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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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Landing an Administration Job

Posted By Seth Tanner, Thursday, January 8, 2009
Jamal Simmons gives job seekers some tips on landing the administration job you want.
The post-campaign vacation is done, the holidays are over and now it’s time for every Obama campaign staffer to find an answer to the most frequently heard question at the holiday dinner table: “What are you going to do in the administration?” The process can seem so opaque that most people don’t even know where to start.

One Obama transition official offered the following advice: “Look at the plum book [of political appointments], polish up and proofread your résumé, and fill out the application on”

Go to the website? Seriously?

Yep. This official said they really are using that tool to sort and catalog interest in working for the administration. But knowing the Type A personalities who succeed in politics, many will not want to stop there. Having lived through the 1992-93 presidential transition and received many e-mails and phone calls from job seekers, I feel your pain and have assembled a guide on how to navigate the process.
For some more information on getting a job in politics in general, check out this quick guide we have on GAIN.

Tags:  administration  job seeking 

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Did you know you could do that?

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Monday, January 5, 2009

Did you know you could do that?

Last year, GAIN launched a new web site with lots of great new features for members.  Just in case you're not already using them, here are two great tools for job seekers:

  • RSS feed for jobs - Our jobs board is available via RSS.  You can subscribe in your favorite reader to makes sure you never miss an opportunity.
  • Category Email Subscriptions - Are you only looking for campaign manager jobs?  Jobs in New Media?  Advance? Policy and Legislation? You can subscribe so that only new jobs in areas you're looking are emailed to you.  This works even if you're not looking for a job today, but want to keep track of opportunities. 

To use either feature, visit the job search page.  You can find the RSS feed at the top right of the page and can click on subscribe to set up your email subscription.

How do you use GAIN?  Any tips for other users?   Share them below.

Tags:  job seeking  website 

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Career Fair at NOI's RootsCampDC a success!

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Thursday, December 18, 2008
Career Fair

This past weekend, Democratic GAIN partnered with the New Organizing Institute (NOI) to host a Democratic and Progressive Career Fair in conjunction with NOI's RootsCampDC weekend.  These events, which were held at Trinity College in Northeast DC, were not only well- attended, but were also deemed to be a great success by both employers and participants.

Over the course of the two day event, participants attended break-out sessions, panel discussions and the career fair, all of which were designed to not only help them connect with their fellow organizers, but also to provide insight into how they can further their careers in progressive politics and advocacy.

On Saturday, Democratic GAIN sponsored two discussions about finding a job and working in various political fields.  Our “How to work in Advocacy” discussion was led by Greg Speed, Executive Director of America Votes; Cathy Duvall, Political Director at Sierra Club; and Tanya Tarr, Political Research Analyst at AFSCME and our “How to Work on the Hill” discussion was led by Chris Chwastyk, Chief of Staff to Rep. Chet Edwards; Danny O’Brien, Chief of Staff to Sen. Bob Menendez; and Lona Valmoro, Senior Advisor to Sen. Hillary Clinton.  The panelists at both discussions shared the stories of their personal pathways to success and gave advice, feedback and encouragement to the participants.  Democratic GAIN would like to extend a special “thank you” to our panelists for taking time out of their Saturday’s to impart their wisdom and knowledge to the next generation of political leaders.
The general message from the panelists was:
  1. Do good work
  2. Network, network, network
  3. Get your foot in the door (even if that means interning or taking what you think is a job below your skillset for a little while)
  4. Don’t give up.
If you were unable to attend the discussions, you can read my own story and advice here.

    Career FairSunday’s Career Fair showcased nearly 50 diverse employers from the democratic party and progressive movement, including (but not limited to) House & Senate Democrats, DNC, Democratic Party of Virginia, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Democracy for America, DLCC, and many, many other amazing unions, consultants, higher education establishments, and advocacy organizations.  Participants were afforded the opportunity to speak with these employers about their organizations and their plans for 2009 while also learning about their current and future staffing needs.

    Democratic GAIN would like to extend special thank you to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their teams for representing both the House and Senate Democrats at the Career Fair, as well as all of the representatives from the various employers who were on-hand to discuss the various opportunities available to participants.

    If you were unable to attend the Career Fair but would like to get your resume in front of these organizations, make sure it is updated and posted on the Democratic GAIN website!  Many employers reminded participants that they often don’t post their open positions and only search the resume database when hiring.

    On a final note, Democratic GAIN would like to express our thanks to all of the organizers, volunteers, participants and employers, all of whom made both the Career Fair and RootsCamp a huge success. We value your participation, and look forward to a bright future for the progressive movement!

    We are having another Career Fair in New Jersey on Saturday, February 7th.  Details are still being hashed out, but keep checking the Democratic GAIN Calendar, and make sure you are on our email list for more information as it becomes available!

    Tags:  career fair  events 

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    Wow - what a year!

    Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    As 2009 rapidly approaches, all of us at Democratic GAIN are excited about the successes we've had this year!  The larger Democratic and progressive community has much to celebrate: we won the White House and increased our majorities in Congress and state legislatures across the country.  Democratic GAIN members were the life blood of these victories, so thank you!

    Democratic GAIN itself has also had a successful year with our ongoing efforts to provide our members with the services they need to be successful in their careers and activities.

