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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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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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What's next?

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Friday, November 14, 2008

Did you just finish the campaign cycle?  Looking for the next career move?

Are you a campaign, consultant, advocacy group or labor union looking to do big things in 2009?

Then Democratic GAIN is here to help.

GAIN Career FairWhether you're a cause looking for talent or a talent looking for a cause, then the next Democratic GAIN Career Fair is right around the corner.

Democratic GAIN Career Fairs are the best place for employers looking for talented staff and political professionals looking for their next opportunity to connect to one another. Please join us for the first Career Fair following the 2008 election to find your next employee or employer!

DC Career Fair
Sunday, December 14: 11 AM - 3 PM
Trinity College
125 Michigan Ave NE
Washington, DC 20017

You can register here.  Don't miss out on this great event!

Tags:  career fair  employers  events  job seeking 

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Calling all Washington state folks

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Friday, November 14, 2008

If you haven't heard, Democratic GAIN is partnering with the WinWin Network, New Organizing Institute and DemocracyInAction to sponsor a networking reception to immediately follow the Western Organizers Summit.

Political Jobs A-GO-GO
Monday, November 17: 5 PM
800 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

It's free to get in and we'll have a cash bar and some complimentary appetizers set up.  Whether you're looking for a job, looking to hire, or just interested in getting to know other progressives in Seattle, this event is for you!!

You can read more and RSVP here.

Come out for a good time with good people!

Tags:  employers  events  job seeking 

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Great Article about jobseeking etiquette from the WSJ

Posted By Nikki Enfield, Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Hey all - there is an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal that discusses a generational divide that exists in the workplace. It's the sort of thing that you may not even aware you are doing, but doing so is detrimental to your employment opportunities.
It discusses how younger job applicants are turning off their prospective employers by contacting them via text message, or using shorthand when sending thank you messages.
..."Hiring managers...say an increasing number of job hunters are just too casual when it comes to communicating about career opportunities in cyberspace and on mobile devices. Thank yous on paper aren't necessary, but some applicants are writing emails that contain shorthand language and decorative symbols, while others are sending hasty and poorly thought-out messages to and from mobile devices. Job hunters are also using social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to try to befriend less-than-willing interviewers.

These incidents typically involve college students and recent graduates, and recruiters say such faux pas can be instant candidacy killers because they hint at immaturity and questionable judgment."
Be aware of the fact that everything you do when applying for a job will be seen as an indicator of what you will do - and how you will interact - when you have that job. Employers in politics can be especially touchy about informal or inappropriate communication skills because, no matter what your job position or title, you will be representing your candidate or your organization at all times!

Happy Job-Hunting!

Tags:  etiquette  job seeking 

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Being on the list

Posted By Seth Tanner, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Politico wrote a great piece on finding Hill Jobs.

But if you want to actually land the job, you’ll almost certainly have to subscribe to one of the unofficial e-mail vacancy lists run by staffers themselves.

“You have to know of these e-mail lists to know where the positions are on the Hill,” said one former Democratic legislative assistant. “They’re not posted anywhere in the public sphere. When you get to D.C., you have to have these lists to find a vacancy on the Hill.”

At least a half-dozen House staffers maintain e-mail lists to which they send vacancy announcements. The e-mails, with hundreds or, in one case, nearly 2,000, subscribers, are sent weekly, daily or as soon as the listserv owner hears about a job.

Our job board has many job posts for campaign-centric jobs (we do accept jobs from official offices). One of the ones mentioned in this article is the Tom Manatos list. If you are looking to work on the hill, make sure to sign up!

Tags:  capitol hill  job seeking 

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