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Peer to Peer Hiring Advice from Jon Vogel

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Jon Vogel currently serves as the Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your career path, and your current job.

I currently serve as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), where I provide strategic advice to Chairman Chris Van Hollen and oversee the Democratic Party’s efforts to protect and strengthen their House Majority.

I spent the past two election cycles at the forefront of the unprecedented back–to-back Congressional gains resulting in the largest Democratic House Majority since 1992. During the 2008 election cycle, I served in two senior roles at the DCCC and helped guide House Democrats to their second consecutive wave election victory. I served first as the DCCC’s Political Director where I oversaw candidate recruitment and campaign planning and strategy. I then finished the cycle serving as the Director of the DCCC’s Independent Expenditure Program, where I directed the $85 million effort that played in over 67 districts and tracked 135 races. With wins in every corner of the country, I have a unique understanding of America’s changing electorate.

I have worked extensively on Capital Hill and for Democratic Campaigns across America. In 2000, I helped elect Congressman Steve Israel in a Republican open seat in New York. I then served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Congressman Israel. In 2004, I was Midwest Finance Director for the Gephardt for President Campaign, developing a high dollar fundraising program in 11 states. From 2004-2005, I served as a Vice President at Winning Directions, a leading Democratic direct mail firm. I am a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Connecticut College with a degree in International Relations.

What do you feel is the most important information to include in a job description?

1. Job title and who they will be reporting to.
2. Description of the organization.
3. Areas of responsibility and skill sets looking for.
4. Years/cycles of experience looking for.

What steps do you generally take to find a pool of talented, qualified applicants?

I find that it is best to cast a wide net using both professional contacts and advertising on our website and at times through paid sites. That said, the best 2/3 of applicants usually come through people I know, but its worth the extra effort to get good applicants though a broader reach.

In general, which do you feel is more important in an employee:  good personality or specific experience?  Why?

Experience gets you in the door, while personality gets you hired.

What are your three favorite questions to ask in an interview and why?

1. What makes you qualified for the job? It is a good question to learn more about he applicants background while seeing if they understand what the job is.
2. What do you see as the biggest challenges of the job? This question helps me determine if they truly understand the job they are applying for.
3. What separates you from other applicants? This allows applicants to brag a little and separate themselves out.

What advice do you have for people who are hiring for the first time?

1. Check references that are not listed. In short, find people that have worked with the applicant but are not listed as a reference.
2. Ask for a writing sample. This could also include giving the applicant a written exercise of writing a memo related to the job. 

Tags:  hiring advice  interview advice 

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Peer to Peer Hiring Advice from Michael Wilson

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Michael Wilson currently serves as the Legislative and Political Director at the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW).  UFCW represents 1.3 million members work in a range of industries, ranging from retail food service to food processing and manufacturing.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your career path, and your current job.

Hill staffer, ACTWU Leg Rep, USDOL Political Appointee, UFCW Chief Lobbyist.  Currently work with the UFCW as the Legislative and Political Director, where I Direct the legislative and political department of a major union, interact with local unions, other unions, non-labor allies, elected officials and staff.

What steps do you generally take to find a pool of talented, qualified applicants?

Always looking for good people; stock up on resumes even when you don't need them. Recognize up and coming talent from all over
You can expect a given candidate to do well - but never prejudge the process
Never have a pool of candidates of all one race and all one gender
To build a pool I rely on Word of mouth from my network, as well as Internet and Listservs to get the word out.

In general, which do you feel is more important in an employee:  good personality or specific experience?  Why?

Always is a mix of both - someone who is all exeperience or all personality won't solve your problem

What are your three favorite questions to ask in an interview and why?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
What's the last great book you read?
What questions do you have for me?

What advice do you have for people who are hiring for the first time?

Don't rush - make a thoughtful decision about who to hire
Never let potential candidates dangle for weeks without a decision - or at least communication

Is there anything we haven't already covered that you'd like to share?

Every new hire starts with hope - but of course, they don't all work out. Try to make your best judgment, but nobody is perfect.

Tags:  hiring advice  interview tips 

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Peer to Peer Hiring Advice from Greg Speed

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Greg Speed currently serves as the Executive Director of America Votes, a coalition of the largest membership-based progressive groups in the country, representing a broad range of issues including the environment, civil and human rights, choice, education and labor.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your career path, and your current job.

Over the past 15-odd years I've attained experience in nearly every aspect of campaigns - from communications/media to field to fundraising - doing work for candidates, Members, progressive groups and party committees.

I refer to myself as a Generalist and do not view that as negative in any way. I counsel my staff and those who come for informational interviews not to view their own career paths too narrowly and to sieze every opportunity to expand their skill set. This is especially important for young people who have the benefit of being able to take risks on varied experiences without worrying about 401ks, kids, mortgages, etc.

What do you feel is the most important information to include in a job description?

Obviously there are core responsibilities to every position that must be specified, but it's important to write the description in a way that makes clear that applicants are expected to contribute in a variety of areas. This is especially in a tough fundraising environment limiting staffing budgets and helps instill a broad understanding of responsibility in new staff.

