How to Find a Job in (Mostly Democratic) Politics
I've been getting a lot of emails lately from folks asking me how to find a first job in politics, so I figured I'd share what I know. I run in Democratic circles, so I am simply not up to date on how the Republican party tends to disseminate the resumes of job seekers, so this will mostly be for fellow Democrats.
Firstly, there are three different world that do not coincide as much as you might think - electoral campaigns (including candidate campaigns, ballot initiatives, and federal, state and local party committees), non-profits (including think t anks and unions), and "the Hill" (working for a member of Congress or some part of a presidential administration, including cabinet departments).
Like many folks in politics, I personally, have worked in all three worlds, but generally, you pick a "track," so to speak and you do not cross over to other tracks for very long. When you do cross over, you will likely find yourself a further back in the pecking order than if you had stayed in your primary track.
Folks who work on the Hill think they are the real power, non-profit folks tend to be the most idealistic, and campaigners wonder why either group ever thinks they can accomplish anything without the correct people in elected office.
You will see a lot of Hill staffers dispersing in September and November to various campaigns. When they get back, they tell horror stories about how hard it was and how it was and how many hours they worked and how they'll never do it again. I used to just roll my eyes at this. On my first campaign, we got flooded with with Hill staffers and, I admit, I developed a real resentment. I found most of them very interested in feeling important and delegating, and not so interested in doing the "scut" work that actually needed to be done, but I have since had to revise upwards my overall opinion of Hill staffers. That said, having been a legislative assistant (which is the title of the average policy staffer) does not at all qualify you to hold a senior position - which goes both ways, because, as a campaigner, you will not really be suited to be a legislative assistant or "LA" unless you have some other skills.to
But enough digressions. Let's talk jobs.
So you want to work on the Hill? Ok. Your first job is likely to be an internship. An unpaid internship. Your one bit of good fortune - Washington, DC's unemployment rate is pretty low, so you can probably find a job waiting tables at night to, you know, pay for food and shelter. If you are very lucky (by which I mean, have some truly awesome connections), you might get as an office assistant or staff assistant. These jobs pays in the low twenties (I know, I know - it's not a highly paid profession, at least not in the early stages). Competition for jobs is fierce - DC is a mecca for young people looking for jobs with non-profits and the Hill. To make matters worse, if you want a job on the Hill, you generally have to be in DC. The average office will not even call you back if your resume says that you live in Minnesota. Yes, I know, it's even worse than you thought. You have to move to an expensive city and essentially do it on "spec."
Want to work on a campaign? Your first job is likely to be "field organizer," "canvasser," "finance assistant," or (more rarely) "communications assistant." The first two are field positions. The first position will have slightly more responsibility for doing community outreach, the second is basically door knocking/phone calling. Finance assistant will be working with the finance team to create call time sheets, doing paperwork, picking up larger checks, helping organize fundraisers, etc. Communications assistant will provide logistical help to the communications director, but not many campaigns have more than a communications director and maybe a press secretary, but a race of at least $500,000 will often have finance assistants. Also, communication staff, even the most junior ones, usually already have some experience. Junior finance staff will often just be someone hard working and organized. On a smaller race ($100,000 or less), especially if you know the candidate or are a regular volunteer on local races, you may get hired as a campaign manager right away.
Ok - so let's get to the meat of the matter. Where should you look? I've got a list of websites and listservs below.
(the primary website for looking for dem jobs)www.idealist.org
(policy and non-profit jobs)www.senate.gov/employment/po/positions.htm
(the U.S. Senate job bulletin)corporate.cq.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=57
(U.S. House job bulletin)www.bradtraverse.com/
(small monthly fee, but a very good list of DC-based jobs)www.dccc.org/pages/jobs
(jobs at the DCCC)changeyourcongress.org/talent_bank.php
(DCCC's talent bank)www.dscc.org/about?type=job_bank
(DSCC job bank and job listings)www.progressflorida.org/jobbank
(non-profit jobs in Florida)www.stratcongroup.com
(field consultants, primarily West Coast)
Knock yourselves out, but feel free to contact me via email or via the comments section for additional information or advice.