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How to get a job in politics!



Background
Starting out
The job hunt can really suck, especially early in your career. At best, it’s mind-numbing and slow; at worst, it’s emotionally devastating. It can feel impossible, and like the biggest thing in the world, but it’s important to remember that it’s just a process, that you will get where you need to go if you put in the work in, and that you only need to land one job.

Remember that you aren’t asking anyone for a favor. You’re not trying to get employers to give you anything you didn’t earn, you shouldn’t feel guilty or bad about advocating for yourself, and you’re not doing anything weird or wrong.

Instead
,
you’re doing potential employers a big service by offering them the opportunity to work with you. You have talents, strengths, and gifts. You could make more money almost anywhere else (more on that later …), and the work would be easier and less stressful. But you really care about making a difference, so you’re stepping up to help. You are a huge get, and you should see that.

At times, the hiring process is going to seem so weird and arbitrary that you’ll think you’re doing something wrong. You might think:
A hiring manager stopped responding to your emails because they don’t like you
An organization doesn’t post jobs on their website because they’re not hiring
You haven’t heard back from a job you applied to weeks ago because you didn’t get it
This often isn’t true. The truth is that most folks who work in politics are incredibly overextended, and hiring, unfortunately, isn’t a priority. People tend not to be responsive because they lose track of email, and, frankly, they prioritize responding to “important” folks (bosses, donors, etc.). They won’t post jobs on their website because they can’t find time to make it happen. This isn’t great--and, when you’re the one doing the hiring, you should do better--but, for now, you should truck along knowing that it isn’t a reflection of your worth or their interest in you.

Ultimately, though, it’s just a numbers game. You need to set yourself up for success by learning to tell your story really well, expand your network as much as you can, and then apply for as many jobs as you can find. Each application and informational interview has a very low probability of turning into a job, but if you get as many shots on goal as you possibly can, it will happen!

I’ve included a lot of background on the landscape here and a deep dive into strategies. If you slammed and don’t want to read a whole guide, here’s a TLDR:

Nail your resume and cover letter
Build your network through (virtual) coffee chats and informational interviews
Apply to as many jobs as you can.

Please feel free to reach out to me (michael@progressive-pipeline.org or on Slack) if I can ever be useful, or if you just want to chat). I’m happy to be helpful in any way I can!

The landscape
The first thing to know is that there are all kinds of jobs in politics, and you’re already set up to do most of them. If you want to make a difference, there will be a job for you, one that aligns with your skills and interests and allows you to grow and learn. Don’t worry too much whether your first couple internships feel aligned with your where you want to go next. If you’re applying to entry-level jobs, most hiring managers just want to see that you have some kind of broadly relevant professional experience.

The landscape of political jobs and organizations is constantly changing. You don’t need to have a complete sense of it now, but you should give some thought to which of these categories call to you. What do you want to learn more about? What do you want to explore? You don’t need to have all the answers just yet, but you should start to ask the big questions.

Here are, broadly speaking, the options:

