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How to get a political job

So, you here you are: a recent college graduate, a professional looking for a change, or a retiree with time on your hands ... and you want to make a difference ... you want to work in politics.

Getting a job on a campaign -- or with any other political organization -- can be an overwhelming process. Oftentimes you either feel over qualified, not qualified enough ... or oddly, some combination of the two.

The first rule of thumb is "manage your expectations."  Regardless of how highly skilled you were at your last job, or what your GPA was in college, if you've never worked in politics, you really need to be willing to start at the ground level.  Most of the time, that means going out into the field as a canvasser or field organizer.  Notice that we didn't say "start at the bottom."  This is an extremely important distinction as there is no "bottom" in politics because every position is absolutely vital to run a successful campaign or organization!

Working in a campaign -- or any political organization -- is simply unlike anything else you have ever done.  It requires a basic understanding of how campaigns run, and that only comes from actually doing the work.  And no matter how many campaigns you have volunteered for, it's just not the same as being on staff.

Also, working as a field organizer isn't the only way to get started -- it's just the most common.  You can also sign-on to be a communications assistant, finance assistant, operations assistant, among other jobs.  Normally, you will start as an assistant, although more local campaigns can often allow you to have more responsibility with less experience.  Again, this work isn't necessarily rocket science, but if you've never done it before, you need to learn the basic skills by working under someone who has.

Starting at the beginning can be a tough pill to swallow -- especially for those who are looking to make a switch from other lines of work.  All we can tell you is to stick it out, do good work, and network like crazy (but without being obnoxious), and you will move up quickly.  Did you ever see that movie "The Devil Wears Prada" where the main character kept telling herself "a year at this job is like 3 years anywhere else ... " The same holds true in politics, with the exception that time tends to work even more quickly.

So now that you have a basic idea about what you are getting into, how do you actually go about getting into it?

First:  Make sure you are registered and have posted your resume on Democratic GAIN!

Then, make a search plan by answering the following questions for yourself:

  • What do you need? ($$, schedule, location)
  • What do you want? ($$, schedule, location)
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • What are your skills?
  • What skills do you want to learn?
  • Are you really willing to forego your personal life for a little while you pursue a political career?

Now that you have a plan, figure out who can help you make it a reality.

  • Who you know is as important as what you know!
  • Make a list of the types of jobs you may want and find people who are already there. Call and ask if you can have coffee with them.
  • Make a list of people you already know in politics and ask them to have coffee with you. Make sure everyone you know knows you are looking for a job in politics.
  • Go on informational interviews. Talk with friends who you know are in politics to see what they know is available and have them help you.
  • Network! Join groups, go to political events (rallies, small-dollar fundraisers, etc), participate in blogs and social networking groups.  Don't sit in your living room hoping someone will call.

Make sure your resume is in order. You can click here for more specific resume tips.

Try volunteering first.  This is especially helpful if you have your heart set on a specific campaign or organization. Even if you call and they say they aren't hiring at the moment, show up, work for free, do what they tell you to -- and then do more, do everything extremely well, make yourself invaluable, and make sure they know that you want a job.  So many people in politics got their first job by just showing up and doing what they were told ... and doing it well.

Get trained.  There are tons of organizations out there that do political trainings. TAKE ADVANTAGE. The dirty little secret is these trainings are also the perfect place to prove yourself as a smart and hardworking individual, while simultaneously networking with folks who are hiring!

Don't limit yourself.  Too often beginners think that the only way to work in politics is to work on a campaign -- and the bigger the better. This could not be further from the truth.  While working directly for a big campaign is a great way to get started -- there are dozens of other opportunities all of which develop the same skill-sets and work toward the same goals.

For example: unions, advocacy groups, consultants & firms (such as: direct mail, fundraising, media, targeting, field, polling, etc.), smaller campaigns (local, state-wide, congressional), 527s, party committees, etc.

Expanding your search to include one of these other organizations often has the added benefit of getting you a better job title, higher pay, more flexible schedule, and access to more and higher level skills.  And, you're still working directly to promote democrats and the democratic agenda!

Don't give up!  It's almost a bit of a rule of thumb, actually. You may go for weeks ... even months ... doing all of the above, and getting nothing, nowhere.  And then, just when you are at the nadir of your despair ... you'll get 3 job offers in one day and not know which one to take.  You've just got to stick with it; keep putting yourself out there; keep making calls, sending emails, applying to jobs; and managing your expectations.  You'll get there.