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Nikki's Personal Advice

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Friday, December 5, 2008
I want to start by stating the obvious: it’s tough to work in politics.  And while the work itself is tough, that’s not what I’m talking about.  I mean, it’s tough to get a job in politics…and another…and another.
Trust me:  I’ve been there.  Anyone who is a success in this business has also been there.  Many, many, many times.  Trust me, because I know you don’t believe me.
In fact, I’ve come to referring to my bouts of unemployment as my “bi-annual mid-life crises.”  It’s inevitable:  I would have just come off a race or a job (more often than not it was a losing race) and I’d be all jazzed up to either get back on the horse and fight again, or, on the rare occasions I’d won, I’d want to get going implementing change.
So, I’d update my resume on GAIN, email it around to everyone who’s name I knew (or didn’t), and make the “cocktail party circuit” being my charming self and letting it be known that I was available.  Then I’d wait…and wait…and wait…and wait…and wait.  Oh, and wait.
The longer I waited the more I’d doubt myself, my decisions, my job performance and my self worth.  As well as whether or not this whole “politics” business was really worth all this hassle.
Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, just when I’d hit the nadir of my depression, my phone would ring, my email would blow up and I’d have 3 job offers in one day and now I was in the position of making a gut-wrenching decision.  It never failed.
I tell you this not to discourage you – but to encourage you.  The only thing that would get me through the tough times were my friends and mentors reminding me that “we’ve all been there.”  Trust me.
This year it’s been even harder for us all to sit back, chill out and wait.  WE WANT TO HELP!  We want to go work for the President (yay!), or make sure Congress passes Universal Healthcare, or help progressive organizations fulfill their missions.  Plus, it seems like there are just so many’s hard when you’re not getting one.  And then like salt to a wound, that not-so-sharp co-worker you had on the trail just landed a great gig and you’re still sitting by the phone.  What the heck!?
First of all, take a deep breath.  This has been a rough year all around. 

Let's start with the administration:  We all assumed they would be a giant vacuum, sucking up talent and leaving lots of Hill offices and organizations with holes to fill.  One, that didn't happen.  First of all, it turns out that there really aren't that many political appointee slots that can be filled by non-PhD-policy-expert folks like you and me.  Secondly, those political slots that could be filled by "political" people were filled with the highest level individuals from the campaign who had been working for 15+ years in politics prior to their time with Obama. 
The same holds true for members of Congress – both newbies and old hats.  For the first few months, they were waiting to see what was happening in the Administration.  Then, they discovered they weren't, in fact, going to loose their staff to the President, so it turns out they didn't really have as many open jobs as we'd all hoped either.  That's not to say there hasn't been - and won't continue to be - the normal turnover on the Hill.  It's just to say it wasn't as large-scale as we'd all thought. 
In addition, the advocacy groups and unions have been hit hard by the recession.  It is taking them longer to replenish their bank accounts post-election, and they are now just starting to take stock of what will need to be prioritized for 2010.  The educated guess is they will start spending in the coming months, so make sure you are doing your informational interviews with the advocacy groups and unions, but don't feel bad if you're not yet getting call backs. 
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to stay in the loop and best position yourself to be in the right place at the right time when folks to start pulling some hiring triggers.
  • File for unemployment!  I’m serious.  I wish I’d done it more.  It’s your money, take it and buy yourself some time.  Every state has different rules and regulations, so simply google “unemployment benefits state” to see what you need to do.
  • Take advantage of the cocktail party circuit and holiday parties .  There is one rule in this business that is universally accepted – never turn down a cocktail.  Happy Hours and Cocktail Parties (like the kinds that crop up like crazy during the holidays) are fantastic opportunities to meet new people and network.  You never know when you’re going to bump into your next boss. 
    • Personal note – this literally happened to me.  I met my boss on the Dodd campaign at an organization’s open house party.  We literally bumped into each other and got to chatting.  He was looking…I was available…we enjoyed each other’s company...  The next thing I knew I had a great job with an amazing team and it was one of the best professional experiences of my career!
  • Keep in touch and use your network.  The best thing you have going for yourself in this business is the people who know (and like) you.  The biggest mistake people make is not keeping in touch with the people who can help them.  DON’T FEEL GUILTY!  Everyone who is a success got help from others along the way.  Don’t harass or be obnoxious, simply keep in touch and keep folks in the loop about your activities and goals.
    • Personal note – 90% of getting a job in this business is timing.  When I’d first moved to DC, I was looking for work in finance.  I emailed everyone I knew to let them know I was now in DC, looking for work in finance, and asking if they knew of anything or anyone I could talk to.  My boyfriend’s friend suggested I call this woman (who was a successful finance consultant) to see if she knew of anything.  So, I emailed her and lo-and-behold, the day before her associate had quit!  She interviewed me that day, and before I could even get home she called and offered me the job.  I know for a fact if I had even waited a day, that job would have been filled by someone else.
    • Additional note – observe that this position was NEVER posted or made public in any way.  I’d wager a bet that well over half of all jobs filled never get posted or made public – they simply get filled by asking around if “anyone knows anyone good.”  You want to be that “anyone good.”  But, your networks aren’t sitting around thinking about you 24/7.  You need to remind them to think about you when those situations arise.  Quick emails, chatting with them at happy hours, meeting them for coffee…that’s what keeps you at the top of their “anyone good” lists.
  • No one is too good to wait tables.  Still haven’t found that perfect job, and starting to run into that stressful “rent or food” situation?  There is no shame in taking some temporary work (whether it’s food service, retail, or temping) to get you by.  Just make sure you choose something that allows you the time and flexibility to do the above things so you can find your next career move.

Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below. It's hard no matter what, but the "bi-annual mid-life crisis" is much easier when handled in community with fellow political junkies!

Tags:  advice  job seeking 

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