This is our first interview of the fall as we begin to look at various career paths in politics and ask professionals to share their career advice. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
Alan Lindquist has been working on political campaigns for over a decade. He currently lives in Maine and is a fundraiser for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. We asked him a little bit about how he got started working in politics and his advice for those looking to work on campaigns.
1) Please give us a quick biography. Touch on how you got your first job in politics and why you decided to stick with politics as a profession.
I have worked on the campaign end of politics since 1997, when I went from volunteering to getting paid to work for my first campaign (Kehoe for Congress in San Diego). I literally begged my way into the job, working for $800 a month and doing whatever they wanted me to whenever it was needed. I ended the campaign as the GOTV Coordinator and organized 500 people on election day in the closest Congressional election that cycle. I worked my way up from there, as Finance Director on my first winning campaign (Susan Davis for Congress in 2000), managed an underdog race that won (Donna Frye for City Council in San Diego) and eventually made my way to DC, where I worked for the DCCC. I now live in a small town in Northern Maine with my partner and do the fundraising for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
2) Did you begin your career thinking campaigning was where you wanted to end up?
I loved campaigning from early. I volunteered on my first race when I was in Junior High School and never stopped. I never really thought I could make it as a professional, but I'm glad that when I saw my chance I jumped at it.
3) What do you like most and hate most about it?
I love working for people that I know want to make a difference and are willing to put themselves out there to do it. I've seen people running for office go through a lot (rumors, being followed by private detectives, death threats) and I believe it takes a special person to run for office today, either motivated by power - or motivated by an ability to see a big picture and want to make it happen. I try to find the latter to work for. What I dislike at this point of my life is being "on the job" 24 hours a day. In politics you are always on call, because things happen on their own timeline. If you're looking for 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, this isn't the job for you.
4) What is the thing you are most proud of in your career? OR What is your funniest campaign story?
I am most proud of seeing people that have worked for me move up the career ladder. I remember when I started out worrying about my next job, or if I would get one. I have worked hard in my career to mentor people that have worked with me, or have shown an interest in breaking into politics. Now I can count dozens of people that I have been able to help get into or move up in politics.
5) What advice do you have for someone who would like to begin their career in campaigns?
Start out in field. If you really want to know how campaigns are won and lost and have a pulse on the race, you have to start out in the field. Communications and fundraising sound much more glamorous, but you can move into those areas. Knowing how to find and count votes, recruit volunteers, and get out the vote are crucial to any part of campaigning you work in.
6) What type of person generally does well with this career choice? What types of people generally don’t excel in campaigns?
People that are willing to go anywhere on a moments notice and do anything - I guess adventurous, energetic people - do best in this area. People that are looking at a "career path" early on are going to be in trouble. Campaigning doesn't work that way, and in some ways it tends to shut down people that are too aggressive in one direction.
7) What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your political career?
I wish I had been in a better place emotionally.I made it through campaigns with no personal life, but if I had been more centered from the beginning I would have been able to find a bit of a work/life balance.
8) Do you have any parting thoughts that haven’t been covered?
Don't go into campaigns expecting glamour and access to power. Its a lot of time in small towns in states you've never been to, in offices that are put together MacGyver style, and very little money. That said, I wouldn't change the path I took for the world.
This intensive four and a half-day training is designed for individuals with a high-level of past electoral experience and those who plan to play leadership roles in 2010 campaigns. Drawing on cutting-edge best practices and led by expert practitioners with decades of electoral success, this training is for people serious about managing winning progressive campaigns.
Participation in this training is by application-only. The deadline is Monday, October 12th; all applicants will be notified of their application status by Monday, October 19th.
Training sessions and exercises will focus on core campaign competencies, including:
* Campaign planning and budgeting * Message development and delivery * Earned and paid media * Targeting and direct voter contact (voter registration, ID, persuasion, and GOTV) * Direct mail * Issue and opposition research * Online organizing * Fundraising * Management and leadership
The training will take place in Saint Paul, MN, and will run from 9:00am to 9:00pm each day starting December 9th, and end by early afternoon on Sunday, December, 13th. The cost of attending this training is $500, which includes our book, Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way, materials, and meals during the training. A limited number of scholarships will be available. This does not include travel and lodging. Click here to download an application.
2 - Democracy for America has returned with their very popular "Night School" online training program, with next Wednesday's topic being Campus Organizing.
We will be joined by three of the most talented student organizers around, representing the College Democrats, Power Shift, Greenpeace and Network. These organizers will discuss the strategies and tactics for mobilizing today's college students.
