Saturday, March 2, 2013
Ask An Election Nerd: Help, I Still Don't Have a Job!
I've gotten so many questions on this, I thought I'd share my thoughts and reactions to the whole crop. Please, as always, take what's relevant and disregard the rest. I warn you in advance, if you thought my last post was tough lovely, in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, "Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet." I feel you and I want to help each and every one of you get a job, which is why I would never want to give you unrealistic expectations or advice.
Let me start off by saying, this is not a problem unique to the campaign world. That's why there are so many sitcom episodes about how much unemployment sucks. The job search, like dating, and apartment hunting in New York, is frustrating, humiliating, demoralizing and part of being an adult. Welcome. That doesn't make it any less frustrating, but I do think there is value in separating out what are "campaign problems" from what are "life problems." Of course the thing that makes our job different is that campaigns have expiration dates so unemployment is more common and an inevitable occurrence.
As many, many of you have pointed out, the job search is especially difficult in an off year. However, there are still plenty of campaigns happening in 2013 (New York City, New Jersey, Virgina plus a variety of individual local and special elections.) Although there are fewer organizing jobs, there are fewer people vying for those spots. Think of how many of your coworkers took time off from their regular careers to work for the President because he was, well the President. People were coming out of the woodwork for the Presidential and Senatorial campaigns. That's not going to be the case this year. In addition many, many organizers are one and done when it comes to campaigns. I'm sure you have as many if not more broworkers that want to go work in the administration or go to law school. There are proportionally enough campaign jobs to go around. Just maybe not on your terms
A lot of first time organizers get their first campaign job right out of college, the end of which coincides with the time of year when field campaigns staff up for lower level positions. The good news is the longer you work on campaigns, the shorter your wait time will become, as senior positions hire much earlier in the cycle. However, that doesn't help you right now. If you are financially strapped, you might need to get a temp job. I tutored the SAT and worked part time as a receptionist between my first two organizing jobs. It was not ideal, but it was one of the only instances in my life when I've had both disposable income and free time. It was also a good reminder of why I need to be doing a job I care about.
In addition, you may need to widen your scope. If you want to be successful as a career organizer, you need to be willing to move where the jobs are and to work on campaigns at multiple legislative levels. I never expected to wind up running a City Council race in 2009, after having worked on only statewides and the Presidential, but (outside of the Edwards campaign) it turned out to be the biggest learning experience of my professional life- as well the source of many important NYC friendships. Though I've advised you in the past not to settle for a job that doesn't move your career forward and I stand by that, that doesn't mean you won't have to make compromises. If you are unwilling/able to travel or to work on a smaller campaign (which, if you've only done a big one, is a wonderful experience and I can't advocate enough) then you may want to look outside the box into the union or non-profit world, at least temporarily. Either way, think of this cycle as a way to diversify your portfolio.
Speaking of which, be realistic about the type of job you are ready for. If you were a first time organizer with 5 months experience, you are not qualified to be a Regional Field Director. That's not to say that people never "skip a grade", but it is very, very unlikely to happen especially in a year like this when campaign jobs are in a sellers' market. I empathize. After having a great relationship with my Regional on my first campaign, I was very eager for organizing babies of my own. However, after my second stint as an organizer, I realized how important having multiple campaign experiences was to my management style. Believe it or not, you will miss being an organizer when you move on.
Finally, I have to say I was disappointed by the number of messages in my inbox saying, "How come my broworkers have jobs and I don't?" You are not your broworkers! Although we are all broadly competing for the same jobs, your career path is your own. Take it from a white girl who has just started taking Zumba, no good can come from comparing yourself to other people. Campaign jobs have their ups and downs. What might look like a great job from the outside can quickly become a disappointment. You never know what great opportunity you have kept yourself open for by not getting the job that your broworker did...or what choices s/he made to get there. The same way you might miss out on dating a guy you liked only to have a better one come along, if you didn't get it it wasn't your job. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this sentiment and either way it is karmically sucks. You stop that right now!
Being unemployed is exceedingly crappy. I am about to be there myself. Just don't let it get you stuck in a trap of negative thinking. Keep on plugging! It takes time and persistence. If you have not seen it yet, please check out this massive compilation of DC/Campaign job listserves submitted by one of my ultra-fabulous followers. It is a gold mine! There were things on there I hadn't even heard of, so there's bound to be at least one stone you have left unturned. In the meantime, I am here for you. Keep sending your questions, keep supporting each other and keep doing your thing.
Campaign Love and Mine,