and party conventions. "Things have been slow in this employment market and the summer always tends to be slow with Congress out of session," he said. "But once we get a year out from a major campaign, all those consultants, polling services and campaigns need to hire staff. I've begun to notice an up-tick [in business]."

Local Lingo
Jones started his firm in 1996 after working on several political campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He saw a need for a politically focused staffing company that could better meet the demands of political candidates and lobbyists. "We understand the lingo that our clients speak while the larger staffing companies don't understand that," he said. He has no shortage of applicants as "Washington is a mecca for political types." Jones tests them not only on standard things like computer skills, but also for knowledge of the political and legislative process.

PoliTemps supplies workers on a temporary, permanent and temp-to-perm basis for positions that are largely administrative in nature. Jones' client list includes industry associations, public and government affairs groups, nonprofits, political consulting firms, campaigns, media and public relations outlets and advocacy organizations. A few members of Congress also have used PoliTemps' services, but Jones said that's rare. "We do a lot of research in those instances," he said. "We need to be in tune with what the client wants and consider what side of the aisle they are on."

 

The ways we are: Political Savvy

By Luanne Crayton
Staffing Success magazine
May/June 2003 issue

When trade associations, public relations firms, and pollsters in the nation's capital need staff who understand the workings of a political town, they turn to PoliTemps, a staffing firm that specializes in placing employees with political savvy.

"We work with a variety of clients, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Civil Liberties Union," says PoliTemps founder Chris Jones, the firm's president and CEO. "And we're nonpartisan, so we work with Republican and Democratic organizations alike."

One client in particular piques the interest of employees. "We've never had anyone turn down an assignment at the League of American Bicyclists," Jones says. "They deal with a lot of interesting issues, from energy conservation to transportation policy to safety and health." PoliTemps employees have helped the league track legislation on these issues, as well as plan and organize conferences and other events.

Political Bug
Jones grew up in politics. His father was an elected judge in Galveston, TX. When it came time to post signs and knock on doors to get out the vote, young Chris went along with his dad.

"I was taken with the dedication to public service of the people involved in the campaigns," he says.

He says his experience on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s, first as an intern for Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX) and later as a staff assistant for Rep. David Bonior (D-MI), "put the political bug in me."

In 1994, Jones worked on the political campaign of Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

"You win some, you lose some, that's politics," he says, commenting on Richards' loss to George W. Bush. "In the aftermath, I did some soul searching about what the next step in my career would be."

While in Washington, Jones had worked as a temporary employee for three staffing firms. One day, as he considered his next career move, the idea dawned: There ought to be a staffing service for politics, public affairs, and public relations in Washington.

PoliTemps opened in 1996. Today, the firm has 40 to 60 temporary and contract employees on assignment on any given day. Most of the firm's business, 85 percent to 90 percent, is temporary help. Permanent placement accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent.

Alphabet Soup
"We provide value-added administrative staffers," Jones says. "They're people who can stuff envelopes, but can also run a conference, update a media list, or track legislation. And they understand the alphabet soup of Washington."

A PoliTemps employee could tell you, for example, that RNC is the Republican National Committee and that DCCC (pronounced "dee triple see")is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

PoliTemps employees work as schedulers on Capitol Hill, keeping track of the hearings, meetings, and public appearances that dominate the calendars of members of Congress. They work as event coordinators, helping associations plan successful government relations conferences like ASA's Capitol Hill Day. And they work as junior associates at PR firms, helping with media outreach.

In screening applicants, PoliTemps staff look first for solid computer and administrative skills and then for experience or an interest in public affairs. They seek applicants who have taken a relevant course of study in college, such as communications or political science; who have worked as interns; and who have volunteered at community organizations or on local political campaigns.

Jones says the firm places employees of all ages, with a variety of experience and backgrounds. Typical employees are recent college graduates who were active in college political organizations, such as Young Democrats or College Republicans.

"Some have worked on local political campaigns, perhaps assisting the press secretary," Jones says, "and now they're looking for the next step, a bridge to political experience in Washington."