Electoral campaigns.
There’s nowhere else in politics where you can move up the chain as quickly and nowhere with the pace and energy of a campaign. There are tons of options, from presidentials to Senate and House races to state legislatures, prosecutors, governors, treasurers, and attorney general.
Pros:
Obvious, clear impact. If campaigns are your calling, then nothing else can quite replace them. You are (generally) immediately recognized for your work and you can get promoted quickly. Everyone should spend at least some time working on a campaign, even if it isn’t your life path. You’ll have a chance to try a lot of things quickly. If the candidate wins, you’ll own a piece of that success.
Cons:
Burnout is easy, most campaigns are center-left, it’s not a stable job and pays okay, but not incredibly well. Cultures vary widely -- some are
awesome
and some are toxic -- and you will go through periods of unemployment. After months or even years of hard work, your candidate might lose and potentially leave politics altogether. You will probably work way too many hours.
Pay:
Organizers typically make $35k - $50k/year, but you have to account for at least a couple months of unemployment. Well-financed campaigns could pay a little more. Salaries increase as you move up the ranks, but not exponentially. Campaign managers on House and Senate campaigns typically make ~$60k - $75k, and on a super-well-funded Senate campaign you could make low six figures (but these jobs are rare). Field/finance/comms directors make a little less than that, RFDs make a little more than FOs. For reference, Biden’s campaign manager made $140k/year. I anticipate that these salaries will increase over the coming years as progressives think more about pay equity, but it’s really hard to tell. Generally speaking, you will make less on a campaign than you would in a comparable role at most other organizations.
Location:
Everywhere! Most campaigns in 2022 will likely operate on a hybrid model, and will likely require you to live in the district and come into work at least a few days a week.
Community organizing.
These are grassroots groups that are trying to build lasting progressive power beyond a single election. Some, like
, the
and
, are huge coalitions of groups spread across the country, with a national headquarters and hundreds of staff. Others, like
and the
, are far smaller and only hire occasionally. Some are centered around particular constituencies (e.g. low-income folks, people of color, or Muslims) and some are focused only geographically, but all share a broad theory of change: long-term mobilization and power-building in communities that traditionally aren’t represented is the best way to make a difference.
Pros:
Job stability! Unlike campaigns, once you’re hired, you can stay on for years. Often, that means they are more invested in your growth and development, since you’ll be with them longer. Generally, they tend to be more thoughtful about race and class than electoral campaigns. And they usually have a small enough scope that you can really see your impact.
Cons:
Depending on the organization, it can be insular and hard to grow out of: even if you do awesome work, it might not be recognized beyond your organization. You might be working with only one or two other staffers, and there can occasionally be a resistance to learning and growing. Pay ranges wildly: it can be generous, but also at times not livable. You don’t quite get the adrenaline rush of working on a campaign with an immediate outcome and tangible results, and it can be hard to get the exposure to a wide network of colleagues that you would in larger org.
Pay:
There’s a real range here. Some of the entry-level jobs pay very poorly (think in the $20-$30k ballpark), while some pay closer to $45k or $50k. It mostly depends on the capacity of the org. If you’re working for a national network directly (i.e. you’re a staffer at the Center for Popular Democracy, not one of their affiliates), it’ll be higher; if you’re working for a local group, it’ll be lower. Pay increases steadily as you gain seniority, but you will never make a lot of money. Community organizing groups are pretty good about being transparent about salaries: most job descriptions will offer a payscale.
Location:
Everywhere! Many community organizing groups have been doing in-person work through the pandemic, since they have to directly engage with constituents. Some of the national ones will stay remote indefinitely.
Political consulting.
Consultants play a wide range of roles, from helping with direct mail and TV ads to digital and fundraising to top-level strategy. Some consultants are awesome and driven, bringing much-needed wisdom and strategic thinking to campaigns and causes that really need it. Others talk a big talk, but ultimately just bilk campaigns out of a lot of money. If you like the people, go for it; if it feels iffy or sad, don’t. Many firms prefer hiring folks with a couple cycles of campaign experience. Some firms consult to dozens (or even hundreds) of clients and will give you the opportunity to meet tons of people. Others consult to only a few, but would allow you to develop deep relationships with your clients. Definitely don’t rule this out, but make sure that your values are aligned and that your day-to-day work seems interesting and valuable.
Pros:
(Usually) pays pretty well, you get exposed to a bunch of campaigns and organizations, some firms have super smart people who will teach you a lot, it’s a pretty stable job, a good way of getting a sense of the landscape. Some firms do great, vital work for causes that matter. You will leave with a lot of connections.
Cons:
Can be corporate and dull, depending on the firm. A lot of firms brand themselves as political consultants, but actually make most of their money consulting to big companies, not campaigns. Dig into their clients before you apply! You could end up learning a ton from your boss, but you might also essentially function as an assistant. You could end up serving candidates and causes that you don’t love. At the end of the day, they’re for-profit and their ultimate goal is to make money.
Pay:
Highest entry-level salaries out there, consistently in the $45-$60k ballpark. It will scale as you get more senior: you can easily make $200k+.
Location:
Largely concentrated in NY and DC. Many of the bigger firms are returning to all in-person work in early 2022, most of the smaller ones will probably stay remote indefinitely.
Advocacy.
These are organizations that have taken up a particular issue, cause, or agenda and are going out and fighting for them. Most are structured as 501(c)(4)s, which means they are primarily responsible for promoting “social welfare” and must spend less than 50% of their money on electoral politics. The smart ones do a mix of everything, from lobbying to policy to storytelling to electoral work.
Pros:
If you find an org that is advocating for an issue you really care about, it lets you dive straight into the fight rather than circling around the issue: instead of organizing to elect a candidate because you believe they’ll vote the right way on an issue that matters to you, you can cut to the chase and fight for the thing you believe in. Some of these organizations do brilliant, cutting edge work that transcends lobbying and strictly electoral politics. You’ll work with folks with a wide range of skillsets and have the opportunity to learn a lot from them. It’s much more stable than campaigns, and typically pays reasonably well.
Cons:
While some are super effective, others don’t really do much. All these orgs are great at posturing, so dig in -- is their work
actually
making a difference? Most of these issues have a lot of players -- which victories can they
really
claim credit for and which would have happened without their involvement? Cultures vary widely, too: some can get sucked into a depressing DC suit groupthink that you want to avoid (when you spend a lot of time trying to convince politicians to vote with you, it’s easy to start idolizing them). Ultimately, a lot of this will come down to your own theory of change: advocacy groups can only do as much as elected officials will let them.
Pay:
One of the widest ranges. Smaller, scrappier orgs might offer you a salary that just isn’t livable in DC, larger, more established ones can pay closer to political consultant salaries (think $40-65k entry level, in the $125-$200k range if you are more senior).
Location:
Concentrated in DC, but many will likely continue to offer remote opportunities for roles that don’t involve directly engaging with legislators.
Organized labor.
It’s been the backbone of the progressive movement for decades, and, despite challenges, they’re still doing lots of good work to build power for working people. There are a few routes here that might make sense, and they look
very
different: you could work as a local organizer essentially anywhere in the country, or you can work in a national office (usually DC) doing political/tech/admin work. Don’t discount the power of these jobs, even though they aren’t quite as in style as they once were.
Pros:
Unions are funded by their members, so you are accountable to working people -- not big donors. The jobs pay well (many are unionized!), with opportunity for advancement and a thoughtful approach to race and class. They’re very stable gigs: they expect you to stick around for a long time and will invest in you accordingly. Depending on your role, your work will often have an immediate impact: instead of having to wait for the next election to make change, you can do critical political organizing
and
help workers win better wages, healthcare, and dignity on the job.
Cons:
Local organizing is really hard work, and you might burn out. At the national level, unions are massive organizations where people stick around forever, so you’ll likely have a pretty rigid set of responsibilities, and advancement will be slow (although it will happen). Because of the Janus decision’s limits on dues collections for public-sector unions and a larger push against organized labor, budgets are tight, and there’s an existential threat to the movement. Because unions are ultimately accountable to their members--not all of whom are super progressive--you’ll run into some challenges: for instance, the AFL-CIO, which, in many ways, is at the forefront of progressive political infrastructure, counts the International Union of Police Associations among its members.
Pay:
Most unions are great about pay transparency, and follow strict payscales that they’ll post publicly with the jobs. You’ll likely be represented by a staff union (a union of union staffers) that will have a lot of leverage, and you’ll get great benefits. The pay varies a lot depending on the role, but usually in the 50s and up.
Location:
If you’re working for a local (essentially, a chapter of a union that represents workers in a certain area), you’ll probably have to live in the area and do some in-person work. There are locals pretty much everywhere. If you want to work for the national, that will probably (but not always!) require you to live in DC and work in-person.
Policy.
This is a weird, interesting world. A lot of people say they want to go into policy, but you should be thoughtful about
why
you want to do it. Is writing and researching what calls to you? Or do you just want to make an impact on issues + causes that matter to you? These jobs are hard to get and not always rewarding. (FWIW: the line between policy and advocacy can be fuzzy, and many organizations do both)
Pros:
You will likely work with very smart people. It will pay reasonably well. If this is the kind of work that gives you energy, you will know and it’ll be a fit for you. Can
sometimes
drive real, transformative change. Less on-the-ground than other work.
Cons:
Entry-level policy gigs are less thrilling than they seem. Lots of research and fact-checking driven by a senior staffers’ agenda. If your title includes “associate” or “coordinator,” there’s a chance you might actually be someone’s assistant. It can often feel like shouting into a void: generally, the reason why we haven’t made progress on an issue isn’t because no one’s thought of a good solution. Easy to succumb to DC groupthink.
Pay:
Like advocacy, it will really vary based on where you’re working and how well they are funded. I would estimate $40-65k entry level, in the $125-$200k range if you are more senior.
Location:
Lots and lots of these jobs are in DC, but not all. They’re mostly staying remote through early 2022, but some might be remote indefinitely.
Data / analytics / political tech.
This is the biggest emerging space in progressive politics, and you can learn how to do it without having studied data science in college. Organizations like
, and
offer excellent, often free or extremely low-cost, comprehensive data trainings. Introductory statistics and computer science classes work too. Tons and tons and tons of jobs here, and they generally pay you pretty well.
for more info.
Pros:
Interesting work, usually pays quite well and is relatively stable, super smart staff. Can be an awesome career path. You’ll learn transferrable skills. If the idea of spending your whole day talking to people sounds less than thrilling, this can be a great alternative.
Cons:
A steeper learning curve than organizing. Sometimes data can be a little fetishized –– it’s important, but we need other things, too! Not a very diverse field (yet!). Some of the roles on campaigns (where you’re essentially a VAN admin) are dull, and you might spend much more time cleaning data than analyzing it, even as you move into more senior roles. Consulting firms are driving a lot of the work right now and might make you work for their corporate clients, too.
Pay:
Entry-level is typically in the $40-$65k range, usually increases to $55-$80k after a cycle or two, then $80k+ once you’re managing a few people. Will generally be slightly more if you’re working for a consulting firm. There are very few data/analytics jobs that pay poorly.
Location:
Generally speaking, these are the roles that are the most likely to stay remote forever because:
a)
data folks tend to be pretty introverted and not so into hanging out at the office,
b)
the work itself doesn't really have an in-person component, and
c)
data staff are hard to hire, so orgs don’t want to limit themselves. But if you’re working in a data role at a bigger org that has a universal policy, that might not be true.
State parties.
Capacity and style depends on the state. It’s always worth a look. Staff balloons during election years and then shrinks way down off-cycle, but they keep a few folks around consistently.
Pros:
(Sometimes) more stability than a campaign, but you get the thrill of an election. Lots of exposure to everything happening in the state.
Cons:
Depends on the state. There’s a real range of staff ability and knowledge and may or may not be room for advancement.
Pay:
Roughly the same as campaigns, depends a lot of geography and funding. Most are pretty transparent about salaries.
Government.
Definitely an option! It can be fun to work on the Hill, especially if you helped elect the candidate. You are right in the heart of government, and there’s often room for advancement.
Pros:
You’re there, in the thick of it! Often cool people.
Cons:
Some positions are really dull (think responding to constituent mail full-time) and you can get absorbed in DC bs. Usually pays really poorly at the entry-level, especially for DC.
Pay:
Chiefs of staff make ~$130-150k, mid-level staff make ~$50-$80k. Entry level is usually $30-$40k, which is tough in DC (try finding an apartment near Capitol Hill for $750/month!)
There are also lots more options and areas — explore and figure out what works for you!

