If you just wrapped up working on a campaign during this election cycle, congratulations! You now get to sleep, do laundry, call your friends and family, and relax a bit.
The ‘funemployment’ that results from campaign work every November is something to relish. It can also something to dread; I certainly loved and hated it during the first part of my career in electoral politics.
The anxiety usually creeps in and stress builds as you worry about how long it might be before you’re gainfully employed again.
Take it one day at a time and start with these five steps to set you up for success in your job search.
Think About What YOU Want
After many of the campaigns I worked on, there was this unspoken rule that ideally you’d be hired in the congressional office or administration after the election if your candidate won. And if that wasn’t what you wanted to do next, you were probably going to look other campaigns to jump on for the next election coming up.
But stop for a minute and think about what YOU really want to do, not what everyone else thinks is the ‘right’ move or ‘sounds cool’ or ‘looks prestigious.’
Reflect on what your role was during the campaign and if you liked it. Were you organizing people and groups on behalf of a candidate or cause, or were you at campaign HQ the whole time crunching numbers? Did you love the social interaction you got with meeting new people and building support in the field, or did it wear you out? Depending on how you feel about the tasks you were doing on the campaign, a legislative correspondent position on Capitol Hill or another campaign might not be what’s right for you.
Think of the skills and talents it takes to be a successful field organizer and really enjoy it. Some words that come to mind: being outgoing, energetic, persuasive, people-oriented, having great verbal communication, and being adaptable are just a few. Plus spending a most of our day away from your desk.
Think of the skills and talents it takes to be a successful legislative correspondent. Some words that come to mind: thorough, research-oriented, detail-oriented, great written communication, consistency, and patience. And spending most of your day at your desk.
It becomes pretty clear that the day-to-day responsibilities and associated talents of these two jobs are very different. So really think through what you enjoy doing and what kinds of positions would give you the chance to do those sorts of activities, and use the talents that come most naturally to you.
Create your Board of Directors
Regardless of whether you know what you want to do next or not, you’re going to need other people to help you find opportunities and secure positions.
Think through the people that could be the ‘informal board members’ of your career. These advisors might be people you reported to, peers who know your work, and people you trust to help you think through what your next steps look like.
Reach out to them and let them know you value their opinion and guidance and may call on them during your job search and transition phase to help you make good decisions about what’s next.
It doesn’t mean you say, “Hey, would you mind being an informal member of my board of directors in my job search?”
The ask is more like, “I highly value and respect your opinion and you’ve been such a great supporter of mine during the last 6 months [or specific time period]. I’d like to think of you as part of my informal advisory board, and I’d like to reach out to you during my job search process for advice, guidance and ideas as I move forward navigating what’s next. Would that be alright with you?”
Chances are they’ll be touched that you think so highly of them, and you’ll solidify yourself in their minds as someone to keep an eye out for when they see opportunities.
Update your Resume
You probably expected this to be the first thing on this list. It’s not. You ideally want to have a good sense of the types of roles or different paths that you might be exploring in order to write a resume that speaks to those future opportunities.
If you’re early in your career, you probably list all your work experiences on your resume - that’s fine! If you’re more mid-level, you might not list every job on your resume because not everything will be applicable for the job you’re applying for. And while we could debate the 1 vs. 2 page resume question further, everyone agrees that you should be only sharing your most related experience.
I advise all my clients to have one big ‘master version’ of their resume that can be many pages. Each time you apply for a position:
Open a brand new blank document and copy and paste the relevant positions and bullet points that most translate to the role you’re applying for.
Reword the bullet points with keywords and phrases that you find in the job description. (For example, they say if the posting says ‘community engagement’, you can change ‘volunteer engagement’ to ‘community engagement with volunteers.’)
So this tailoring is a two-step process - it should take at least 45-60 minutes to create for every job you apply for.
Trust me, it is better to spend a whole week doing two or three fantastic applications that are going to get you noticed than spend the week sending out 10 or 15 mediocre applications that never get noticed because they’re so generic and don’t speak the language of the people hiring.
Add Impact to your Resume
And while we’re on the subject of bullet points… Let’s take an example of how to write bullet points in a way that makes you stand out:
Sarah and Ben were both regional field organizers in Ohio for a previous US Senate race. They did the exact same job, and had the exact same results.
Here’s what Ben’s resume looked like:
Regional Field Organizer, Hermione for Senate
Oversaw five counties for the Hermione for Senate campaign in the Cleveland area.
Managed 12 field organizers responsible for building relationships in local areas for voter engagement activities.
Organized events to promote press and community engagement for top-tier Senate race, including a highly sensitive and critical event with the President.
Recruited volunteers for canvass and phone bank shifts
Not bad, right? Here’s Sarah’s:
Regional Field Organizer, Hermione for Senate
Oversaw all field organizing activities for five counties with a population of 800,000 in the Cleveland area, a critical location for increasing turnout, that resulted in a 2% increase in voter turnout from the previous midterm election year.
Hired and managed 12 field organizers, coaching and motivating them through ongoing feedback and performance conversations.
Organized over 50 events in the last three months of the campaign with 50 to 1,000 attendees, designed to promote favorable press coverage and drive community engagement.
Managed all confidential logistics for a 15,000 person rally with the President, coordinating with secret service and advance team on an extremely tight timeline.
Built meaningful relationships with volunteers, recruiting them to volunteer for phone bank and canvass shifts.
Who would you hire?
Work on getting your bullet points to this second version.
Practice Communicating What’s Next
One of the things that’s great about working on elections is that it’s something that touches everyone in the country. Most people also don’t realize there are tens of thousands of people who work to make that happen, so when they find out you worked on an election and are now out of a job, they ask with genuine curiosity, ‘what are you doing next?’
Having an answer prepared is probably a large part of what’s stressing you out. It’s also something that’s absolutely critical. But that doesn’t mean you have to know the answer with absolute certainty. You just have to communicate well.
“I’m at a pivot point, exploring roles in X types of organizations and Y types of organizations [i.e. think tanks or the Hill]. I know that I’d be a good fit for a A or B kind of role [i.e. a research or policy assistant kind of position].”
“I’m exploring roles in the nonprofit world. Ideally, I think I’d be great in a junior communications role that would allow me to use the experience I gained supporting the social media and digital communications work for the campaign recently. Women’s rights and health care are the two topic areas I’m really passionate about.”
And you can always add, “Are there any organizations that come to mind that you think I should check out that might help me get even clearer on what I’m looking for?
Are there any people who work in those areas who you think might be willing to chat with me about their experience to see if it might be the right fit?”
Believe it or not, it’s easier to get people to talk to you when you don’t know what you want to do with. Don’t believe me? Read this.
There is nothing wrong with saying you’re not totally sure but you’re exploring A, B, and C. And if they know things about A or B or C, you’d be all ears!
Take 30 minutes to craft a few sentences that feel comfortable and authentic to you. You can even memorize it if it will make you feel more confident in social settings when someone asks – no one will know, you’ll avoid rambling, and come across super polished!
If it feels like everyone knows what they’re doing in their career and has it all ‘figured out,’ I promise you they probably don’t. People’s career paths often make sense in retrospect; if you had asked younger versions of people what their career plan was, they would probably tell you they didn’t know what they wanted, or thought they wanted something they actually didn’t. So stop worrying and just put together an answer that feels comfortable and still eloquent.
That wraps up our five most important next steps for navigating your career post-campaign.
Got other ideas for what to do to set yourself up for success? Share them in the comments below!