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Job Search 101
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A chief advantage to a career in the progressive movement is that there is no one path that people follow; a "choose your own adventure” style of career prevails as people change organizations and positions as their own skills and interests grow and change.Here are some steps to help you determine your next career move!

Self-Assessment and Skills Analysis

  • For those who are just beginning the job search or trying to figure out which types of positions to target.

Job Search 201: Targeting Organizations

  • For those who have a position type figured out and want to work on identifying which organizations to target.

Become A Stronger Candidate

  • Ways to develop skills, whether you're employed or looking for a job!

Progressive Work As A Second Career

  • For those looking to change tracks and jump into the progressive movement.

Progressive Career Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Self-Assessment and Skill Analysis

Just starting your career? Maybe you want to reassess the career path or sector in which you currently work. Use the exercises below to assess your skills and determine your best fit in the progressive movement.

Think you already have a good handle on the types of positions you want to pursue? Jump to Job Search 201: Targeting Organizations.

1. Assess Your Current Skills             

Time investment: 20 minutes

Use our Skills Match to help you catalog the skills you possess based on your professional experience. Make a master list of all your skills.  

2. Which Positions Interest You?        

Time investment: Several hours over 1-2 weeks

We suggest spending a week or two conducting this step. Use the Democratic GAIN Job Board and others to identify positions that interest you. Be as inclusive as possible – don’t worry about salary, location, or whether you have the right experience. Just look for positions which you would enjoy doing. Copy and paste positions into a master document. Continue until you have at least 15-20 positions. Once you have the positions collected, the next step is to copy and paste all of the "qualifications” and "requirements” sections into one page. Rearrange all of these into like categories, such as "Communications,” "Volunteer Management,” "Research,” "Writing” and the like. Add in the original skills you identified in step 1.

Review your results. Which categories have the longest lists in them? Jobs with a focus on these skills will likely be where you’ll find the most satisfaction and be able to make the strongest contribution.

Need a more in-depth version of this exercise? Visit the resources at Young People For.

Relocating for a job? Visit’s section on searching from afar.

3. Analyze Your Skill Levels              

Time investment: 20 minutes

Look at your 5 major categories from step 2. For each skill listed, rank yourself on a scale of 1-7 as follows:

1 = no experience

2 = intermittent experience with this skill

3 = experience with this skill in a part-time role

4 = entry-level experience with this skill in a full-time role

5 = mid-level experience with this skill a full-time role

6 = management experience with this skill a full-time role

7 = I am regarded as an expert in this area

… and rearrange your list of skills in order, with the 6s-7s at the top and the 1s-2s at the bottom.

4. Make A Plan to Improve Your Skills        

Time investment: 30 minutes

You will be offered jobs and opportunities based on your strengths and areas of expertise, not because you have no areas for improvement (everyone does!) You should begin improving your skills by creating clear plans for your own growth and development in your areas of strength.

Augmenting Your Strengths: Review your 4s, 5s, 6s and 7s. Ask yourself: Do I want my next job to focus on my 4s through 7s? Which ones? Decide which types of positions you will focus on.

Bolstering Your Weaknesses: Review your 1s, 2s and 3s. Ask yourself: Which of these skills are important in the types of jobs I want to pursue? (Make sure you confirm that this skill is indeed important with your informational interviewees). Then ask yourself: Which of these skills do I really want to learn? Do NOT prioritize learning a new skill if you have zero interest in it or an aversion to doing it. You are not likely to become a high performer in a skill area that you truly don’t like and you could spend that time becoming an expert in an area you do!

Next Steps: Choose 1-2 "strengths” skills and 1-2 "areas to improve” skills that are truly important to the types of positions in which you are interested and develop a plan for building up those skills. See our list of ways to become a stronger candidate and list of trainings and fellowships to pursue improvement in these areas. 

5. Talk To People!                    

Time investment: 1-2 hours per week for a few months

This step is the most important of all. Paper exercises alone will not develop your skills. So get out there! Using Democratic GAIN career counseling, LinkedIn, your college alumni sources, lists of past coworkers, and staff at organizations in which you are interested, draw up a list of 10 people you would like to talk to in order to learn more about developing your "4-7” strengths and 3-4 people to talk with about developing your prioritized"1-3” skills gaps. Reach out and request informational interviews with these people to learn more, and take advantage of GAIN’s career counseling.  Tell the person you are contacting about a skill that you are interested in developing and that is particularly relevant to her. Being specific in this way will show people how they can help you and will increase your response rate dramatically.

After reaching out and having your coffee meetings and informational interviews, reassess. Are you still interested in this job, career path, sector or field? If so, you are probably ready for the next step, Job Search 201: Targeting Organizations.

