When Maria Meier first set foot in Washington, DC, she did what most aspiring public servants do: crashed on a friend’s couch and hit the pavement with resume in hand. Despite her ambition and drive, the road to securing a job on the hill was not an easy one. Maria vividly remembers the time in an informational interview with a Latina staffer when was told her efforts were futile because she had nothing to offer. Defeated, she bought a plane ticket home shortly after. Thinking there was truth in the Latina staffer’s words, she started to pack her belongings. Almost out the door, she received a much anticipated phone call from California Senator Alan Cranston’s office with a job offer.
It was this deeply personal experience that showed Maria the importance of helping young and ambitious professionals find their opportunity on Capitol Hill. Now Senior Advisor to the Democratic Leader and Director of the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative, Maria dedicates her work to building a bridge between talented minorities and opportunities in the US Senate. The office was institutionalized by Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid, who saw the need to have senate offices reflect the diverse communities they represent. Today, hundreds can attribute their start on the hill to the vision of Senator Reid and through Maria’s work to provide candidates with assistance in polishing their resumes, connecting them with hiring offices, and further developing the skills of current staffers to ensure their viability as candidates as they climb the ranks.
When we interviewed Maria, she shared her top five pieces of advice to help candidates navigate the path to public service.
- Get involved: Make sure you know who your representatives are at every level of government and remember you are a constituent. Subscribe to their email lists, attend events like town hall meetings, and intern in their offices. If your member is not from the same political persuasion, look at neighboring representatives or find a representative that shares the same policy priorities as you. If moving to DC is not a possibility, intern in district offices. Every representative offers internships and has an internship coordinator. Contact them in advance and ask about their process and deadlines.
- Challenge yourself and be confident: Many times you’ll be the only woman, Latina, or person of color in your office and you have to make sure you are confident in yourself and in your abilities. You will be breaking ground and it will be challenging being the first to do things, so you have to be confident and be sure of yourself. Step out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, but that’s how you grow.
- Don’t overlook the basics: Writing and communication skills are essential in public service and, if mastered, will take you far. Take the time to improve these skills as they are seen as a basic requirement for any job on the Hill.
- Harness your leadership and grow your network: Wanting to work in Congress is often born out of passion to change your community and have an impact on your country. This ambition is often developed at the college campus level through the involvement of student level party clubs such as the College Republicans or College Democrats. This is a great starting point for a career in public service, as you will learn the basics of politics. Working on the hill is more than having the required skills, but also a solid network of people to advise you of job opportunities and can serve as references. Your network is a vital part of your success on the Hill, but don’t fall in a superficial trap where your network will do all the work for you. Be authentic and be ready to work hard.
- Follow your heart: As cheesy as it sounds, follow your heart. Work because it’s your passion and that will be the best reward. Leave no room for regrets.
Be authentic and be ready to work hard.
Maria Robles Meier is a Capitol Hill veteran who has served in senior positions in both Senate and House Democratic Leadership offices. As the current Senior Advisor to Senate Leader Harry Reid and Director of the Senate’s Democratic Diversity Initiative, she oversees efforts to build staff diversity and provides career counseling and guidance to those who want to develop their careers in public service. Throughout her career, Meier has focused on creating opportunities for all to have a voice in the process and much of her work has involved building coalitions around shared ideals to make this possible. Past Congressional staff positions Meier has held include Executive Director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Director of Outreach for the House Democratic Caucus and Associate Director of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. National Journal included Meier on its “Hill People” list of influential Hill staffers, and she has been recognized and commended by Members of Congress for her “Outstanding Service to Community and Nation”. Meier is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Washington, DC.
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