RSVP today, and listen next Wednesday, September 23rd to hear how today's college students are making a difference.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Night School, its a free online training program that you the listener can stream live from the convenience of your own home.
(Note: this is not a Democratic GAIN event, but it is a great opportunity, so we are passing it along).
DISCOUNTED TICKETS available for Campaign Training (Downtown Chicago). Limited-time offer.
Members of Democratic Gain on Linked-in can now receive a major discount for Chicago’s paramount Campaign Training.
Benefit from workshops addressing the vital components of running for office with the hidden secrets to campaign success. If you plan to win, you must plan to attend this all inclusive campaign training sponsored by Grainger Terry, Inc. and Politics Magazine.
PLAN TO WIN: A Road Map to Election Victory
Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza – Chicago, IL
DEMOCRATIC GAIN DISCOUNT: $125.00 OFF! (Enter discount code: FRIEND).
YOUR TICKET: $50.00*
Original Ticket Value: $175.00
*This special pricing available through Noon, Wednesday, September 16. Please register today to ensure your discount.
(NOTE: this is not a Democratic GAIN event, but they are great opportunities to network and build your skills, so we are passing along the information)
NOI (the New Organizing Institute) has a great training coming up in San Francisco on October 5th & 6th. Click here to learn more and register!
This training is geared toward individuals who work for a progressive nonprofit and are a) working to develop an online presence, b) wondering how to use internet-based tools, and/or c) struggling with how your online work impacts your organization's mission.
In addition, click here to see the list of great training and informational webinars they have coming up!
Just in case you missed it last month, check out the video of our Building Your Interview Skills Webinar. It's an hour-long free webinar hosted by two very well-versed interviewers. Johanna Berkson, Candidate Trainings and Outreach with DCCC, joins me as we give new job seekers wisdom about interview best practices for campaigns, nonprofits, advocacy groups and Hill jobs.
Special thanks to New Organizing Institute for hosting the webinar and posting the video!
For those of you missed it, check out this Monday's New York Times' article "Without a job, but Working the Campaign Trail." Those who work in politics and specifically on campaigns are probably used to the annual (or sometimes more frequent) job search at the end of a campaign. Searching after a loss, especially an unexpected one, can be particularly difficult. I know many of us have volunteered for campaigns or causes while searching for the next job. It turns out, that practice isn't limited to those who do what we do for a living:
"But this year, a different crowd is landing on their (campaign) doorsteps: bankers, lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers and other highly credentialed professionals, all of whom have been laid off. They are flooding the offices of even the most obscure campaigns, looking for purpose and fighting off the despondency and isolation that come with being unemployed."
New York City Council races are seeing an influx of volunteers looking for an opportunity to contribute. Individuals in many industries all over the country have also lost their jobs and are looking for opportunities.
Campaigns and non-profits are places when skilled labor is often needed and more importantly are places where people often find their new calling. So if you're looking for the next career or just looking to be valuable while figuring out the next job - volunteering for a cause, any cause that you believe in, is a great place to start.
Hey - just a quick note that space is filling up fast for our 2 September workshops, so if you're hoping to join us, please register ASAP!
1) September's "Resume Advice and Jobs Search Tips Workshop" on Friday, Sept 18th from Noon - 3pm. This will be Nikki's last (sniff) official workshop as ED of GAIN, so please sign up today to take advantage of this great advice to make sure your resume gets you to the top of the pile, and you are doing everything you can to get noticed for that great job!
In this 3-hour workshop, we cover:
* Building your political resume to make sure it gets noticed * The Art of the Cover Letter and Writing Samples * Interview Tips * Networking Advice - how to build and use your network
2) Testing and the Science of Direct Voter Contact with Regina Schwartz of the Analyst Institute - Learn what works and what doesn't when it comes to our most taken-for-granted direct voter contact techniques! Friday, Sept 25th from Noon - 2:00pm.
In this 2-hour seminar, Gina will discuss:
* What a voter contact test is * Why we test * What best practices have been learned: Do doorhangers work? What questions can double the effect of your GOTV call? Do internet banner Ads persuade? AND MORE!
(NOTE: this is not a Democratic GAIN event, but it is a great opportunity, so we are passing the information along)
The Texas Democratic Party is hosting a series of campaign camps across the state designed to train candidates and campaign staff in the fundamentals of campaigns, such as message development, communications methods, fundraising, campaign planning, targeting and how to utilize the latest technology to make your campaign more effective.