Job Search 201: Targeting Organizations

So you know your skills and interests and the type of progressive positions you are searching for (if not, see above: Self-Assessment and Skills Analysis ). But jobs will not be found from job boards alone (though ours is awesome; check it out). Make sure your search goes beyond job boards and utilizes your network by following the below steps.

1.    Let Your Network Know You Are Looking for a Job                      

Time investment: 1-2 hours over a few weeks 

  • Make your Network List. Keep a spreadsheet of all your contacts and their information (or better yet, use LinkedIn). This includes coworkers (current and past), supervisors, new and old friends, family, people from volunteer, sports and professional organizations, college alumni networks, LinkedIn and Facebook connections - anyone you can think of. This initial step is critical – everyone you know has the potential to know someone that can land you your perfect job! Always add to it. It’s a great way to track contacts suggested by others.
  • E-mail everyone in your network with a friendly note to let them know what you have been up to, that you are looking for a new job, and in what geographical area and for what type of position you are looking. This way, you will be in the front of people’s minds if they come across opportunities that would be a good fit for you. Politely ask to be put in touch with anyone the contact may know who you could talk to or learn more from about available positions.
  • Individual e-mails are obviously great and will get you the highest response rate. Group e-mails are OK for this, but not a single mass e-mail to everyone you know; we would suggest grouping your contacts by type and sending an e-mail that relates to that group’s interests (always bcc’d, of course!) Example: "former coworkers,” "family,”"people from school,” "soccer league people,” etc.         
  • If you don’t know what type of position you are looking for, see Job Search 101 above for activities to help you determine this. 


2. Identify Organizations You Want to Work For  

Time investment: 5 minutes to a few hours, depending on the person

Draw up a list of at least 20 organizations for whom you would like to work. Disregard whether or not they are currently hiring; the purpose here is to get on these organizations’ radar even before a position becomes available so that you become the first to know about it when it does! If you aren’t sure of which organizations have positions in your chosen area, consult:·        

For a even more detailed strategy for targeting specific organizations, we recommend The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton.

Relocating for a job? Visit’s section on searching from afar.

3. Reach Out to People at Your Organizations    

Time investment: 1-2 hours per week as you search

  • Search LinkedIn, your college alumni database, and your list of contacts (created in step 1 above) for people in your network who work at these organizations. Make a list.         
  • For organizations at which you do not already have connections, search their web sites and find 1-2 people you would like to reach out to (and their e-mail addresses). Add them to your list.
  • If you cannot find any connections, make sure you mention your interest in this organization to people you do talk to. See if you can forge connections that way.
  • Reach out to people on your list using our coffee meeting / informational interview tips. If you do not hear back from someone, move on to the next person on your list at that organization. Don’t stop at one attempt! Persistence pays off. However, if you have contacted the person 2-3 times and heard no response, let it go.
  • Have great meetings with people at your target organizations. Use our tips


4. Follow Up                                                                 

Time investment: 30 minutes per week as you search

Keep a list of the people you have e-mailed, your coffee meetings / informational interviews, and when they were conducted. Every 3-4 weeks, reach back out to your contacts with a polite and friendly message noting that you are still looking for a position, and that any thoughts or leads for you would be appreciated. If they take specific action for you, be sure to thank them and let them know the outcome. 

5. Continue to Expand Your Network                                 

Time investment: Lifelong!

You may have noticed that this process is simpler when your network is larger and when you stay in touch with the people in it. So get out there, be involved in causes you care about (we’re progressives, after all) and grow the number of people you know! Resources to grow your network:·        

Networking 101

Trainings and Fellowships 

Become A Stronger Candidate 

Event Calendar (go to events, bring your resume!)


Got your search up and running? Look for ways to develop your skills in the meantime by becoming a stronger candidate!

Become A Stronger Candidate

Just breaking into the progressive movement? 

Want to move to the next level?

Climbing the ladder 

Just breaking into the progressive movement?

Make the most of your GAIN membership!

Volunteer for a local race or issue advocacy organization and get them to give you a title and references

  • Approach the campaign humbly and ideally through a connection; be politely persistent; and indicate that you want to commit the amount of time to the race necessary to earn the title. Make sure you have researched the candidate and know why you want to work on her race in particular.
  • References and title will come if you do a good job. So treat it as a job. Work hard and be ready for anything. Be professional. On a campaign, nothing is "beneath” you. Make yourself indispensable.

Want to move to the next level?

Make the most of your GAIN membership!

Start your own side hustle or project to develop experience.