Choosing a career path
Before you start the job hunt, take a few minutes to figure out what you want and need from a job. Be as specific as you can be: while it might seem like saying “I’ll take anything” will lead to the most possible jobs, it actually makes it nearly impossible to find a place to start. It is okay to be (reasonably) picky. Drill into what you
actually
want out of a job: are you saying you want to work in policy because you feel particularly called to the research process, or because you want to change policies that affect people you care about? If it’s the latter, you might consider broadening your scope.

Some questions to ask yourself:
How much money do you need to make?
Look at your budget: Will you have student loans? Will you need to send money back home? How much of a cushion do you want? If you’ve been making most of your money from student jobs on campus, you should know that you’ll automatically start paying about 7.5% more in taxes for a non-campus job, and if you’re making more money overall, your federal and state tax rates may also go up — budget for this too. If you’re planning on working for a campaign, you should adjust this up so that you have some savings in case you’re unemployed after November. Be thoughtful about location, too: $35k goes much farther in Maine than it does in DC. You should be realistic here: you’re not going to do your best work if you’re constantly stressed about money. Most, but not all, employers will post a salary range on job listings. If they don’t, it’s okay to ask during an interview.
Where do you want to live?
It’s fine to make a need vs. want list here: maybe DC is your top choice, but you’re willing to be flexible if needed. Maybe you need to stay within driving distance of family, so you really are limited to one region. Again, be thoughtful here: if you can’t drive, Texas isn’t your best bet. (This will all look different with COVID, and each employer will have different expectations: some don’t care where you are, some will want you to have ties to the community you’re working in, others will expect you to relocate once the world opens up, and others still will expect you to work remotely while physically residing in the state where they’re operating)
What do you care about?
You probably think you know this already, and you likely do, but taking a few minutes to hash this out will really make a difference. You are going to spend a terrifying chunk of your life at work, and you deserve to do something that matters to you. Most of us don’t
really
care about every single progressive issue, and you should hone in on the ones that you would be excited to get up every morning and fight for.
What
kind
of change do you want to make?
This doesn’t have to be super broad or philosophical. There are a bunch of ways to make a difference, and not all of them are going to be your calling. Do you want to build long-term local power for marginalized groups? Do you want to help progressives think in new and different ways? Do you want to fix the system from the inside? Do you just want to make sure we elect Democrats and beat Republicans? There’s no objectively right answer here, but your preferences should inform where you choose to work.
What do you want your schedule to look like?
Think about your own style and other commitments, and be realistic about what would bring you joy and what would end up feeling miserable. If you want a 9-5 job, a campaign probably isn’t the place to be. If you want to work 24/7, don’t go to a think tank.
What do you want to learn? How do you want to grow?
Early career jobs are, more than anything else, learning experiences. You wouldn’t get an MBA or a JD without knowing what kind of skills you wanted to build, and you shouldn’t take a job without considering what you want to learn. After a year on the job, how do you want to have changed? What do you want to know? What skills do you want to build?
How do you learn best?
Everyone has a different learning style. If you learn best by getting thrown in the thick of things and figuring it all out on your own, go work on a campaign or in an under-resourced community organizing group where they’ll give you lots of responsibilities. If you learn best by observing really skilled people in action, maybe a political consulting firm (even serving as an admin assistant!) or a big advocacy group is for you. And if you learn best through rigorous training and leadership development, find an organization that has a long-term vision for staff development.

Think of these as starting points in your search, not firm criteria. You probably
don’t
have a perfect answer to all these questions, and that’s fine: ultimately the job, not the search, will help you come closer to answering them. But by having some sense of where you are now and observing what questions spring from these, you’ll have something that resembles a starting point -- or at least a set of guiding principles -- for your search.

Don’t worry too much about finding the perfect fit. Once you steer yourself towards the right job for you, you will know it.

Getting Ready
Resumes
Framing
Resumes are another one of those opaque, kind of annoying things you probably half-know how to do but aren’t super proud of! This is something that you can
absolutely
perfect in a few hours. Getting your resume right is an excellent use of time: every employer on earth is going to ask for one when you apply, and it’s usually the biggest factor in whether or not you get an interview.

The first thing to remember is that
resumes are stories, not lists
. Your goal
isn’t
to simply outline every job you’ve had or to show that you’ve been employed for a long time. Instead, resumes should be a concise, clear way of telling a potential employer what skills, strengths, and experiences you’ll bring to the job. That means that they should be
tailored to every job you apply for
and hyper-focused on key, transferable skills. If you were a cook last summer, a campaign isn’t going to care that you “Cooked fries, flipped burgers, and cleaned kitchen daily,” but they
will
care if you “Cooked 400 burgers daily, increasing output by 75% by developing new ordering system.” That is a super transferable set of skills!

Basics
You should
keep your resume to one page,
unless you’re applying for a job with the federal government (these are weird,
, the federal government also has its own
). You might think that giving employers more information will allow you to demonstrate more of your skills accomplishments, but employers spend
so
little time looking at each resume (
that recruiters spent an average of seven seconds on each one) that chances are you’ll just dilute the really important stuff. Because you are in college or a recent graduate, you almost certainly don’t have so many accomplishments that employers
need
to hear about that you can’t fit it onto one page.

Keep your resume
clean and simple.
Don’t include fancy fonts, colors, graphics, or headshots. These won’t help you stand out; instead, they’ll distract from the actual content of your resume and make you seem unprofessional.
(hit file > make a copy), and
also has a free, easy-to-use resume builder.

Avoid typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.
This seems obvious, and you might skim past this, but it
really
matters. Proofread your resume many times. Read it backwards (this works!). Ask a friend (or two or three) to read it. Ask me to read it! Recruiters and hirers are
shockingly
good at finding typos, and, when they do, they’ll think less of you for them.

Don’t use too much jargon or any enormously fancy words.
If you have any doubt that your employer won’t understand an acronym, spell it out or find a different word. For political jobs, stuff like GOTV is fine, because your employers will almost certainly know what you’re talking about. Using thesaurus words when others will do will make you seem silly. There is no need to write “Executed an operationally excellent electoral mobilization agenda to exhort low-propensity members of the populace to exercise their rights of enfranchisement” when “Led GOTV” will do. Remember that you’re always shooting for fewer words with more impact, not the other way around.

Use active voice, not passive voice.
“Led a team of 30 organizers” is a lot stronger and more concise than “Was tasked with leading a team of 30 organizers.” You want people to know that you’re a doer!
, in case a refresher would be helpful.

Be thoughtful and consistent about tenses.
Use common sense here: if you’re still doing the job, it should usually be in present tense, unless you’re referring to something that’s now been completed (e.g. if you are still a field organizer, your bullets should be in present tense unless it’s something like “Led precinct-wide GOTV operation on primary day”). Keep this all in mind when proofreading; it’s a really common mistake.

