When Maria Meier first set foot in Washington, DC, she crashed on a friend’s couch and hit the pavement with resume in hand. Despite her ambition, the road to securing a job on Capitol Hill was not easy. Maria vividly remembers the time in an informational interview with a Latina staffer who told her that her efforts were futile because she had nothing to offer. Thinking that the Latina staffer was right, Maria bought a plane ticket home and started packing her belongings. When she was almost out the door, she received a call from California Senator Alan Cranston’s office with a job offer. This set Maria on her path to becoming one of the few Latinas to climb Capitol Hill.
Her personal experiences on Capitol Hill showed Maria the importance of helping young, ambitious professionals, including Latinas, find their opportunities in public service. Maria went on to serve as Senior Advisor to Senator Harry Reid where she directed the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative. In this role, Maria oversaw efforts to build staff diversity through career counseling to those who wanted to develop their careers in public service. Maria dedicated her work to building a bridge between talented minorities and opportunities in the US Senate. Today, hundreds can attribute their start on the Hill to the vision of Senator Reid and Maria’s work, which provided 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 climbed the ranks.
When we interviewed Maria, she shared her top five tips for Latinas looking to climb Capitol Hill and navigate public service opportunities.
- 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 a 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 Meier served in senior positions in both Senate and House Democratic Leadership offices. She served as a Senior Advisor to Senator Harry Reid and also served as Director of the Senate’s Democratic Diversity Initiative. Prior to those roles, Meier served as the 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. Throughout her career, Meier has focused on creating opportunities for all to have a voice in the political process. She was recognized and commended by Members of Congress for her “Outstanding Service to Community and Nation”. Meier is a graduate of Stanford University.
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