  • It’s no one’s business how much you were paid to do it, or if you were paid at all.
  • Work an extra job to build savings for your next campaign stint. Google "side hustle,” "side gig” and "side project” for a wonderland of ideas.
  • Ideas for progressive professionals, paid: Trainer, freelance writer, web / graphic design /social media work, tutor, translator (put your language skills to use!).
  • Ideas for progressive professionals, unpaid: See the rest of this list, and: Campaign volunteer, grant writer, volunteer coordinator, event planner, social media coordinator. Many of these can be turned into paid side hustles with more experience and time.
  • Work in completely unrelated fields. This is not always a bad idea. Having a side hustle in a non-political/policy/social justice field expands your network and engages other parts of your brain. What are your secret passions—food, music, the local art scene? Just make sure the work doesn’t get in the way of your main priorities.
  • You develop side gigs; you do not "find” them. Most side gigs are not waiting for you to apply, like a job. They must be researched and developed by you. Ways to develop side gigs: - Has lots of volunteer positions that involve more responsibility than showing up and laboring a few hours per week. Comb the listings.

Informational interviews - Offer to help with a particular project for which the interviewee or her organization needs an extra hand. This could lead to future paid work or a reference.

Your favorite organization, group or association – Offer to help plan their next event or to help with their next project. You will be loved (when you do a good job).

Find mentors a few years ahead of you who you can run ideas by and will give you advice.

  • Conduct informational interviews.
  • When you really connect with a particular person, check in with them once in a while to ask questions about your next steps and get their feedback.
  • Also check in with them to see if YOU can help THEM in any way.

Apply for a training for fellowship program to boost skills and strengthen your network.

Join a non-profit board and/or fundraise for an organization you care about

  • Start attending board / organizational meetings and deepen relationships. Some organizations are youth-focused to begin with, and many boards are specifically looking for younger members. Don’t rule yourself out because of age or experience level.
  • Resources:;;


Take on leadership in your union

Mentor younger people (recent grads can mentor college and high school students!)

Some great mentoring organizations:

Year Up

Big Brothers Big Sisters's Volunteer Referral Service - will connect you with a program in your area

Become involved in your neighborhood/homeowner’s association, the library trustees, the friends of the parks, the PTA at your child’s school, your faith institution’s groups, or other community organizations

  • Start attending meetings and learning about the issues. Do NOT make your first meeting the one where you storm into the room and demand change—from the people who give their free time to serve on the board, attend all of the meetings and have never seen you before.
  • Offer to help with events or with a certain committee’s work.
  • Have coffee meetings with the people in the group to learn more and develop your network.


Climbing the ladder

The ideas in this section may come more easily to people with a larger network in the progressive movement and/or more experience. However, people at any level of experience can do all of these, so keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities!

Make the most of your GAIN membership!

Become a trainer for the progressive movement


Speak at conferences or events

  • Become a trainer (see above) to develop your skills. Stay in touch with people you have trained with and see what opportunities they may have to speak in the future.
  • Join Toastmasters to develop your public speaking skills.


Run for office

  • Just starting out? Consider a fellowship or training program to prepare yourself
  • Successful bids for office are usually planned several years in advance. Consider the funds you will need to raise and how long that will take; when the next election is scheduled for your desired office; and the strength of the current incumbent. This is where being involved in local community groups (above) is helpful. Make sure you are aware of relevant state and local laws governing elections and campaign finance.
  • Volunteer on local candidates’ campaigns
  • Offer to support a friend or colleague in her run for office. The skills and knowledge gained from serving as a campaign treasurer or advisor at the local level are invaluable.
  • Consider career/executive coaching for areas of weakness or guidance in how to find senior roles. Check out GAIN's career counselors, many of whom hold senior roles in the movement.
  • Hillary Rettig at The Lifelong Activist has tips for managing your career for the long haul. 

For most progressives, our careers are a means to an end: to make our communities more just, equal and better places to live. Many of these suggestions involve long-term engagement in the progressive movement and the community and can extend to areas of life beyond a paid full-time job. Conduct coffee meetings and informational interviews with people whose career paths you admire or want to emulate to determine the best course of action for you.

Looking for more ideas? Visit’s Ways to Become A Stronger Candidate page

Progressive Career FAQs

Q: "I have a very strong passion for progressive issues. Is that enough to get me a job in this area?”

A: It is true that passion is extremely important to working in the progressive movement, and that lack of passion or interest in a candidate or cause will render you ineffective. But passion alone will not suffice—as in every other industry, hiring managers are looking for people with a record of achievement, leadership and transferable skills from past positions. Be prepared to demonstrate and explain your past achievements and how they will transfer to a position in the progressive movement.

Q: "I did not major in political science, law or government. Will that be a problem?”

A: People in the progressive movement have all kinds of backgrounds, majors and fields of study. Interest in current events, news, writing skills, travel experience and private sector experience are all looked on favorably.

Q: "I don’t agree with some government policies. Will that be a barrier to working for a government agency?”