What steps do you generally take to find a pool of talented, qualified applicants?

Job posting services like Democratic GAIN are essential resources and the first places to post positions.

However, distributing positions individually within your own network of contacts is also enormously helpful - not only for that particular position, but to remind friends and colleagues of your organization's mission (America Votes, in my case) and ongoing staffing needs. Tapping my own contacts has resulted in friends regularly sending great resumes they come across.

In general, which do you feel is more important in an employee:  good personality or specific experience?  Why?

I'll take strong personal skills and work ethic over specific experience every time. However, personality and work ethic themselves are a result of strong, positive experiences in the workplace. 

What are your three favorite questions to ask in an interview and why?

1) In past jobs, what have been your strongest skills and where have you needed improvement? (points against any candidate who can't articulate an area for improvement)
2) What do you want to be doing in ten years and how do you believe this position advances that career goal?
3) Why motivated you to get in Democratic/progressive politics in the first place?

What advice do you have for people who are hiring for the first time?

Be kind to everyone you come across in this business - many of us have had interns who are now running the world.

Is there anything we haven't already covered that you'd like to share?

Did I say be kind to EVERYONE in this business? I've never forgotten those who don't adhere to this rule...

Tags:  hiring advice  interview tips 

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FYI: 21st Century Democrats Gala Event

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Monday, June 15, 2009
I'm just passing along the below information - this is not a Democratic GAIN-sponsored event, but it will be a great event at which to meet and network with other professionals:

In 2008, 21st Century Democrats trained 650 young activists, and sent many of them across the country to serve as field organizers for progressive and populist Democratic candidates.  Thanks to their hard work and the help of our donors, 48 of the 71 candidates we endorsed -- from county commissioners to U.S. Senators -- were elected in November.
Please join us to celebrate our success and to prepare for training the next generation of progressive activists -- at the 21st Century Democrats 2009 Annual Gala.  This event will be held Wednesday, June 17, from 6 to 8 PM on the rooftop of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) building, 900 7th St NW (one block from the Chinatown metro). 
We will be joined by 21st Century Democrats-endorsed Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon will be honored for his service to his constituents and the progressive community.  Also, Representative John Conyers of Michigan (Chairman of the Judiciary Committee) and many other members of Congress will be in attendance!
The Annual Gala is a great opportunity to meet outstanding public officials, and network with progressive activists while enjoying heavy hors d'oeuvrs and an open bar.  And you should see the view of DC from the IBEW rooftop!

(Under 21 are welcome to attend, just not to drink)
Please join us at this unique event by purchasing a ticket at the $21 "Young Activist" level.  The "Young Activist" tickets are for individuals aged 21-35 who worked or volunteered for a Democratic campaign or progressive organization during the 2008 elections.
The above links will bring you to the 21st Century Democrats Donation page.  Please input the total dollar amount corresponding with the number and level of tickets you are purchasing (i.e., if you are purchasing two "Young Activist" tickets, please make a contribution of $42).  You will not receive a physical ticket; rather, you will gain admittance by showing identification at the door. 

Tags:  networking event 

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Don't forget about this week's 2 training events!

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Monday, June 15, 2009
Hey everyone -

Just a quick reminder about this week's 2 Training Events.

On Thursday from Noon - 2pm we have only 3 seats left for the "Whats, Whys & Hows of Direct Mail" Advance Training Seminar with Mission Control's Ed Peavy.  Click here to learn more and to sign-up.

Then from Noon - 2pm on Friday, we are bringing our popular "Resume Advices & Job Searching Tips Workshop" to the web, so folks outside of DC can take advantage.  Click here to register.

We've got several other events coming up to help you hone your skills and connect you with the right people.  Keep checking our Events Calendar to stay up-to-date. 

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Announcing the Political Career Bootcamp!

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Friday, June 12, 2009
Okay, so I am really excited about this event and hope you are too!

Have you ever wondered how the top political players got to where they are today? 

Are you looking to begin or continue your own political career? 

Do you want to make the most out of your internship or staffer position and develop connections that will take you to the next level? 

Then this is the place for you! 

Progressive Political Career Bootcamp: Senior Democratic operatives giving you the tips and tricks of their success and how you can get there too!

Democratic GAIN and the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management are teaming up to bring you a day of panel discussions with senior Democratic and Progressive Political Professionals from all areas of politics who will share their stories while providing information, insights and advice on how you can begin or continue your own political career.

Following the panel discussions, there will be a series of smaller break-out sessions with professionals in various specialties who can answer more specific questions and give more focused advice to those individuals wishing to pursue that specialty. 

The registration fee is $10 for non-dues-paying members of GAIN, and free for current dues-paying members. 

Space is limited, so register early to guarantee your spot at this great event!