Keep everything consistent.
There are very few firm rules for resumes
except
for consistency. If you include a city and state next to one job, include it next to every job. Keep date formats the same everywhere. This will make it seem like you are on top of things.

My view is that, generally,
you don’t need a professional summary or a skills section.
This is a little controversial, but I think that they take up a lot of space and usually add very little. Instead, consider incorporating your skills into your bullets and including information you would have put in your professional summary in your cover letter. Most of the skills people list are either assumed (proficiency Microsoft Office and Google Docs is not going to wow anyone) or can be better demonstrated by tying them to a specific, job-related accomplishment. If you have a lot of technical skills and are applying for a data-ish role, then you might one.

Unless you have a really good reason not to,
put your jobs in reverse chronological order.
This is going to make the most sense for almost everyone.

My general view is that it is okay to include volunteer activities in your professional experience sections as long as they are professionally relevant.

The education section should be pretty straightforward. Include an estimated graduation date if you haven’t graduated yet. You should include your GPA if it is above a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, along with any awards/honors you’ve received.

Make sure to
save your resume as a PDF, not a Word doc or other format.
If you save it as a PDF, employers will consistently be able to open it without any formatting changes. If you save it as a Word doc, it’s more likely than not that the formatting will get jumbled in transmission. And if you use another format, there’s a good chance the employer won’t be able to open it at all.

Make sure
the name of the
document is clear and includes your name
. Many employers download all the resumes at once, and will be annoyed if they can’t find yours because it’s called “Resume.pdf.” Something like “Michael Michaelson Resume.pdf” or “Michaelson Resume, Progressive Pipeline.pdf” is the way to go.

Accomplishment statements
The hardest and most important of a resume are your accomplishment statements
.
These are the bullets you put under each job that you list. Again, keep these goal-oriented: what can a future employer take away from them that’ll give them faith in your ability to perform a new job? Most people just list their roles and responsibilities, which really isn’t useful. Instead, you want to focus on specific, measurable, and concrete examples of the impact you’ve had and how you’ve used your skills to excel.

Imagine you’re an employer, and you see two resumes from people who’ve held the same position. You’ve heard that one is an awesome employee and one totally sucks, but you don’t know which is which. If both of their resumes just listed their duties on the job (e.g. “Served customers nightly, Opened restaurant every morning, Bussed tables and managed cash register”), would you be able to tell who is incredible and who isn’t? Definitely not!

What if, instead, they each listed clear, measurable accomplishments? That would give you a meaningful barometer to tell who would be an amazing employee and who might not excel.

Remember,
employers
aren’t
hiring you because of the jobs you’ve had; they’re hiring you because of how well you’ve performed.
Your resume should reflect that.

Many of you have held jobs in retail or food service, with titles that might not immediately catch an employer’s eye. You definitely built skills and experiences there that you can transfer to the political world, and it’s your responsibility to use your resume to clearly articulate how those jobs qualify you to work in politics.

Before you start writing your accomplishment statements, ask yourself if you’ve ever:

Improved something? Achieved more with fewer resources or money? Reduced costs? Improved productivity? Saved time? Increased recruitment numbers? Designed, developed, or implemented a new process, program or product? Brought diverse constituents together to accomplish something? Improved morale? Solved a pressing problem? Managed or led a team? Presented complex information clearly? Successfully multitasked? Dedicated long hours of work to accomplish something within a short timeframe? Balanced extracurricular/outside commitments with coursework? Took initiative without anyone asking? Received awards or positive performance reviews?
What are you most proud of? What would others you have worked with say about your contribution? How have organizations benefited from your work? What special projects have you worked on and what was the outcome? What is the tangible evidence of your accomplishments?

(I lifted these questions from a pamphlet by Yale’s Office of Career Strategy)
This is exactly what you want to showcase in your accomplishment statements.

There are three formats that I think work really well:

Action + Project + Result
Project: Group related tasks into a single, meaningful project or activity
Action: Choose a strong action verb (
) that describes what
you personally
did (not your team). Highlight the skills you used.
Result: Keep this
super
specific and quantifiable. What numbers or other evidence can show that you did an amazing job? What kind of impact did it have? Quantify either in terms of an absolute number (e.g. “served 600 customers per night) or a % increase (e.g. “increased output by 250%”)

Accomplished [x] as measured by [y] by doing [z]
This is very similar to A+P+R, but ordered slightly differently.

STAR
Situation: What was the situation, problem, or conflict you were facing?
Task: What were you tasked with? What were your responsibilities or goals?
Action: What action did you take? What did you do to solve this problem? (start with action verbs)
Result: What was the result or outcome of your action? How did it benefit the organization? Can this result be quantified?

Use 2-5 of these bullets per entry.
Keep them detailed but concise. Pack as much of a punch as you can in as few words as you can.

Here’s an example of a strong set of accomplishment bullets, courtesy of the National Democratic Training Committee:


Here are two great examples of conversions from weak to strong bullets, courtesy of Yale:

This stuff matters––especially when you’re looking for your first or second job in politics––and doing it right will help you stand out from the crowd.

Cover Letters
This is another slightly annoying but eminently doable part of the job process. Most cover letters suck, but, when done right, they can be an incredible opportunity to tell your story and introduce yourself to your employer.

Much of the advice from the resume section holds here. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are super important, so you should proofread at least three times and get a second reader if possible.

There are no firm rules here, but I’ve found the following four-paragraph model (courtesy of the National Democratic Training Committee) to be the strongest:

Introduction
: Introduce yourself and articulate both your interest in the specific position and your interest in the field in general. Progressive politics is mission-driven work, so concentrate on your unique “why” for choosing this pathway.
Skills and Background
: Now that you’ve established your enthusiasm and sense of purpose, begin to establish credibility by using this section to discuss your background qualifications for the position.
Show and Prove
: So now we know you’re eager, and we know you’re qualified, so what have you done with all that energy and capacity? Use this section to talk about the ways you’ve applied your skills and the positive impact of your effort. Don’t just list your accomplishments, provide engaging stories that illustrate the impact of your work. Anyone can say they’re detail oriented, but it’s another thing entirely to share a story about your attention to detail saving an important project.
Land the Plane
: Conclude by concisely restating your interest in the organization. Be specific: What is it about this particular organization that excites you? Thank the recipient for their time, provide ways to contact you, and invite continued engagement by encouraging them to reach out.

. It’s definitely worth a read!

You should think of this as a tool and an opportunity, not just another obligation. You want to pack as much of a punch as you can, so
you
shouldn’t just repeat what’s in your resume
. If you do this right, employers will leave with a sense of who you are, not just what you’ve done.

Make sure to
customize each letter for the job you’re applying for
! This should be pretty self-explanatory: there’s no way your introduction and “land the plane” will be the same for every job. Make
triple
sure that you get the name of the employer right on each letter. Again, keep it to one page and save as a PDF with a clear name.

Networking
Why network?
The good news and the bad news is that, strangely enough, politics is a really small world. Everyone knows everyone. That means that, with a little bit of effort, you can usually network your way into any job you really want if you put some time into it. It also means that you really don’t want to burn any bridge
s.
Word will get around and it will come back to bite you.