Courses will be taught by experienced political professionals, providing participants not only the opportunity to learn, but also to network. Each camp is two days long and is scheduled on a weekend.
The next camps are scheduled for September 19th & 20th in San Antonio and October 17th & 18th in Fort Worth. Due to space limitations, registration is required. Registrants who are accepted for participation in each camp will be notified at least 1 week prior to the event for which they have registered. Admission is free for those who are accepted. Reserve your spot today by registering at http://www.txdemocrats.org/grassroots/mini_camps.
If you have any questions about these events, please contact Terrysa Guerra at email@example.com or call 512-478-9800.
In our continuing effort to bring you words of wisdom directly from the people you'd like to be when you grow up, please meet Lisa Bianco, Political Director for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer!
Q: Please give us a quick biography. Touch on how you got your first job in politics and why you decided to stick with politics as a profession. A: My first job in politics was as an intern at the DNC for a summer during college. I absolutely loved it - I was exposed to so many incredibly talented people and got to see how the people "behind the scenes" made campaigns work. I immediately signed up to work on the Gore/Lieberman campaign in New Mexico and have been working campaigns pretty much ever since.
Q: Did you begin your career thinking campaigning was where you wanted to end up? A: I did not initially think about campaigns as a career path, in fact before my internship I didn't even really know that was a field someone could choose to go into. I always loved politics but I had only really thought about it from the legislative side. I feel incredibly lucky that my internship opened my eyes to an entirely new side of the field.
Q: What do you like most and hate most about it? A: What I like most is that one on one connection with voters and allowing them to see how they really do have a voice in their government. They can hear two candidates out and decide who they think should govern them. What an incredibly powerful tool a vote actually is! Campaigns have to build individual relationships with people and it cannot be surface level or their campaign will not be persuasive. It really connects both the candidate and the staff to the people who elect them.
The thing I like the least is the fact that sometimes good candidates get drowned out by bad campaigns. There are extremely dedicated people who think they need to rely on "spin" to communicate their message, rather than really talking to voters about what they care about and how they would like to govern. I believe that voters look for the candidate who is straightforward and honest and can sniff out spin from a thousand miles away. I believe President Obama was so successful in part because he was genuine and upfront with voters.
Q: What is the thing you are most proud of in your career? OR What is your funniest campaign story? A: I am most proud of all of the candidates I have ever worked for - I feel so grateful that I have chosen amazingly committed, talented, and creative people and that they have hired me! Though not all of them won, I can honestly say that I was proud of the campaigns we ran and would have been proud of the elected officials they would have become. My current boss is the epitome of the kind of classy, intelligent and dedicated public servant for whom I have been privileged to work.
As for funniest campaign story - anyone who has worked as a field staffer on campaigns knows, some things are best left out of print!
Q: What advice do you have for someone who would like to begin their career in campaigns? A: My first piece of advice would be to get involved on the ground floor as a field organizer or staff assistant. Knocking doors, recruiting volunteers and making phone calls is the hardest work there is on any campaign but it is also essential for the success of the campaign and as a learning experience to know how a campaign really works. People often try to come in at a "higher level" because they want to be in the back room making strategy or plotting message - you can't do those things until you understand the ground game! Voter contact and volunteers are the most basic ingredients of any victory.
My second piece of advice is do not work for less than you're worth. Campaigns often do not have a lot of money, so it is not a field to go into for the salary. However, you are a valuable asset and you should be paid appropriately. Find out what the going rate for your position is and make sure you get as close to that as possible. Sometimes campaigns can work out other options if they can't afford to pay a lot, such as housing with volunteers. Find a way to make it work.
Q: What type of person generally does well with this career choice? What types of people generally don’t excel in campaigns? A: I think there is room for everyone in campaigns - it is a big tent. However, I'd say that you better like people, like long hours, and be committed to working with a team. There are almost no singular decisions in a campaign so if you don't like coming to the table and hashing it out, campaigns are probably not the best fit. But, campaigns are also a great place to flex your creativity, get to know a lot of people and eat a lot of pizza.
Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your political career? A: That winning felt so amazingly good - I would have found even more hours in the day!
Q: Do you have any parting thoughts that haven’t been covered? A: My parting shots at wisdom are to never be afraid to ask questions - campaigning is a lot about on the ground learning and you can't do that if you don't ask people to explain things - and always maintain your networks! You never know who will be giving you your next job.