Connotation of Politics
Jones says that the biggest challenge for his firm in the niche it serves is "breaking through with our marketing message to our clients and prospective clients that our services are applicable to them."

"The word 'politics,' even in Washington, makes people nervous," he says.

Picturing political activists engaged in heated debates and protests over issues such as abortion and gays in the military in their workplaces, prospective clients often say, "We don't want those people."

"So we have to explain that our employees are not political organizers," Jones says. "Rather, they're savvy about how Washington works."

A Bridge on the Political Path
One of the biggest thrills for Jones as a staffing professional is providing a bridge to a dream job.

"It's exciting when a sharp go-getter who has aspirations in political consulting comes in, and we place him or her with a pollster working on a campaign with a candidate for president or Senate," Jones says. "That employee then gets exposure to top decision makers who are advising a national political figure."

That exposure can be the beginning of a bright career in politics. Jones says, "It's exciting to be able to say that we put this person on that path."

 

Jobs For Political Junkies

By Gary Susswein
Austin American-Statesman
Saturday, November 25, 2000

As soon as a winner is declared in the never-ending presidential election, thousands of eager, young political junkies from the victor's party will descend on Washington, D.C., looking for a job in politics -- not to mention a way to pad their resumes and pay their bills until they find that job.

That's where Texas native Chris Jones come in.

Jones -- himself once an eager young political junkie looking for a job in Washington -- runs a temporary employment agency and online job site that specializes in political, public policy and public relations work.

And as the Washington neophytes start peddling their resumes in every possible hall of government next month, they may find that Jones is a far more important contact than their local congressman, senator or even that friend-of-a-friend who says he knows the new president's cousin.

"I feel their pain," the McCallum High School and Texas Tech graduate said last week, borrowing a phrase from the last president who brought an army of political recruits to Washington with him.

"I know what it's like to be a temp, to be floating and kicking around in politics, to be looking for a bridge to employment opportunities."

Like most recruiters, Jones makes his money by charging the companies and organizations where he places his employees. Those clients span the political spectrum, from the Democratic National Committee to the Republican National Committee, with a slew of public relations firms, interest groups and even some dot-coms in between.

Human resource professionals say PoliTemps is the only Washington employment agency that specializes in political work and caters specifically to workers who have a background -- or are looking for a future -- in public policy.

"It's great to have temps who may have Capitol Hill experience or political backgrounds because that helps here," said Melanie Simmons, human resources coordinator at BSMG Worldwide, a public relations firm that has used about 15 workers from PoliTemps for administrative and clerical work and has hired some of them full time.

For the 37-year-old Jones, it's only natural to be working around politics.

His father, Jerome, was a state representative from Galveston County in the 1950s and then a county judge for 30 years.

"My earliest memories were actually putting campaign signs up in yards with big heavy duty staplers," Jones said. "I really was exposed to that and loved it."

He moved to Austin with his mother when he was 10 and stayed until he enlisted in the Navy at age 21, in 1984.

When he returned to Texas four years later, Jones caught the political bug again. He enrolled at Texas Tech, where he majored in political science, joined the Young Democrats and volunteered in Ann Richards' 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

After graduating, Jones interned and worked on Capitol Hill before returning to Texas politics yet again for a paid job on Richards' 1994 re-election campaign against George W. Bush. Had Richards won, Jones may have gotten a job in her administration and stayed in Austin.

Instead, he and his fellow campaign workers were faced with the sudden reality that they were unemployed. It was at that point, he said, that "the light bulb went up" in his head.

After a brief stint with a Washington public relations firm, Jones and a partner set up PoliTemps. He canvassed the city with fliers and faxes, trying to persuade companies to hire through him and persuade out-of-work political aides and Washington newcomers to let him help them find jobs.

He had little trouble finding recruits.

Washington, after all, is a place where 20- and 30-something college graduates show up and dream of being power brokers the way junior varsity football players in Texas dream of making varsity. They camp out on friends' sofas, scamper between "informational interviews" and answer phones for free just to get a foot in the door.