12:00 pm:     Careers in Advocacy

1:00 pm:      Careers on The Hill

2:00 pm:      Careers in Campaigning

3:00 pm:     TBD

4:00 - 5:00 pm:  Career Counseling Breakout Session 1 in: Finance, Field Organizing, Communications, New Media and Campaign Management

5:00 - 6:00 pm:  Career Counseling Breakout Session 2 in: Finance, Field Organizing, Communications, New Media and Campaign Management

Tags:  career advice  learn from pros  networking 

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GAIN members get discount to upcoming Personal Democracy Forum

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Thursday, June 11, 2009
Dear dues-paying members of GAIN -

Just a quick note to let you know that you can get $165 off the ticket price to the Personal Democracy Forum conference later this month in NYC.  This is a great networking and skills building opportunity.

For those who want to know more about how the internet and related technologies are changing politics, and to learn how you can use those tools in your own work, there's no better event than the annual Personal Democracy Forum, now in its sixth year in New York City. Co-founded by former Public Campaign senior analyst Micah Sifry and former Dean net advisory board chair Andrew Rasiej, PdF is a nonpartisan brainfest brings together a thousand political activists, organizers, hackers and hacks, along with many leading elected and government officials, academic observers and journalists.

This year's conference, taking place June 29-30 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, is focused on "" and all the ways that campaigns, elections, media, advocacy, and governance are becoming more open, participatory and collaborative. Come hear keynotes from speakers including: White House CIO Vivek Kundra; Deputy CTO for Open Government Beth Noveck; State Department Senior Adviser for Innovation Alec Ross; New York Times columnist Frank Rich; Craigslist founder Craig Newmark; blogger Nate Silver; co-founder Gina Bianchini; Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey; Obama '08 new media director Joe Rospars; and many others. More details here.

 Click here for the registration code. 

Tags:  networking 

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DCCC Resume Drop and Meet & Greet

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Folks - I'm just the messenger, but I thought those of you who are just coming off the Virginia Primaries who had a less-than-desired outcomes would be interested in knowing about the below event:


If you just finished working on a Virginia Primary Election Campaign and are now looking to work on a 2010 Congressional Campaign, the DCCC wants to hear from you!

Please join us on June 19th, 2009 from 2pm-5pm at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Headquarters for an informal meet and greet with members of our political and finance staff.

June 19, 2009
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
430, South Capitol Street, SE
(1st Floor Training Room)

*If you plan to attend please submit your resume here.  Please make sure to also bring 2 copies of your resume and references with you*

If you are unable to join us and would still like to submit an application to work on a campaign, please apply here.

Please RSVP by June 17th to Johanna Berkson at or 202-485-3425

Note:  while this event is geared toward the VA staffers, it is open to anyone wishing to work on a congressional race this year!

Tags:  networking  resume drop 

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Upcoming Networking Happy Hour in Portland, OR on June 23rd

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Friday, June 5, 2009
To everyone in the Portland, OR area, GAIN is proud to be teaming up with the below list of great sponsors to bring you a Networking Happy Hour on June 23rd at Ron Tom's.

Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Our Networking Happy Hours are perfectfor those working in, or wanting work in progressive politics, to meet and mingle with other political professionals. Free food and a fun atmosphere guaranteed!

GAIN is proud to be teaming up with these co-sponsors of the Portland Happy Hour:

Along with these additional sponsors:

In addition, expect folks from the offices of local public officials, labor organizations, advocacy groups and other progressive political types.

Come out for a fun evening to meet political professionals from Portland and around Oregon. Who knows, you just might meet your next co-worker or colleague. At a minimum, you’ll make some great new friends!

The event is FREE, but you must RSVP by clicking here.

Please spread the word and we'll see you there!

PS - A special shout-out to Jake Weigler for making this possible. All you Portlanders owe Jake a big thanks for making this happen!

Tags:  happy hour  networking  oregon  portland 

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Interview with Brian Weeks

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Brian Weeks currently serves as Assistant Director for the Political Action Department at AFSCME International.

What was your first job in politics and how did you get it?

Racine County Coordinator, Les Aspin for Congress

I had interned in the campaign office of Les Aspin during the summer while in college. They offered me a job on the campaign. I accepted and postponed my college career by a semester.

Describe your career path since that first job.  Why did you take the jobs that you did?

Campaigns, campaigns, campaigns.

I've worked on campaigns in a variety of capacities and in over 20 states. Everything from county supervisor to president. Campaign work is exciting and you meet great people that you'll work with the rest of your life.

What are the three most important skills for being successful in politics and why?

Being trustworthy. If you say you're going to do something, do it.
Integrity. Don't compromise your principles.
Leadership. Work at making your team and those around you better, more productive and more successful. Managing is not the same as leading.

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?

Quantify your work. Explain how and why something you worked on was successful.

Always be honest.

What would be your first step if you were looking for a job in the progressive political world today?

Meet with as many people as possible, even informational interviews are helpful. When I first moved to DC, I had friends and others I had worked with set up informational meetings for me all over the city. Through these meetings I found out about a job opportunity and the person I met with helped me get that job.

Is there a piece of advice or words of wisdom that you'd learned over the years that you wish you'd known when you started in your first job?

Don't fall into the trap thinking that everything revolves around DC. The real work gets done in states and those that have state and field experience will be better off in the long run.

Tags:  afscme  career advice  job advice 

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