    A few things of which we are particularly proud this year include:

    We hope that these new features have been helpful to you. 

    With 2009 will come continued challenges but even more opportunities, and Democratic GAIN wants to be there every step of the way to help you succeed!  Your feedback is invaluable to helping us learn how we can be most helpful to you.  Please take 2 minutes to fill out this brief survey to assist us in better helping you in 2009.

    As the trade association for Democratic & Progressive individuals and organizations, we literally cannot exist without your continued support and participation, so THANK YOU also for everything you have done to make us successful this past year.  We can’t do what we do without our terrific members and registered users.

        Tags:  2008  features  website  Year in review 

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        Help the Inaugural Committee

        Posted By Nikki Enfield, Wednesday, December 10, 2008
        Looking for a great opportunity help with the Inauguration?  Volunteering can be a fantastic way to find a job. It gives you the chance to meet with people working in an organization and allows you to show off your skills, or develop new skills.
        From the JobsThatAreLeft list serv:
        "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) for President-elect Barack Obama is looking for volunteers to help with phone banking between now and the Inaugural celebration. Volunteers are needed to help contact the thousands of enthusiastic supporters who will be descending upon the District and volunteering at festivities around the historic swearing-in of the President-elect.
        Phone banks will be running weekdays from 9am-7pm and from 12pm-7pm on the weekends. If you are available to help, please click on the link below and fill out the form so that inaugural staff can contact you with further details. Calls will be made from the PIC headquarters and phones will be provided.
        If nothing else, you'll help the Inauguration find top-notch volunteers and make some new connections!

        Tags:  Volunteer 

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        Political Jobs A-GO-GO

        Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, December 9, 2008
        Sorry this took so long to post, but check out this recap from our Political Jobs-A-GO-GO networking reception in Seattle in November.  More events like this are on their way in 2009!
        Thanks to Jeanette Russell with Democracy in Action for sending this in.

        Tags:  events 

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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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        Don't forget to apply for Administration jobs

        Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, December 2, 2008

        I should have posted these sooner, but here are a couple of good posts from around the web about working for President-elect Obama and the new administration.  I highly recommend sending your resume in at

        First, aaronsw at Open Left:

        "I got my Obama job application form in the (e)mail today. And I wanted to encourage everyone else to get theirs by filling out this simple form. (In a few days they'll email you a longer form, with spaces for more jobs and a choice of which agencies you're interested in, but that's also pretty easy.)...
        "...Obviously having people outside the government pushing back is crucial, but it would also be nice to see those right-wing hacks replaced with a talented lefty team. So consider filling out an Obama application. Although do be warned -- as the site says, "some positions will require Senate confirmation."

        And also check out 'How to get an Obama staff job" at Politico:

        "I believe that politics is truly a merit-based world," he told High Country News magazine in August. "If you work hard and you're honest — and you keep winning — you'll get to rise. [In my early political jobs,] I was the kid who was the first in the office and the last to leave. And it's still kind of true. ... I've been chief of staff to three famous members of Congress and I work for a fourth, and when [each] hired me, I don't think any of them even asked me where I went to school — they just asked me what I had done, and I love that."

        Even while your searching for the next job - make sure your fill out an application at

        And make sure you let us know where you end up!

        Tags:  job seeking 

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        Training opportunity in Chicago

        Posted By Nikki Enfield, Sunday, November 30, 2008

        In addition to our Democratic GAIN sponsored events, we always like to connect people with opportunities across the country. For those of you in the Chicago area, Mia Phifer & Associates is sponsoring "Professional Campaign Strategy’s 101 -An introduction to winning elections."

        Saturday December 6, 2008
        1:00 to 5:00 PM Training & Panel Discussion/Q&A period
        5:00 – 6:00 PM Networking Cocktail Hour

        Chicago, IL


        Special Guest at Networking Cocktail Hour - Becky Carroll National Women’s Vote Director, Obama for America, Communications Director, Rahm Emanuel for Congress, Illinois Communications Director, Gore for President.

        Please join us for a specialized candidate’s training by National Political Consultants for:

        • Individuals who have never run for local office before but are currently running or would like to run in the future
        • Individuals who currently hold elected office but would like to grow their operation or run for higher office in the future
        • Individuals who have volunteered on a campaign or worked in an entry level position on one or two small races and want to broaden their resources and information base

        You will have the opportunity to learn the ropes from political professionals in an intimate setting - each consultant will provide a presentation on their area of specialty to be followed by an interactive question and answer period with the consultants ending with a networking cocktail hour.

        Special presentations:

        • General Campaign start up, Fundraising and Networking Development – Mia Phifer & Associates
        • Legal & Ballot Access – Vasyl Markus
        • Direct Mail & Internet Marketing - First Tuesday Consulting, Rob Martwick
        • Polling - Lake Research Partners, Daniel Gotoff
        • Media buying & Strategy - Main Street Solutions, Kristin Donels
        • Research - 3rd Coast Consulting, Will Caskey & Carrie Bauer
        • Printing - Consolidated Printing, Marilyn Jones
        • Phones – Telephone Strategies Group – Jaimey Sexton
        • Others TBA

        Do you know of other training opportunities like this?  Post them here at the GAINing Ground blog to spread the word!

        Download File (PDF)

        Tags:  events  training 

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