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Interview with Matt Mansell

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Monday, January 12, 2009
This interview is the first in a series of interviews we will be conducting with political operatives across the spectrum - those working on campaigns, for party operations, consultants, etc.  
Matt Mansell, is the Virginia House Democratic Caucus Director. Matt has worked in Virginia Democratic politics since 2000, and with the Virginia House Democratic Caucus since 2004. He's been the caucus director since 2006.
1. Describe your job
My job is to manage all political operations related to the Virginia Democratic state house caucus, specifically with a focus on the state legislative campaigns. That includes fundraising, managing consultants, placing managers and other staff on campaigns, and working with candidates and campaigns to make sure we're doing everything we can to win House seats for Democrats.
2. How would you describe your career path? How did you get started in progressive politics?
I took a semester off in 2000 to work on Senator Robb's race and again in 2001 to work on now-Senator Warner's race for Governor. In 2000, my title was something having to do with advance. I was basically a body man for the candidate and worked closely with the political director. For the last several weeks of the campaign I got to travel the state with the candidate, which was great. For Sen. Warner I began as an organizer in Roanoke, then moved up to serve as the regional field director for far southwestern VA and ran our field office there.
I loved campaign work and the campaign lifestyle, so after graduating from college I managed a 2003 state senate race, then came to Richmond as a legislative assistant. My plan was to get on another campaign, which I sort of did. During the 2004 legislative session then-Gov. Warner and the Republicans fought over the budget and taxes, so we we had an extended communications campaign around that issue. I stayed on to work with the house Democratic caucus to help win the fight (we did). I stayed on, first as the candidate recruitment director before moving into my current position in 2006.
3. What are the three most important skills for success in politics?
  1. Perseverance
  2. Hard work
  3. Ability to see the big picture in order to identify common ground and build consensus toward the strategy and plans necessary to win

4. When you're hiring, is there anything in particular on a resume that makes you pick up the phone to schedule an interview? Is there anything that gets the resume tossed into the circular file post-haste?
References are as big a deal as experience for me. I need to talk to people who I trust about the applicant's work. I also like to see a variety of experience. Right now I'm primarily hiring for campaign managers, so I like to see experience beyond field organizing to include fundraising, communications, managing staff - all of the basic skills necessary to manage a campaign. Interesting experiences are also a plus, things like study abroad and other "character building" types of things can also tell me a lot about a person.

Typos and spelling errors get a resume tossed. Politics is about details and lack of attention to details on a resume doesn't say anything good about how the applicant would do the job.

5. What would be your first next step if you were looking for a job in the progressive political world today?
I'd call through my list of contacts and set up meetings with anybody and everybody who works in politics that I have a prior relationship with. Ours is a relationship business, so I make sure to keep up my personal network. It's important to apply for jobs through the traditional channels - job boards, etc. - but also focus on keeping your relationships in the field strong.

Matt is doing great work in Virginia and offers great advice! Leave him a reply with additional thoughts or your own take on what he had to say.  Thanks Matt!

Tags:  advice  job seeking 

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