An old saying says that people who ask for money get advice, while people who ask for advice get money. That may or may not be true, but the underlying point is both valid and critical: asking people for advice, rather than a more demanding request like a job referral or introduction to someone important, can take you a long way, for a few reasons: first of all, people often have good advice. If you have spent 20 hours researching a new field (which is a lot!), think about the fact that someone working in that field has spent twice as much time in the field as you did,
every week
, for hundreds if not
thousands
of weeks. Don’t underestimate how much useful knowledge they might have to share! But there are other reasons to ask someone for an
rather than directly going for something more aggressive. Reaching out to someone you don’t know and immediately asking for a job can seem pushy. It might also seem arrogant. But if you ask for 30 minutes of their time and have a good conversation, the person might say “hey, if you’re interested, I could pass along your name to the folks hiring for this job,” or “hey, do you know XYZ? If not, I’d be happy to make an introduction.” They could easily say that for the job/organization/person you had in mind, plus five more that might even be better fits for what you’re looking for but that you didn’t know about, either because you didn’t find them in your research or because (in the case of a job) they were never posted online at all. An important note is that you shouldn’t be deceptive about what you’re asking for. Don’t set a time for a conversation about advice, then make the hard ask for a job or connection when you get there. Not only is that dishonest, the bait-and-switch will probably turn off the person you’re talking to, making them unlikely to help and leaving them with a poor impression of you. A better strategy is to reach out to a (thoughtfully-selected) group of people, without the expectation that any one person will give you exactly what you’re looking for, but rather that the group of people as a whole will provide you with a mix of advice, connections, and opportunities that together help you accomplish whatever you are trying to do.

The most important thing for you to know is that the best networking strategy is to do good work
.
In the small world of politics, word about your good work will get around. Word about bad work will, too. Most of these networking strategies are about getting in the door: pushing for opportunities to get on the radar of folks who might be able to hire you. None of that matters if you aren’t doing great work. If you are--and you do it consistently, treat your coworkers with courtesy and respect, and work as hard as you possibly can--it will get recognized. All these other tips and strategies pale in comparison to the power of competence and intelligence.

How to find any email address
The first step in reaching out to someone is finding their email address. It is
shockingly
easy to find the email address of pretty much anyone who works in politics. Try these methods (in the following order) until one sticks:
Google them! You will often find a link to a bio page on their organization’s website with a public email address.
If that doesn’t work, try creating a free account with
. They’ve figured out that pretty much every organization has the same email format for all their employees: for instance, if my email is
, Sagal’s email is probably going to be sagal@progressive-pipeline.org. Pop the website of their employer into the Hunter.io search bar, and it’ll spit back a pattern.
If you don’t have any luck with hunter.io (or if the person you’re trying to reach is currently between jobs or doesn’t have an organizational email), try rocketreach.co. Also free, but you’re limited to 5 lookups per month, so use them carefully! Just pop in their name (or, better, a link to their LinkedIn profile) and it’ll usually spit an email address out.
In case that doesn’t work, I’ve found that people are a lot more willing to put their emails on PDFs than they are on websites. Occasionally, googling someone’s full name in quotation marks plus “filetype:pdf” will spit something out!

Anatomy of a cold email
Right now, you have a
huge
networking advantage that won’t last forever: old people really want to help young people! If you send a thoughtful email to someone who you don’t know, but who’s doing interesting work, and ask if they’d like to connect, your chances of success are really high.

Writing a good cold email is a skill that you’ll use
forever
, but it’s especially important at the start of your career, when you most need to build your network.

Here’s the rundown:

Subject Line
Keep it short, professional, and not too formal. Give them a sense of who you are and what you’re asking for.

Bad
- help?
(or anything all lowercase)
- I am looking for a job in progressive politics and would love your advice (
much too long!)
- MEETING REQUEST
(weird!)
- (No Subject) (
you need one!!)

Good
:
- Coffee next week?
- Advice for a student?
- Anything else that’s crisp, clear, and professional

Salutation
I generally think “Dear” is better than “Hi” for folks you haven’t met before, especially if they’re older. Never start an email with “Hey” unless you know them well.
Spell their name right!

Opening
It never hurts to start with something nice. “I hope this finds you well!” or “I hope you’re staying safe and healthy!” can help set the tone of the email as two real human beings connecting with each other, not just job-seeking robots.

Then cut to the chase: tell them who you are, how you know about them, and why you want to talk to them. Do this immediately, and don’t beat around the bush.

Bad:
I’m a global citizen and someone, at least in my opinion, who is deeply engaged in the world and progressive politics; I’m both an organizer and an activist at heart. I came to this work when my grandmother told me about the time she met Eugene Debs and -- damn! -- I was hooked. It’s my passion and my calling, and I’d love to speak with you about it because I want to work in politics one day. Can we chat next week?

Yikes! Both TMI and really no information. They don’t need your life story, they just need a little bit of context. And you could have sent this email to anyone. Why do you want to talk to them in particular?

Good
:
My name is Valerie, and I’m a junior at the University of North Carolina. I saw that you’re leading analytics at the SEIU, which I’ve admired ever since you all organized my mom’s workplace a decade ago! I’m interested in working in labor, and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about how you got started.

Ask
The most important thing is to make an ask! Be clear and concise. The person should understand exactly what you are asking of them. Being vague about what you want doesn’t somehow make it more polite; it only confuses them. Be direct and polite in asking for what you want; it’s doing the other side a favor. If you’re asking for a time to meet or talk, it’s always polite to offer a few time windows that work for you to minimize the back-and-forth in case they are busy and don’t have much availability to meet. Make sure to specify the timezone you’re talking about, especially during COVID times when many people aren’t where they normally would be.

Bad
:
It would be such a joy and an honor to learn from you and hear your story. I’m sure you have a lot of wisdom to share, and I can’t wait to engage with you and blossom what I imagine will be a deep and fulfilling relationship.

You didn’t make an ask! They’re left guessing as to what you actually want. Be warm and polite, but also treat them like a normal human being.

Good
:
Would you have a few minutes to connect next week? I’m free Monday 3-6pm EST, Tuesday 10am - 2pm EST, or Friday 9am - 12pm EST.

Closing
End with something like thanks, warmly, or best and your first name. Keep your email signature short and professional. It doesn’t need to be your whole story.

Pulling it together

That’s it! All together:

Subject:
Connecting next week?

Dear Joanna,

Hoping this finds you well!

My name is Valerie, and I’m a junior at the University of North Carolina. I saw that you’re leading analytics at the SEIU, which I’ve admired ever since you all organized my mom’s workplace a decade ago! I’m interested in working in labor, and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about how you got started.

Would you have a few minutes to connect next week? I’m free Monday 3-6pm EST, Tuesday 10am - 2pm EST, or Friday 9am - 12pm EST.

Thanks,
Michael

There’s no need to copy my template exactly, but this broad framework should get you pretty far.

If they don’t respond,
it’s
probably
not because you offended them or did anything wrong. People SUCK at email, especially not super urgent ones. It’s okay to send a polite follow up (e.g. “Hi Jim -- just wanted to make sure this didn’t get lost in your inbox! Would you have a few minutes to connect in the coming weeks?”) but wait
at least
a week to do so, and don’t send more than one.

If they say they don’t have time to connect,
you should still respond warmly, and thank them for taking the time to write you back. Again, politics is a small world. If you meet them (or one of their friends) in a year or two, you want them to remember you as someone who responded graciously even when you got turned down.

If they want to connect,
that is awesome news! You did it. Respond ASAP to coordinate a time. Unless they are working with an admin assistant to schedule the meeting, you should send over a calendar invite with a Zoom link.


Taking the meeting
You’ve found their email, you’ve reached out, they’ve responded, and you’ve scheduled a time. What do you now?

Networking meetings (or “informational interviews”) can be incredible tools for your growth and development, or they can be terrible, cold, inhuman, and ineffective ways of slithering up to people who are more powerful than you. You can make this choice!

