Project Wonderful

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ask an Election Nerd: Will Volunteering on a Campaign Help Me Get a Job?

Now that the NYC primaries are over I have gotten questions from no fewer than three non-campaign colleagues asking if volunteering on general election campaigns might help them get a job in the administration. The short answer is no, probably not, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Here's why volunteering for a candidate is a bad strategy for trying to get a job once that candidate is elected into office.

1) Campaign staff can't even get the jobs they want in government. After every campaign there are always a plucky bunch of campaign staffers who attempt to follow their candidate to the hill, the state house, or respective government and district offices. While some are successful, time and time again I have seen my friends passed over for government jobs because there simply aren't enough positions for people who don't have previous legislative/government experience. It's true, lots of newly elected New York City officials will be looking to hire staff in November, but many will be bringing their staff with them. The remaining positions are likely to go to staffers with experience elsewhere in the city or state government who have just lost their jobs to the new election. Then there are political favors to account for, interns, campaign staffers etc. If it's so competitive for campaign staffers to get these jobs, what are the chances of you as a volunteer making the cut through the same avenue?

2) The ratio of volunteers to staff jobs is insane. Even on the crummiest, most bare-bones campaign I have ever worked on, I had 100 volunteer shifts on election day. Sure, not all of these volunteers are patronage seekers, but supply and demand is just not in your favor here (see above). To the extent that campaign volunteers do wind up hired on in the administration as a result of volunteer efforts, these are almost always people who have been working non-stop since the beginning of the campaign. If getting a job is the only reason you are thinking of volunteering, given the amount of work you would have to put in to make that plausible you would probably be better off putting that time and energy into applying for jobs or networking in other ways.

3) The work you will be doing bears no resemblance to the work done in a government office. Perhaps you think you will be able to usurp these supervols with your public policy skill set and political acumen. If you come in to my office to volunteer, I am going to ask you to knock doors and make phone calls. If you tell me you really think you would be more valuable to the campaign working on policy or communications, I am going to laugh at you and be even less inclined to help you. Then I am going to tell you to knock doors and make phone calls again. The type of volunteer work we need on a campaign is not very cerebral and won't give you the chance to show off your knowledge or talent, impressive as they may be. It is also very hard work to sustain doing happily if you are in it for the wrong reasons.

Bottom Line: No matter how dedicated or talented you are, you are not going to waltz in with a little over a month to go and waltz out with a community affairs position.

That said, there are a lot of very good reasons to volunteer on a campaign while you're on the job-prowl and I would absolutely encourage you to do so. Volunteering on a campaign WILL help you meet a lot of new people and make some good local political connections. In my experience if you do good solid work for campaign people, we are more than willing to go out of our way to help you when you need it. It might not be a job for the candidate, but maybe we know of an opening in another office, or maybe we will be able to recommend you when you find yourself applying for another position. Getting involved with a campaign also helps add structure and a sense of empowerment during the often very depressing job hunt. It gives you something to get up and do and be proud of, which I think helps you be more motivated and marketable in other parts of your life.

Also, in my personal and biased opinion, campaign people are one hell of a good time. We may not be able to pay you a salary but we are more than happy to pay you in pizza, appreciation and a fun environment that is more irreverent and fast-paced than you will find in most volunteer positions. Come see for yourself! Here's wishing us both luck on our job hunt!

Campaign Love and Mine,