A: Federal, state and local governments want creative people who will challenge common ways of thinking. Entire positions and agencies exist within government to examine current government programs and policies and recommend whether or not they should continue! As in any workplace, workers need not agree with all of the organization’s policies and should be prepared to come up with new ideas and push professionally for them to be adopted.

Q: "I don’t agree with all of a candidate’s/elected official’s policies and votes. Will that be a barrier to working for this progressive candidate?”

A: This one is a bit trickier than working for the government. You don’t have to agree with your chosen candidate on every single point—candidates are not looking for mindless robots to work on their campaigns or on their staffs. However, you should think your candidate is the best person to govern in that position and generally agree with her approach to governing. If you have a particularly strong passion issue, you want to agree with her on that, or you will end up unhappy in your role.

Q: "I want insight as to how policies are made / how presidential politics plays out on a national level. Should I work on Capitol Hill or for a presidential campaign?”

A: Working on a campaign or for an elected official is often extremely unglamorous, requiring very long hours and lots of tedious grunt work. (Think stuffing envelopes or cleaning the toilet in a campaign office). You should enter these positions because of interest in/dedication to the causes and issues you will be working on and because the role fits your professional skills and interests, not because of the often-nonexistent glamour and perks.

In the same vein…

Q: "I am not good at ‘schmoozing.’ Would I be a good fit for the progressive movement?”

A: Networking is important in the progressive movement, as it is in any field. But it’s not all about networking and events. Expect to work very long hours in many progressive jobs. Expect to be on call on weekends and evenings, especially if you are working for elected officials during a legislative session, on campaigns, or in organizing and issue advocacy roles.

Q: "Elected officials raise and spend a lot of money. Will I be well-paid in a progressive job?”

A: Elected officials raise money so they can spend it … reaching voters with their message. Jobs in the progressive movement are often low-paying, especially at the entry level. Make sure your personal finances are in order and make smart decisions about how much rent and other lifestyle choices you can afford. 

Q: "Do I need to move to Washington, DC to get a job in the progressive movement?”

A: Most progressive jobs are located outside of Washington, DC and across the country. Jobs on Capitol Hill are, for obvious reasons, the only positions located exclusively in Washington, DC, and positions with your home state’s legislature are usually similar in the experience and skills required. They may offer a lower cost of living than DC and a chance to make a direct impact on your home state or city! Even 84% of federal jobs are located outside of Washington, DC.

Consider the type of impact you want to have and the type of work you want to do before picking up and moving—staying put may actually be your best option. Click to learn more about training and fellowship opportunities in your area and the Democratic GAIN Job Board to connect with opportunities across the country.

Q: "I want to craft U.S. policy on ______. Can I do that in a progressive job?”

A: National policies are developed over the long term in a back-and-forth between Congress, the executive branch, policy organizations and other groups. Most entry-level positions in politics have no direct involvement in crafting policy. Prepare to spend your career working your way up to such positions, and/or use networking to learn more about this area, and/or consider becoming more involved in making local policies in your area.

Q: "Do I need a graduate degree to get a job in the progressive movement or to run for office?”

A: No. While it is true that more and more organizations are requiring master’s degrees for some positions, many positions do not require one (especially positions with campaigns, consulting firms, or entry to mid-level positions on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures). Only get a master’s degree in a progressively-focused field when you are sure that it is the path you want to pursue. Graduate education is a very expensive undertaking, and you want to make sure you are incurring debt for the right reasons. Develop your skills for free or at low cost with trainings and fellowships or develop your leadership in other ways such as serving on boards and mentoring others. Conduct informational interviews with graduates of various programs you are considering before taking the plunge.

Q: "I am worried about gaps in my resume for taking time to work on a campaign. What should I do?”

A: A plus in the progressive world is that it is common for people to take time off from "regular” jobs to work on campaigns. Thus, periods of post-campaign unemployment are not necessarily viewed in a negative light, especially if job-seekers can give a compelling story for why they took the positions they took and why they are searching for this particular new position. (Furthermore, many paid campaign staff members qualify for unemployment benefits after finishing a campaign). So feel more comfortable taking that temporary job to pay the bills, and find ways to volunteer to cover up gaps in work. But do focus on strengthening and using your network to find that next job so your period of unemployment doesn’t become longer than you would like.

Q: "I am interested in working in the progressive movement, but I am not sure about the exact area or type of work. I am worried about whether or not I will like my first job!”

A: Unlike in teaching or nursing, for example, many people in progressive jobs change positions relatively frequently, especially closer to the entry level. This is often a great way to gain experience and learn more about the field. Just make sure to stay in a job long enough—at least 2 years is a good rule of thumb, though campaign jobs are the exception to this rule—so you develop real experience, achievements and connections and not burn bridges when you leave.


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