Monday, August 31, 2009

How to get a job in politics.

I was in College Park MD this weekend teaching a campaign school for American Majority . It was a decent size class with some potential candidates for various offices. One of the students during a break asked me "How do I get to do what you do?" It is not an uncommon question and I always have to chuckle a bit when I get it.

In 1996 my first campaign "job" was yard sign guy. That's right, I was the guy with the rusty '85 Chevy S-10 who drove around with no air conditioning with a neighborhood map, list of locations and 50 signs in the back. I had just gotten out of the Marines and was working a retail job. Angela and I did not have any kids yet so we had lots of time. We had just moved to South Bend Indiana and had no clue where anything was. So with no GPS I learned about every neighborhood in Northern Indiana while putting up yard signs for a doomed congressional campaign. The primary came in May and my guy got trounced by State Senator Joe Zakas. In the small world that is professional politics, ironically, the guy who managed the Zakas for Congress campaign who won the primary but later lost the general election was none other than Steve Schmidt who would become more famous in 2008 running McCain's campaign for President.

Despite the loss in the primary I was even more eager to continue full time volunteering for a campaign. My next gig was campaign "coordinator" for a state senate campaign. What is a coordinator? Well, it was whatever the candidate needed. I walked a LOT of doors, got chased by a few dogs, organized press conferences, recruited volunteers and put up even more yard signs. Again, election day came and I was disappointed to see my candidate lose. It was only later I figured out how some districts are real long shots based on gerrymandering.

So I was 0-2…but people kept asking me to get more and more involved on campaigns? Was I lucky? Obviously not, as I still had not been associated with a winning campaign. People still wanted my help because I did whatever was asked of me, did not complain and did every job assigned as if that job was "make or break" for the candidate. I was young and inexperienced enough to believe that everyone approached campaign volunteer work this way.

So how do you get a job in politics? Hard work on whatever job is given to you is the best answer. Now, I am not going to try and tell you that knowing the "right" people is not important. Networking is crucial to success in jobs in politics. The good news is even if you are a guy who never went to college, never was a CR, doesn't know anyone in DC and lived in a "fly-over" state you can still out-work other people with more advantages to end up with a great series of jobs and eventually a consultant.

Do you have a "Rabbi" or "sugar-Daddy"? There are a million different ways to describe this relationship. Is there a senior person in politics (elected official, consultant, chief-of-staff, etc) who knows you and likes you? It is a little known fact that most consultants seek out junior people to develop and place on campaigns. Do we always do it out of the goodness of our hearts? Most of the time, personally, I just like to see the right people get plugged into a job that fits them on a campaign. Now, if they end up in a position where they need some mail then, of course, my hope is that they call me.

How do you limit your potential and ensure being passed over for jobs on political campaigns? That is, actually, pretty easy. Follow these simple steps:

  • Insist on being involved in a "senior" position right away.
  • Only work hard on the "important stuff".
  • Blab to the press or other people about internal campaign stuff.
  • Do something illegal.
  • Lie.
  • Complain to the candidate or anyone else that you are not being given important stuff to do.

Good luck on your job search. If you are looking currently I would HIGHLY recommend a profile on LinkedIn.com and let me know if I can help.


 

Chris Faulkner

8 comments:

Teddarr said...

I've also found that developing a skill that others don't have is invaluable. Anybody can place signs and this is a good place to start. Just as many people can make phone calls or knock on doors. These are all needed positions on a campaign. BUT, how many people do you hear of that know how to target likely voters in your local area. One recommendation I have is find a specialized skill and find a mentor. I learned how to use database management to target voters and produce walk and call lists. Rarely is there a campaign season that goes by without me working 3 or more campaigns from school board up to statewide races.

Learn a needed skill and stick to your principles. You'll earn more respect that way.

chrisfaulkner said...

Good point.

Wendy said...

Great post :) and wonderful point! I think it is great you did whatever you could to help out your candidate. I know how time consuming is to put up yard signs all over the place, walk door-to-door, etc... I am sure they appreciated all the support you gave them throughout the campaign, even if they didnt win. :)

Nate said...

I disagree with you Teddarr. Developing a skill that other don't have assumes that skill will always be in demand. Database management, for example, is become more streamlined every year. That, along with open source application development is creating a world where anyone can be an expert on anything with a few hours and an internet connection.

The issue, one that plagues my generation (Y) in particular, is the ego that people my age bring to the table; an attitude of entitlement. The quickest and best way to cut through someone with entitlement is to hand them a list of yardsign requests and give the person 1-day to do get them delivered. The person that does that, and anything else that's required, will ALWAYS have a place in ANY organization.

You have to be a good Indian before being made Chief.

Good article Chris.

Nate said...

And please don't judge for the grammatical errors...I'm not a fan of non-spell check text entry boxes : )

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. said...

A lot of these things are discussed in the recently published book, "How to Get a Job in Politics, and Keep it"

http://gettingajobinpolitics.com/

One thing it discusses is what's on the thread here about Nate's statements about not needing a skill. While there's truth to his underlying claim that one always needs a positive attitude, more often than not there are people who can hand out yard signs with the right motivation and leadership, but no one who is motivated to handle the data. Yard signs don't win elections, and upstart campaigns are often ambivalent about the small-scale tactics that can really make a leveraged difference.

Being skilled at handling and processing data, no matter the technological improvements, will always be valuable. Offering to correct, check and improve the data to make walk lists, assist with voter contact and clean up the GOTV file is always value-added.

So, in that respect, I'd gently disagree.