The first thing to remember is to treat these meetings as normal human interactions with normal human people. It’s okay to be funny and warm! You should be professional and polite, but you can also bring your full self to these conversations.

You essentially have two goals for these meetings: you want to expand your network (in a way that will hopefully lead to a job) and get a clearer sense of the field you’re thinking of working in. My view is that if you come into the meeting prioritizing getting advice over seeming impressive, you will do much better on both fronts.

This isn’t super complicated: imagine, in a few years, two students reach out to you to ask for advice on the job hunt:
One spends half an hour telling you how cool they are: they talk through their whole CV, learn about their whole life story, and hear about all their skills and accomplishments.
The other spends the meeting asking you a series of thoughtful questions about your job and what a career in politics can look like. You leave the meeting with a sense of who the second student is and what matters to them, but you don’t know about every single award they’ve won or job they’ve held.
The first student left the coffee meeting with next to no new information, and the meeting was basically a waste of time. They already knew their own life story! The second student, on the other hand, left with a few nuggets of wisdom that they can take with them on the job hunt.

Now, imagine that, in a week or two, a colleague mentions that they’re hiring for an entry-level position and looking for awesome candidates. Who would you introduce them to?

Probably the second student! Likeability matters a lot more than credentials, and people
love
giving advice.
No one wants to sit through a 30 minute sales pitch. Instead, they want to feel useful and share what they’ve learned. Don’t downplay your accomplishments, but, instead of trying to wow someone by talking through every item on your CV, impress them with smart, thoughtful, and genuine questions. What are you
actually
curious about? Imagine you’d never see this person again -- what do you want to know?

As a general rule, you should do ~30% of the talking in these meetings, and you should mostly be asking questions. This ends up being a win-win: you come across as a lot more likable and you end up learning a lot!

That
doesn’t
mean you shouldn’t talk about yourself at all. It’s helpful to give the person you’re connecting with some context. Who are you? Why are you here? Why do you care? In 2-3 minutes, tell them your story of self! You should have a brief “elevator pitch” about yourself prepared, since you’ll need it a lot. The idea is that if you get in an elevator with someone, you should be able to finish the entire story by the time they get off the elevator a minute or two later. Try practicing this with a timer; you’ll be surprised at how short you need to make it. Again, this can be a condensed version of the story of self / field pitch that you’ve spent this summer working on.

The best preparation for these meetings is to think about what you want to learn. What are you actually curious about? Do you want general advice on the job hunt? Are you interested in how a data analyst or political strategist spends their time?

Start by making a list of questions you want to ask. Don’t memorize this and don’t bring it into the meeting; just use it as a brainstorming tool. Do a little bit of research on the person and the organization they work for. Don’t ask any questions you could easily find answers to on Google.

Some examples of bad questions:
I saw that you’re working for the Center for American Progress. What do you do there?
(you should know this already! If you don’t why did you reach out?)
What does Swing Left do?
(Very easily Googleable)
How much do you make?
(Too invasive for most people -- it’s okay to ask something like “Do you have a sense of how much entry-level staffers at labor unions generally make?”)
Can you find me a job?
(They know you are looking for work. You don’t need to drill it in)

Some examples of good questions (not an exhaustive list):
How do you spend a typical workday?
What does success look like in your job?
How did you end up in your current position?
What do you like about your work? What do you find frustrating?
If you weren’t working at _________, where would you like to be?
What advice would you give to your 20 year old self? What should I be doing to get where you are?

At the end of the meeting, it’s totally okay to ask something along the lines of “Is there anyone else I should be talking to?” or “Do you know anyone else who could offer advice on XXX?” or “I’m really interested in working for a labor union. Do you know anyone in an analytics role at a union who I could talk to?” This is a great initial way of expanding your network.

Keep these meetings to 20-30 minutes
. If they want to chat longer, that’s awesome, but you shouldn’t expect to take up more of their time.

Finally, and most importantly,
be on time.
This really, really matters. Whether it’s on Zoom or (one day) in person, people
hate
to be kept waiting. Almost everyone you’ll meet with is extraordinarily busy, and this is the most optional thing on their calendar. They are chatting with you
purely
because they want to help you. They probably have a million things on their to-do list and they almost certainly don’t see their families as much as they want to or sleep enough. So if you are late, they will take that to mean that you do not value their time -- or them. Don’t be. Have your headphones plugged in, your phone or laptop charged, and the Zoom link pulled up at least 5 minutes beforehand so all you have to do is press join.

Following up and activating networks
So you’ve met someone cool, they’ve offered you some advice, you’ve built a relationship, and it seems like they want to help –– what now?

After the meeting (wait a few hours, but no more than 24 hours), you need to send them a short thank you note.
The most common way to do this is to just respond to the last email that was sent in setting up the meeting with a thank you. It can be brief and friendly, but it should be something. Make sure to specifically reference something you learned from the conversation: you don’t want it to feel like a form letter. I think the format / advice for a cold outreach email generally holds here.

Next, add them on LinkedIn.
In the connection request, you can send them a nice note saying something like “Great meeting you today! Would love to stay in touch.”

If you’re applying to a job at their organization,
send them a note to let them know! They’ll usually be flattered (it means that you were inspired enough by the convo that you want to work with them!) and they usually have some sway, even if the role you’re applying for isn’t on their team directly.

If you’re applying somewhere else
, you could try a couple strategies:
You could reach back out to a few of the folks you had networking conversations with to share a short update on life and the job hunt, and say something like “I’ve applied to roles at BerlinRosen, SKDK, GSG, Rising Tide, and MissionWired. If you know anyone at any of those firms, I’d appreciate it if you could put a word in!”
You could take a more targeted approach by searching for the firms on Linkedin, seeing if you have any mutual connections with senior staffers there, and reaching out to the mutuals with a note.
Applying to Jobs
Where to apply
Well before you start applying for jobs, you should start regularly perusing jobs boards and joining email lists that’ll forward you relevant opportunities. This’ll do a few things for you:
It’ll give you a sense of what kind of jobs are out there and what qualifications they are looking for (for instance, if you want to work in progressive data, and you see that most job posts require you to know SQL, you should learn SQL!).
Most, but not all, job descriptions include salary ranges, so it’ll give you a sense of what kind of pay to expect and negotiate for.
It’ll give you a broad overview of the organizations working in this space. There’ll definitely be a bunch you haven’t heard of. If one seems cool, do some LinkedIn stalking and reach out to a relevant staffer for an informational interview.
If you’re getting a dozen emails a day with job postings, it’ll give you a bit of a kick in the pants to write cover letters, update your resume, and actually apply.
Finally, and most importantly, you might find a great job!
There isn’t one perfect database of all progressive jobs, but if you join the lists that are relevant to you, you should find a decent amount.

Some of these will require you to check them manually, but others (especially Jobs that are Left) will send out a bunch of emails a day. If you find this overwhelming,
to send everything from those groups to a special folder.

