Learning and Growing on Capitol Hill: The Importance of Communication and Adaptability
In this edition of the Congressional Spotlight Interview Series, we interview Wiley Severyn, Staff Assistant for Representative Darrell Issa. He shares his philosophy on turning challenging situations into opportunities and how effective communication with his team has been crucial in handling difficult moments.
Can you tell me about your career path that you’ve taken that’s led you to where you are now?
In my career, I have to give all to God. I started my career through an internship in the current office where I work for. Before working on Capitol Hill, I wanted to enter international relations. As I was searching for internships, I was looking at internships such as the State Department or the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and I found Congressman Issa’s office. Some of my classmates at my college interned in his office and had great experiences. Initially, I did not want an internship in a congressional office. But one of my professors encouraged me with his internship experience. He said the two he had participated in showed him what he did and didn’t want to do for a career, as they were focused on things, he had never seen himself doing before. I thought about his advice as I was looking for internships. I wanted to do something that would stretch me as an individual and prepare me for my career.
When I connected with my office as an intern, I loved the office I worked for and enjoyed working with the staff on various projects. It was also a unique time when I started as our current staff assistant/LC left for another job on the Hill. I was ready to rise to the challenge and applied for the opening. I got the job and have loved every part of it. It has been a unique adventure starting my career on the Hill. I have learned so much about the legislative process in such a short time. General advice to any student studying politics and policy is to take a semester for an internship. Putting yourself in the middle of it all is a great way to build practical skills on the Hill!
What policy issues are you most interested/passionate about?
Before starting my time on Capitol Hill, I was fascinated (and still am) with international relations. Throughout college, I engaged with foreign diplomats from various countries. I participated in the “Strategic Information and Foreign Affairs” at Liberty University. Many of the skills I acquired from this program were analytical research and briefing. It was hard work but definitely beneficial to my career development. During that experience, we briefed our findings to former heads of naval intelligence. This was foundational to many of the skills I use to this day. During my time on the Hill, I witnessed hearings and legislation being signed. It has been an incredible experience to observe actual foreign relations happen.
Be proactive. Most of the time on the Hill, you will be put in situations where you may not know what to do in the moment.
From experience I know how fast paced and stressful working on the Hill can be, can you give an example of an obstacle you have faced or explain any difficulty while managing your job responsibilities?
Working on the Hill has been a unique experience! There have been easy parts and difficult parts. It is important when stressful or difficult situations arise; they can be used as an opportunity to learn from them. When in the moment, I keep a level head to focus on the task at hand. When doing something difficult or time sensitive, I return to a lesson my mother taught me. She would always say, “If you can’t figure it out, figure it out.” This stuck with me. I say this not as a discouragement but as an encouragement to take that as an opportunity to learn or improve. The initiative you take regardless speaks volumes with the people that you work with. You will become a more well-rounded person as you take the initiative to grow.
Communication with my team is another characteristic that has been crucial in helping me handle difficult situations. Good communication skills with your team in slow and busy weeks are crucial in team development. Knowing how to communicate with each team member is essential because everyone is unique and communicates differently. This helps when times are difficult; I can work well with the staff on my team.
What is your favorite restaurant in D.C.?
Finding a place to rest after a week of hard work is always important. There are so many incredible places here in DC that make it hard to choose just one. The place I most consistently go back to is Mission in Navy Yard. They have excellent drinks and the best nachos! The first time I went there was during the State of the Union. I went to a watch party with a couple of friends there and had a blast!