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Unlocking Capitol Hill: Tips and Strategies for Success

valeria gaytan featured image copy of congressional spotlight interviewThis week, we spoke to Valeria Gaytan, Scheduler & Director of Operations for the Office of Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX, 20).

Can you tell me about your career path that’s led you to where you are now?

My career path was not straightforward. I wasn’t someone who knew they wanted to work on the Hill, but I knew that learning about politics interested me. Education was an important part of my life because my family encouraged it and through my curiosity, I majored in international affairs and began joining political spaces like non-profits and campaigns. I enjoyed the people I worked with and had fun, and I continued doing the work. However, I grew up in the Midwest and I was not surrounded by many people who worked in government outside the state/local level. I knew I needed to move to the center of where politics happen, so I made the 16-hour drive to DC.

When I arrived in DC, I reached out to people I knew, and I reached out to others on LinkedIn to learn about their career path and to know what I wanted mine to be. One person, who I had reached out to on LinkedIn, ended up offering me an internship on the Hill. I am very grateful I was provided with the opportunity that has now helped me become a full-time staffer.  

Which specific policy areas or legislative issues are you most passionate about, and how do you stay informed and engaged in those areas?

I am passionate about foreign affairs. I am actively seeking to narrow down my focus to human rights or innovation / technology or diplomacy. I am specifically passionate about the Latin American region. I stay informed on various topics by attending hearings on the Hill, following my preferred news outlets Vice News and Vox, and listening to my go-to podcasts The Daily by the New York Times and Up First by NPR.

What advice would you give to individuals who aspire to work on Capitol Hill?

  1. You will learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone.
  2. Cold outreach is not for everyone, lean on the people already in your circle, whether that’s people you went to college with, people you have mutual friends with, or anything similar.
  3. It’s better to ask questions than to go on not knowing how to do something.
  4. Attend events that interest you and talk to people. There are weekly events happening in DC (check out Eventbrite); I strongly encourage others to go to as many as possible. With that, talk to people, engage with them, and ask them about their career path.
  5. Be curious and genuine.

What do you believe sets Capitol Hill apart as a unique work environment?

Many people mention the fast-paced environment of the Hill. Time passes very fast because staffers are constantly moving and multi-tasking. I would also say that there is a lot of stimulation intellectually. If someone is seeking answers about any topic, there are lots of resources to get an answer, which I believe is unique.

The proximity to policymaking creates a unique work environment. It is an opportunity to learn about how issues are approached, the factors that influence decisions, and the strategy behind legislation.

How do you navigate the challenges of the Hill in your everyday work?

The biggest challenge of the Hill is that there is not enough time in a day. There is always something to learn, research to be done, or tasks to be completed. The three skills I have developed in my six months of being on the Hill are time management, prioritization, and attention to detail. These skills have greatly helped my success but are skills I continue to work on. Another challenge of the Hill is maintaining a healthy balance between work life and personal life. On occasion, I find it difficult to disconnect from work, however, people on the Hill are very supportive and I have a good group of friends to lean on. I do think both work life and personal life are connected, which is why I focus on both equally.

Word association, what is the first word that comes to mind for each of these?

Policy – Strategy

Networking – Connectivity

Writing Skills – Clarity

Working on the Hill – Self-advocate

Leadership Connect – Resource

To be featured or learn more, reach out to Gabi Thomas, and spread the word to any colleagues who would be interested.

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Gabrielle Thomas

Gabi joined Leadership Connect as a Research Analyst and is now the Legislature Outreach Liaison.