Here are your options beyond our #full-time-jobs channel. You should join all of the ones that make sense for you:
is the biggest, best resource for jobs in progressive politics. You can click the link to join the Google Group and adjust notifications accordingly. Probably a dozen jobs are posted here a day, and they all include salary ranges.
is solid, too. The website’s a little clunky, but you can configure it to get notifications sent to your inbox. It’s a mix of everything, so not all of the postings will be job-related, but I have seen a number of opportunities on here that don’t make it to Jobs that are Left.
.
If you identify as a person of color, go to their website and join their resume bank. They will get you on the radar of a ton of potential employers.
. Very similar to Jobs that are Left, and pretty active. Also a Google Group / email list.
Data Ladies Alliance. For women and non-binary folks interested in progressive data. An amazing resource: has tons of job and training opportunities. Reach out if you are interested and I will put you in touch with someone who can nominate you to join.
. If you want to work for a union, this should be the first place you go. They usually have dozens of openings up in organized labor across the country.
.
For folks who identify as Black. Similar structure to Jobs that are Left.
.
For folks who identify as Latinx. Similar structure to Jobs that are Left.
. For social good jobs and internships. They charge organizations a small fee to post, so not everyone will throw stuff on here. Always worth a look.
. It’s like LinkedIn for politics. You have to make an account, but the process isn’t too hard. There are always a few solid postings here, and the jobs that wind up here tend to be high-quality.
. If you want a job in progressive data, tech, or analytics, they pretty much all wind up here. Check this frequently if that’s your calling. Super clean website, easy to use.
.
HGL is an incubator for for-profit companies that provide tech infrastructure for progressive groups. They have a jobs page for all of their portfolio companies. Most of these jobs require some technical background.
A great, free, constantly updated Google Doc with job opportunities. Check this often.
.
Join this! Not restricted to women. They help amazing progressive pro-choice women get elected and staff up their campaigns.
.
They are a small firm that mostly places folks in data and analytics roles. Worth a look if this is a space you’d like to explore.

Applying
The first thing to remember when applying is that your success rate does not matter, and it will be low. Most jobs do not require an extensive application, and, considering the amount of time you will spend at work over the coming years, it’s worth casting your net far and wide. Out of respect for the organizations’ time, you shouldn’t apply for jobs you absolutely wouldn’t want to take, but there’s no cost to submitting a bunch of applications. It’s much better to apply to fifty jobs and get one
incredible
offer than it is to apply to ten and get two mediocre offers.

You are going to run into an enormous amount of dumb shit: because hiring is generally not a priority for most organizations, the process is inevitably going to be really frustrating. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things to prepare for:
Employers will leave jobs posts open long after they’ve filled the position. This isn’t malicious, it’s just lazy.
Employers will ghost you after an interview. Again, this is rude and bad, but it probably will happen.
Employers will take weeks––or even months––to make an offer. Sometimes they do this because they’re really busy or disorganized, but generally it has to do with something beyond the hiring manager’s control that they’re not always at liberty to share. Staff budgets are usually dictated by an executive director, campaign manager, or other relatively high-ranking person who isn’t directly interviewing you, and, because they’re dependent on contributions from private donors, they’re constantly shifting. Waiting is super, super frustrating, but generally not indicative of your strength as a candidate.
Again, these are all bad! If you are hiring someone, you should not do this. But you should also ready yourself for this to happen so that you don’t become discouraged when it inevitably does. You can not stop employers from being dumb, but you can reduce the power that this stuff has over you by applying for as many jobs as humanely possible.

Qualifications are (usually) a wish list, not absolute requirements.
Most of the time, organizations are willing to be flexible as long as you demonstrate passion and an ability to learn. Use common sense here: if they’re looking for someone with 15 years of organizing experience to manage 150 field staffers, you are probably not a fit. If the role requires you to know Python, SQL, and Ruby on Rails, and you can barely log into the VAN, it’s not worth your time to apply. But if they’re looking for two cycles of organizing experience and you only have one, or they need you to be able to use a piece of software that seems relatively learnable, you are probably still qualified. And, if you’re not, you won’t regret applying anyway. If they do hire you, they are certain that you will be able to get up to speed, even if you don’t meet every qualification on the list. They had lots of other qualified applicants, and they certainly won’t pick you unless they’re certain you can do the job.

If a job application requires you to fill out questions on a web form, write your responses in a Google or Word document and then copy and paste them into the form.
This is important for two reasons:
Most of these forms won’t autosave your responses, so if your computer crashes, you accidentally close the tab, or you just want to take a day or two to think through your answers, you won’t lose your work.
Most employers aren’t
that
creative. If you’re applying to a lot of jobs (and you should be applying to a lot of jobs!), there’s no need to write a new answer each time. You’ll save a lot of time by having a bank of answers you can draw from and edit.
References
Most employers will ask you for a few references, or, in some cases, letters of recommendation. This may seem daunting, but actually isn’t too hard.

A reference is someone who can speak to your professional skills and abilities. You will give a potential employer their contact information, and the employer will reach out to them directly to ask a few questions about your work history. In case you’re curious,
.

You should choose references who know you well and can enthusiastically speak to the skills and work ethic required for the job for which you are applying. It’s best to choose people who have directly supervised you (not friends or coworkers). At this stage in your career, professors are fine, too. Sagal and I are happy to serve as references, and you should also ask your supervisor at your host org.

It’s really important that you choose someone who knows you really well.
Almost no one is going to openly trash you in a reference call. If someone is providing a reference for a person they think did a bad job, they’ll often just say very generic things (“Joe was a solid candidate, always showed up on time, did the job,” etc.) because they feel uncomfortable saying how bad the person was, but also uncomfortable lying and saying they were good. So if you pick someone you don’t know well, they’re going to say those same generic things, and then it will sound like that person actually did know you well and thought you did a bad job. That’s why it’s so important to pick someone who knows you well and can say lots of positive things. Don’t let the hiring manager confuse someone who just didn’t know you well with someone who thinks you did a bad job.

As long as the reference supervised you, their title doesn’t matter that much.
If you worked really closely with a Regional Field Director and checked in with your Field Director every two weeks, choose the RFD even though they don’t have as fancy of a title. What they say about you is more important than the title by their name.

It is really, really important that you ask your references permission before you list them.
Even if you are certain they will say yes, it is the polite thing to do, and it gives them time to reflect on your performance. Give them at least a week to respond, and ask in a way that gives them the opportunity to say no. If someone randomly calls your old boss and asks what your performance was like, your old boss is going to be taken by surprise if you didn’t give them a heads up. Even if they liked you, they might feel so caught by surprise and frustrated you didn’t get their permission first that they actually aren’t as positive as they otherwise would be with some preparation and advance notice. You
really
don’t want folks who aren’t enthusiastic about you to serve as references: when someone declines, they are doing you a huge service. Using a phrase like “Would you be comfortable serving as a reference in my upcoming job hunt?” works well. You might want to attach a resume as a reminder. But don’t let this get you nervous: if you ask someone if they’d be comfortable serving as a reference for you and they say yes, chances are 99% they will say very nice things. Just make sure you ask first.

Keep the reference updated on how things go, and thank them if you get the job!
This is polite and keeps the relationship warm. If they spent 20 minutes telling your future boss what you were like, they will be curious and want to know if you take the job.

Interviewing
(N.B.: some of this is loosely inspired by
) Also, if you are applying for a hardcore tech/data job, they might do a technical interview. These look different:
)

Once you get the interview, make sure you are
super
familiar with the organization you’re applying to work at.
It doesn’t take too long: go to their website and really dig into the about us section. Look them up on
. What do they do? How do they see themselves? What matters to them? What makes them different from everyone else? You might find it helpful to take physical notes to really get this ingrained. You’d be surprised how much it helps to have a feel for the organization and its culture before you interview.

Take a second look at the job description.
(Make sure you save it as soon as you apply for the job –– sometimes they get taken down!). Imagine you had a mole in the organization that’s hiring you. He owes you a favor, so he takes your hiring manager out for a drink and asks him, candidly, to tell him
exactly
what he’s looking for in a candidate: what he likes, what he dislikes, what skills he really needs, what kind of experience matters to him, what traits and values he appreciates. Then he scurries home, takes scrupulous notes on the conversation, and sends them your way. Wouldn’t you have an
enormous
leg up over the other candidates?

