Hit the Campaign Trail, Kickstart Your Career: How Politicking is a Lot Like Startupping|
Volunteering or working for a campaign is an amazing way to fill your resume, make great connections, and build valuable skills while you’re searching for your dream job. And if you’re looking for ways to do those things, your timing is right: a pretty big presidential election is just around the corner (lucky you!).
With less than 5 months until Election Day in November 2012, it may be worth it to explore working for a campaign for the next new months.
When my post-graduation job offer fell through, I seriously needed something to do to alleviate my jobless misery living at home with my parents. Lucky for me, there was a special election ramping up in my home state – and it turned into the perfect career opportunity. I took a shot in the dark: I emailed the only email address I could find on the campaign website. Lo and behold, I ended up setting up a meeting with the person that responded, and full-time dedicated myself to the campaign the next day.
A political campaign is just like a tech startup.
Campaigns are scrappy, just like startups. The office space is always set up with 8 to a table, you often bring your own computer or use your own cell phone, and you’re surrounded by a ton of young people. You do a little bit of everything – from running to the post office, to knocking on doors for signatures, to driving the campaign van with signs in the back and staking them in the ground. The smaller the campaign, the more variety in your day.
Most importantly, campaigns function with a core mantra: if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. There is a finite amount of time and resources within which your team needs to achieve its goal. This means a heck of a lot of late nights, but also a solid amount of autonomy to prove yourself and make a real difference on the campaign.
If you prove yourself, you get responsibility.
Unless you bring previous experience or a specific technical skill, such as being an accountant, starting out on a campaign might not be glamorous, and will probably include a good amount of “phone banking,” the age old practice of calling registered voters with a script to ask them to vote for your candidate. But if you put in the time and commitment, you can gain responsibility fast. There is always more to be done on a campaign, and if you show that you are dedicated, organized, competent, and going to show up, any campaign will reward you with a little extra responsibility. Volunteer turnover is particularly high, so know that persistence pays off!
I started my first campaign as a phone bank volunteer – after a week, I managed the schedule of volunteers, after 2 weeks, I trained new volunteers, and soon after I became the Headquarters Volunteer Coordinator. In the last Get Out The Vote push of the campaign, when we had high school students, lobbyists, and hill staffers alike volunteering in the office, everyone was directed to me for their assignment. I earned the nickname “boss lady” – and to think it all started because I actually showed up regularly to make phone calls!
You learn how the political system works.
Believe me; I was a political science major in school, and I learned more about how our government actually works in my three months on the campaign trail than I learned in all four years in school. Seeing firsthand who the major players are, how money affects campaigns, and what factors drive decision making on important campaign issues will give you a whole new understanding of our government. And this real experience and knowledge is actually quite applicable when you work outside of the industry- as long as you continue to exercise you right to vote, that is.
In college– and often times as young professionals– we’re surrounded by people of our same age. On a campaign, though, the people you work with in the field (in other words, your core voting demographic) are almost guaranteed to be people you aren’t used to interacting with. I visited with a Girl Scouts troop and their moms, baked cookies for a retirement home, and played Euchre with wonderful gentlemen at a Veterans Administration hospital. Learning who makes up your community is really powerful – and no other job gives you this kind of opportunity to learn. Plus, understanding how to put yourself in the shoes of people who are different from you will always be a skill, no matter what kind of job you end up in after the campaign.
Want more information? Check out Berkeley’s “How to Get a Job in Politics.”
Leslie Zaikis is the head of Business Development at The Levo League. She graduated from the University of Michigan and worked in DC at Price Waterhouse Coopers before joining the Levo team.