You don’t need a mole to get those notes! That’s exactly what a job description is: employers have a vested interest in being super clear about what they want from candidates. By reading the job description thoroughly, you will have just as much of a leg up over the candidates who don’t as someone with deep ties into the organization.

The job description is also a preview of some questions you’ll be asked in the interview. If there is a list of qualifications (and there almost always is), you can feel pretty confident that the interviewer will want to know about your experience with those qualifications. If one of the qualifications is “Has substantial experience making fundraising calls,” the interviewer might ask “Have you ever made a fundraising call?” Or they might just say, “what kind of work have you done on campaigns?” looking to see if you talk about fundraising or not. Either way, you need to talk about the specific time in your past that you made fundraising calls. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to meet all of the qualifications, but for the qualifications you do meet, have concrete examples you can talk about.

To make sure you
really
get the job description, do three things:
Call up a friend and, without notes, in your own words, give them a
thorough summary of what the job entails and what kind of candidate they’re looking for
Look at the list of job responsibilities and qualifications. For each one, write down a single, concrete example of a time when you demonstrated these.
Imagine that you got the job. What challenges would you anticipate? What new ideas would you bring to the table? In what parts of the role would you thrive? What would you find exciting? What kinds of experiences would prepare you to succeed?

Job interviews are really fucking scary. That’s normal, and it makes sense. A bunch of older, more experienced people are judging you and (maybe?) your worth. Your performance will have a
huge
impact on your career.

While you might have some interview jitters, you want to minimize them as much as possible. That way you’ll be as focused and clear as you can be.
The best way of doing this is practice.
This will both reduce jitters
and
improve your ability to answer tough questions. The biggest reason why people are bad at job interviews is that they don’t do them very often!

I’ve found it’s helpful to practice both sides of the job interview. Next time a friend is interviewing,
offer to play the role of mock interviewer
. If you do this enough, you won’t find interviews scary anymore.

To practice your side of the interview, follow these steps:
Write down as many questions as you can think of (at least a dozen) that could reasonably be asked during the interview
Practice answering them out loud over and over and over again until it becomes routine. Don’t memorize a speech, but do make sure you’re comfortable with most questions that could be thrown your way.
Identify the questions that seem most challenging. Which ones would you least like to be asked? What answers are you not super confident about? Sit down and decide
exactly
how you’ll answer those questions. Practice over and over until you are confident. This works.
Think about the worst possible thing that could happen during a job interview. What are you dreading the most? What would it look like if
everything
went wrong? Then rehearse how you’d handle it if it happened. Rehearse your response over and over and over again.

Another way to practice is to just do lots of real interviews. Even if you are not certain you would want to take a job, if you are offered an interview, you should take it. Best case, the interview shows you how much you might actually like the job, you’re offered the job, and you take it. Good thing you took the interview! Worst case, the interview confirms your worst fears that it’s not the job for you, but you got a real interview practice out of it, which will help you in the future interview for the job of your dreams.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer will almost certainly ask whether you have any questions for them. This is still an evaluative portion of the interview! They are going to expect you to come in ready with a few questions to ask. Because you know that they’re going to ask you for questions, you can save yourself the misery of having to improvise on the spot and come in with a few prepared.

You need to strike a balance between asking questions you
actually
want to know the answer to and ones that impress them, and give them a sense of who you are, what you’d value, and how you’d fit in there.

A lot of people make the mistake of swinging really far in one direction or the other. Remember that interviewers are usually pretty smart, and, at the very least do a lot of interviews. If you ask a question like “I’m an impressive, smart, driven leader –– will this workplace be a fit for me,” they will know that you are just trying to show off. On the other hand, something like “Am I actually going to have to come into the office at 9am, or can I get away with sleeping in?” might be a question you genuinely want to know the answer to, but it doesn’t paint you in the best light.

So, ask questions that communicate your values and that you genuinely want to know the answer to. Just like in the informational interviews, don’t ask ones that you could Google instead. Here are some examples, courtesy of Ask a Manager:

What are the biggest challenges the person in this position will face?
Can you describe a typical day or week in the position?
What would a successful first year in the position look like?
How will the success of the person in this position be measured?
How would you describe the culture here?
How would you describe your management style?
Thinking to the person who you've seen do this job best, what made their performance so outstanding?
Are there any reservations you have about my fit for the position that I could address?
(This is a great way to give yourself the chance to tackle any doubts they might have about you—as well as for you to consider whether those doubts might be reasonable and point to a bad fit.)
When do you expect to make a hiring decision?
Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

Then, always ask what the interviewer’s next steps are and what their timeline is for getting back to you. This will calm you down a lot.

Remember:
They think you are qualified. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have wasted their time by offering you an interview. Most people don’t get interviews for most jobs.
There are no perfect candidates. Almost no one matches the job description. You probably don’t either, and that is okay. You are going up against other, imperfect people, not against an aspirational job description.
They usually can’t tell if you are nervous or feel messy. They’re not psychologists and they’re not analyzing you on a profound level. They’re also people with jobs, who are interviewing a bunch of candidates, and are looking for the best in you. And if they can tell you’re a little nervous, they’ll find it endearing, not concerning.
You have a
lot
of power here. No one hires people because they just enjoy creating jobs. They need your help, and you can choose whether or not to work for them. In a way, they are being interviewed too.

Show up early.
This is
incredibly
important. No excuses here: set your alarm, plan ahead, get there 15 mins before you have to. Most interviewers treat tardiness as a sign of disrespect, even if you’re only a minute or two late. It’s not
actually
about wasting a few minutes of their time: when you show up late, they assume that you don’t value their time, or, worse, that you do and simply aren’t that competent. Multiple employers have told me that they would not hire someone who showed up late to an interview.

This all is a little more flexible over Zoom, but you should generally dress up for the interview. What this means will depend on where you’re working. Go to their website. Can you find any photos of their staff? What are they wearing? If you’re unsure, err on the side of overdressing. Khakis and a collared shirt (jeans, shorts, and t-shirts are usually bad) or a dress should be fine. Unless you are interviewing for a law firm or the government (or somewhere that looks really formal –– again, look at their website), you don’t need to wear a suit. If you’re interviewing for a campaign or organizing groups, you can
probably
get away with anything. Many schools have a professional clothes closet if buying professional attire doesn’t make financial sense for you.

Here are some practice questions
(again, courtesy of Ask a Manager).

You are highly likely to be asked:
What interests you about this opening? (Or why do you want to work for us?)
Tell me about your experience at ___. (Fill in past job.)
Tell me about your strengths.
What experience do you have doing ____? (Fill in each of the major
responsibilities of the job.)
Tell me about a time when... (Fill in with situations relevant to the position.
For instance: Tell me about when you had to take initiative ... you had to deal with a difficult customer ... you had to respond to a crisis ... you had to give difficult feedback to an employee ... You get the idea.)
What kind of salary are you looking for?
You might be asked:
What things are most important to you in a new position?
How does this position fit in with the career path you're taking?
How would the people around you describe you?
What has your biggest achievement been at ___? What results there that you produced are you most proud of?
What were your major goals last year? How did you settle on those? To what extent did you meet them?
If I spoke with your previous boss, what areas would he or she say you should work on improving in?
What are the first five things you would do if you got this position?


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